Imagine after one tedious and exhausting day at work, you are dying for something to relax your nerves, so you rush into a local fast food restaurant. You order and start feasting on your usual fare: ants coleslaw, a grasshopper burger and mealworm fries with some cricket coke.
At first glance, this may sound like a scene from an interdimensional world, but something like this could surely become reality in the foreseeable future. Eating insects offers astonishing environmental and health benefits and has the potential to both mitigate pollution and satisfy increasing food demand.
A diet that mainly focuses on edible insects is called entomophagy. To my Western audience, this may sound like a fantasy that’s a little bit “gross” to practice, but eating insects is actually a common tradition in many cultures. It’s estimated that about 2 billion people eat bugs as a normal part of their diet. For example, in China, scorpions and grasshoppers are common snacks you can find at the night market. Anyone can get a delicious bag of fried cicadas or a bug kebab for an affordable price.
Furthermore, as the population continues to grow exponentially, world hunger becomes an urgent issue. Finding food with a short maturation that’s rich in nutrients is critical for many countries in which food insecurity is common. Insects possess rapid reproduction speed and resilient physiology. While this may seem like a nightmare when dealing with pests, it also makes them the ideal food source to combat malnutrition.
Unlike current protein livestock that require large amounts of crops to feed on, insects have an extraordinary feed-to-meat growth ratio. Some insects are six times more efficient than cattle at converting food into protein, which maximizes the value of feeds. Their anatomy makes them an excellent source of protein, vitamins and minerals, with low fat and carbohydrate content. One hundred grams of grasshopper contains only 3.8 grams of fat but 30 grams of high quality protein! Isn’t that the perfect diet every bodybuilder dreams of?
Additionally, entomophagy’s environmental benefits simply stand out among conventional livestock. Unlike red meat, which has an unsustainably high carbon footprint, insects produce only 0.1% of greenhouse gases compared to cattle to produce the same amount of protein. Eating insects is also good for water supplies — one gram of cricket protein only demands 23 liters of water, making it more water-friendly than both beef and chickpeas.
When considering technology and land usage efficiency, entomophagy has an advantage as well. To feed the world population currently, agriculture brings devastating destruction to ecosystems worldwide and threatens more than 24,000 species with extinction.
According to CEO of Aspire Food Group Mohammed Ashour, 12 acres of land can raise three or four cows to produce a few thousand kilograms of meat, whereas the same amount of land can produce 12 million kilograms of crickets.
This agricultural investment not only protects our environment, but allows for flexible farming, which can also drastically reduce climate factors and aid in eliminating food insecurity. Socioeconomically, for example, insect farming can be small-scale, which is ideal for small businesses and creates more jobs.
Finally, epidemiologically, consuming insects is considered to be safer than consuming other livestock, which might sound counterintuitive. Since insects and humans are so different biologically, they are presumed to be less likely to pass on zoonotic diseases, and thus could especially protect those in countries with poorer health care. In essence, entomophagy feeds the world effectively, reduces pollution, saves endangered species, avoids deforestation and preserves farmland.
So with all these benefits, why aren’t people everywhere eating insects? The reason is plain and simple: disgust. As we sink deeper into urbanization and industrialization, eating insects is aligned with our foraging tradition and is considered unsanitary. Our food culture denies the possibility of a better alternative source, and unfortunately, insects are often portrayed as pests that only spread germs and infest households. But change is possible. In fact, tomatoes were also considered poisonous for 200 years in Europe before people started devouring pizza. Lobsters, previously deemed “trash food,” are now praised as top-tier delicacies on restaurant menus. Shifts in cultural mindsets are always happening, and this change is necessary to lead the world into something great.
But, how exactly do we change the conversation? Education is our key to overcoming these stereotypical misconceptions. The nutritional values and environmental benefits may convince a portion of the public to accept entomophagy, but it may be a lost cause to try to convince the more stubborn opinions. It’s an unfortunate reality that some people may never fully accept the practice of an insect diet, but we can look forward and always open up the possibility to the next generation. What seems absurd may one day become a daily practice that we can all benefit from.
It may be difficult to make an immediate transformation right now, so all we should aim to do is keep an open mind. When entomophagy becomes a choice, don’t reject it. Instead, embrace it and savor that sustainability to find a better future.