With the world's population reaching carrying capacity, and a global food shortage looming, alternative nutritional options must be considered. And what could be a better candidate than the most abundant organisms on the planet: insects.
Insects, animals that walk on 6 legs, make up 80% of organisms in the Kingdom Animalia. There are an estimated 5 million insect species (compared to about 5,000 mammal species), and while insects are small, their total biomass is equal to more than twice all other animals. But it's not just their abundance that makes them a valid menu option. They also are high in protein, iron (insects contain more iron than beef!) and other essential nutrients and minerals that we all strive to include in our diets.
For the animal rights activists out there: it has been argued that insects do not have the neural capabilities to feel pain, so we don't need to feel as guilty about eating them.
And my favorite reason to eat insects is how environmentally friendly it is! Raising insects takes 20x less energy than raising livestock, AND there is no time/energy spent processing insects, because we can eat the entire insect. And of course, insect farms aren't pumping toxic methane gas into our atmosphere, like some of our other favorite protein sources. Also, Insect farming uses only a tiny fraction of water compared to traditional farming methods.
So considering insects as a food option seems like it could help us work on a couple of the world's big problems: food supply, water supply, carbon emissions, the list goes on. Why, then, aren't more people eating insects?
Well, actually, they are.
In fact, 80% of the world's population does eat insects. Many cultures even consider them a delicacy. Its just us squeamish Americans and Europeans that are putting a kink in the insect food revolution. And what's funny is that despite all our squeamishness, we are probably already eating insects, since the FDA's regulations allow a certain percentage of insect parts in some foods.
So what are we waiting for? I think changing people's perspectives -eliminating the "Gross!" factor - is key. But how? Some folks have already started doing this by incorporating insects into everyday foods. A great NY Times piece offers some suggestions. Just roast up some wax moth larvae and throw it into your trail mix, or replace half of the chocolate chips in your cookies with crickets for some delicious "chocolate chirp cookies"!
As someone who loves to eat, but thinks a lot about how my food choices are impacting the environment and my own health, I am definitely ready for the insect food revolution. I think the trick is to start small, because to be honest, I am as creeped out as the next guy by the thought of a cockroach on my plate. However, eating some chocolate chirp cookies is definitely something I hope to try soon!