With a predicted global population of nine billion by 2050, existing agricultural systems will be increasingly strained. This will place added pressure on the environment, with shortages of agricultural land, forests, water and fisheries all projected. New innovations in agriculture are required in order to mitigate the effects of significant population growth, and experts say insects may be the solution.
According to Arnold van Huis, an entomologist at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, insects could provide food security for the world. A combination of direct consumption of insects and use of insects as feed for livestock would dramatically reduce agricultural production. The nutritional label looks good as well; bugs are very high in protein and rich in iron, calcium, potassium, essential fatty acids and several amino acids. This makes eating insects, known as entomophagy, an alternative solution to conventional livestock for human consumption, as well as a high-protein feed source for livestock maintenance.
Though van Huis hails from the only bug-eating Western nation – mealworms, the larvae of mealworm beetles, are currently raised in the Netherlands and baked into pies – the idea of eating insects is nothing new in many parts of the world. Discovery News has identified the top seven snacks, and mopane caterpillars, the larval stage of the emperor moth, take first place. They are common throughout the Southern part of Africa and are best boiled in salted water, then sun dried. Termites and grasshoppers also make the list, though the witchetty grub (moth larvae) sounds the most appealing. Traditionally a staple amongst Aboriginal groups in Australia, witchetty grub tastes like almonds when it’s raw and chicken when it is lightly cooked.
A group of students from McGill University in Montreal, Canada, has already produced a protein-rich flour made from insects called Power Flour. They won the 2013 Hult prize and received $1 million in seed money to start their venture, which they say will begin with grasshoppers.
Though many people around the world already eat insects, those who don’t are often strongly opposed to the idea. In order for insect-virgins to integrate the creepy-crawlers into their diets, there would need to be a great change in consumer attitudes. This would require a combination of necessity and an extremely compelling marketing campaign. Consumers might have an easier time adjusting to using insects as feed, or hiding them in products like Power Flour.
For more, read Arnold van Huis’s UN report: “Edible insects: Future prospects for food and feed security,” and check out an article about the Chinese space program experiment in which three volunteers lived on a diet composed of 55% insects, mostly worms, for 105 days. More information about entomophogy, check out this great collection of posts on Scoop.It.