Could Insects Feed the World?
In the western part of the world, there are usually only two types of food: it's either plant-based or meat-based. But there is more: insect-based. While not eaten at all in most of the west, it's an incredibly common part of diets all over the world. Either in Africa, Asia, Central or South America - you can find bugs of all forms and shapes on the menu.
Insects on a market in Thailand. Source: Andrew Beck at Duncan's Kitchen
To most westerners, just the thought of biting into an insect sounds repulsive. Yet the benefits from eating insects are huge - both in protein efficiency and sustainability. There are companies out there trying to get these critters into people’s mouths. One of those companies is Rocky Mountain Micro Ranch. They are Colorado’s first and only edible insect farm, raising insects for wholesale to restaurants and food manufacturers.
We had the chance to speak with Wendy Lu McGill from Rocky Mountain Micro Ranch. Not only are insects more efficient than beef for example, but there are many other benefits too. They also feed their crickets mostly food that would go to waste, like shredded apples from a cider brewery or barley from a distillery. Her three main arguments for insect farming are food security, nutrition security and climate change. Make sure to check out the video for more information!
Wendy: “A solution that can help us feed ourselves better - with more people and less resources.”
Source: SOKTI Production by Jesse Barlow
Acceptance for Insects Is Growing Worldwide
Eating crickets is nothing new in most of the world. But even in the west, the ento industry is on the rise. The industry is expected to grow more than 23% between 2018 and 2023. They are entering the food industry from the bottom-up, as ground up insect powder in different products. Or from the top-down in high-end restaurants, as chefs are always willing to experiment with new produce.
This marks a shift in behaviour. Not too long ago, eating raw fish (sushi) was not seen in the west either - now you can find a sushi restaurant in almost every city. Are insects the next new thing on the menu?
Impact of Different Protein on the Planet
Depending on the farm, the amount of water, feed and land required can vary drastically. To put that into numbers, let's compare a cattle farmer to an insect farmer. On average, to produce 1 kilogram of beef, you need 10 kilograms of feed and 22'000 litres of water. For 1 kilogram of adult cricket, you need just 1.7 kilogram of feed and less than 1 litre of water. That is a dramatic difference, especially if you upscale that to the level of global food demands.
Almost 80% of arable land is used for meat production nowadays. That includes pasture for cattle, but also growing feed for livestock. Livestock is the world’s largest user of land resources, by far. Comparing beef to crickets again, a farmer requires 200 square meters to produce 1kg of beef, while he only requires 15 square meters for the same amount of crickets. This is because of higher efficiency due to crickets being insects, but also thanks to new technologies like vertical farming.
According to new studies by the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), most insects produce barely any greenhouse gasses. Species like mealworm larvae or crickets compare incredibly favourably with pigs and beef cattle in their GHG emissions - going as far as being lower by a factor of about 100.
Another aspect to consider is that insect farming is still in it's infancy. There are new technologies and more efficient ways to farm insects being discovered every year, which means they will only get more and more efficient and less harmful to the planet.
Knowing Better - Why Wouldn’t You Eat Insects?
So go out there and give insects a try! Most people in the west have never even tried eating insects. About time we give it a chance. And even if you can’t stomach eating whole insects - you can always buy products made from or with insects, without any insect flavor. For example, something that has proven to be very successful is protein powder made with insect protein. There is no flavour or texture, it’s a healthy source of protein and it’s beneficial for the environment!
Want to know more about the insect industry? Check out this piece about “A Taste of the Edible Insect Industry”.
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