Should We Farm More Insects for Food?

We need protein in our diets to live.  Proteins are an essential part of life.   In a typical Lecale diet, protein comes from plants and animals.  But there is another untapped source: insects.  Are you put off by the thought of sitting down to a grasshopper-burger, or perhaps a mealworm quiche?  Read on as I will try to convince you to introduce your family to a bug life.

The practice of eating insects is called “entomophagy”.  This term incorporates eating both eating insects and other arthropods like spiders.  The practice of eating insects is not new.  Humans have been doing it for thousands of years.  It has even been documented on cave paintings.  Today, 80% of the worlds consumes insects regularly in some form.  It is only in the Western Diet that it has fallen out of fashion.  So you may ask, “why should we eat insects, what’s the advantage?”  A good question.

Food security is important to any country, perhaps increasingly so today in the era of Brexit.  Currently we are not self-sufficient in food.  We import much of what we eat.  This is fine providing there are no trade barriers to obtaining foodstuff.  But small market movements could render a lot of what we eat much more expensive and unaffordable to many folks.  Insects are small, and can be grown in vast numbers in vats.  They don’t require acres of fields or sheds to produce protein for us.  And they are “home-grown”.  Every town could have its own “bug farm”, so the food supply would be very secure.

Mini-livestock!  Bugs could be our very own mini-cows.  We can directly eat them, thus satisfying our hunger.  They are cheap and quick to grow.  A cricket can produce 1500 eggs in 4 weeks!  No mammal that we currently eat can match that rate.  Alternatively we can grow insects as a source of protein for animal feed.  This can be fed to chicken, pigs and cattle and contribute to their rearing.

The environmental benefits for switching some farming to insect production are potentially large.  It takes 10 times the amount of plant material to produce a kilogram of meat as it does to produce a kilogram of insect protein.  That’s a 10 fold efficiency improvement.  It takes 22 times the amount of water to produce a kg of beef as it does to produce a kg of grasshopper protein.  In a world with scarce resources, these are big gains for humanity.  The ratio of energy input: protein output for insects is 4:1; for beef it is 54:1!  Insects are exothermic, they don’t need to generate their own heat to keep warm, unlike us or cows.  Therefore they expend less energy in growing and producing the protein that we need.  Livestock farming contributes 18% of greenhouse gas emissions that are generated by humanity.  That’s more than is produced by cars, planes, trains and aeroplanes combined!  Farming insects would contribute only 1% of the greenhouse gas emissions that cattle produce.

So with so many benefits to eating insects, why don’t we just do more of it?  We need to get over the fact that it’s “gross”.  After all, we eat lobsters and crabs, and they’re not too different to insects.  There are some signs that society is changing.  There are bug farms and restaurants operating in the UK already.  So perhaps someday soon you will be having a mealworm casserole for your Christmas dinner and deep fried crickets for your breakfast.