“2,086 species of insect are eaten by 3,071 different ethnic groups in about 130 countries.” Bugged, by David MacNeal

Insects form a big part of everyday diets for around two billion people around the world. Yet, for many of the remaining 5.58 billion, just the thought of eating an insect is enough to cause revulsion.

As the human population continues to rise, so does food insecurity. Shortages, aggravated by resource depletion and ever more frequent climate events, will force us to reflect on current methods of food production, as well as our eating habits. Could insects be the superfood solution to this problem or are they just too much for most of us to stomach?

Natural background, gnawed leaf with a lot of caterpillars, macro. Pic by Pelevina Ksinia | Shutterstock.com

Planet of the insects

Six million types of insect inhabit our planet, with 10,000 new species discovered every year. In fact, 80% of all animals are insects and they are immensely important to the world’s ecosystems and to the global economy.

Most insect species are primary consumers and are a source of nutrients to animals further up the food chain. They also play a crucial role in the decomposition of waste products, as well as in the pollination plants and crops.

Food revolution or revulsion?

Entomophagy (from entomos, ‘insect’ and phagein, ‘to eat’) is by no means a recent fad. Insects have featured in human diets ever since our hunter-gather days. As the TED video below points out, bugs were enjoyed as delicacies throughout ancient times.

Then, at some point, we lost the taste for insects. The rejection of bugs as a food source probably coincided the spread of agriculture. Suddenly, insects would have been deemed a pest. And from rejection it’s not such a great leap to revulsion!

However, as we face the challenge of feeding an ever increasing population, entomophagy has begun to receive considerable interest from science, industry and the media.

Insects on the menu

The argument for the inclusion of insects into our diet is a strong one. Rich in protein, fibre, good fats and minerals, their nutritional value is undeniable.

As far as the environment is concerned, there are three key advantages. Firstly, raising and harvesting insects requires much less land than livestock. Next, insects convert food into protein much more efficiently than mammals, so they need less food to produce more product. Finally, they emit considerably fewer greenhouse gases than most livestock.

From Reykjavik to Christchurch – and many a city besides – insects are finding their way on to the menu.

“Waiter, waiter…there’s no fly in my soup!”

Or, if you prefer your creepy-crawlies home-cooked, here are a few recipes from ‘Oh my bug’ to get you started. So, what’s it going to be?…grasshopper pizza?…mealworm wraps?…or ant noodles?!

Beijing, China - September 24, 2014: A vendor sells food at the Donghuamen night market in Beijing, China. Pic by Alexandru Nika | Shutterstock.com
Should we eat bugs? - Emma Bryce

Towards food security

On paper, eating insects is a smart choice; it all makes perfect sense. Unfortunately, we’re humans and we aren’t particularly well-known for making rational decisions when it comes to lifestyle! After all, for most of us, food is not just about fuel. Food choices are deeply varied and culturally-determined.

People want something pleasurable to eat, to share and to talk about. If more of us are to adopt insects into our diets, more must be done make them appealing, not just beneficial. If that can be achieved, entomophagy could just catch on.

Alone, it will never be the silver bullet to achieving food security. However, coupled with other changes to farming methods, reductions in food waste and the diffusion of new agricultural technologies, it could have a part to play.

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Six-legged superfoods: could insects be the answer to food security?
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Six-legged superfoods: could insects be the answer to food security?
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Insects form a big part of everyday diets for around two billion people around the world. Could insects be the superfood solution to greater food security?
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Zoo Portraits
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Insects form a big part of everyday diets for around two billion people around the world. Could insects be the superfood solution to greater food security?