Entomophagy (eating bugs) 101: An answer to climate change and animal cruelty

We should all be eating bugs. Seriously.

First off, humans have already been practicing entomophagy – that is, eating bugs – for tens of thousands of years. Today, people in 80% of the world’s countries regularly eat bugs by choice (The Guardian). In 2005 there were at least two billion people worldwide – over a quarter of the world’s population from Latin America to Africa to Asia – eatings bugs (FAO).

They eat bugs and they like it. They eat bugs because they are tasty, nutritious, cheap, and easy to come by.


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(more on insects as food here)

An emerging answer to climate change

Entomophagy is not only an opportunity to expand our diets and find delicious food. In fact, it is important – if not essential – for our society’s sustainability. Using bugs as a source of protein (instead of other meat products) is an absolutely critical step in fighting climate change.

Meat is a BIG time contributor to our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Grazing for animal production takes up 26% of Earth’s ice-free land. One-third of the land used for crops goes to feeding animals. Livestock produces a whopping 18% of global GHG emissions – more than all forms of transportation, including cars and planes, combined (Australian Geographic).

And insects are a way to do this. They are packed with protein and often Omega-3 acids. And many people consider them delicious.

Insects use a fraction of the resources and land as meat. They generally have a much smaller carbon footprint than pork, chicken, and beef. The carbon footprint of eating beef is 6 to 13 times greater than that of mealworms, per unit of edible protein, for example (PLOS ONE).

But eating bugs is disgusting, right?

So, why wouldn’t you eat bugs? Because it’s gross, you’re probably saying.

I don’t disagree with you. Eating bugs is pretty gross.

Or more accurately, I believe eating bugs is gross. I’ve been raised that way. I believe eating is gross because I’ve grown up in a culture that believes eating bugs is gross. I’ve been told eating bugs is gross since I was born. I’ve had no reason to question this.

But if eating bugs was inherently gross, why would it be so common around the world? We (i.e., Westerners in wealthy countries) believe it’s gross. But the truth for most of us is we haven’t even really thought about it. We certainly haven’t actually tried eating bugs. We just take it for granted because we can eat delicious chicken or beef instead. There’s no reason to try eating insects.

That is, there was no reason until it became painfully obvious that our overconsumption of natural resources is destroying ecosystems and causing us to destroy ourselves in the process.

We now know that eating meat to the extent we do today is completely unsustainable (Care2). This is not to mention that meat production is the cause of unconscionable animal cruelty (Rolling Stone). We put animals through absolute hell in the name of producing as much meat as we can as cheaply as we can.

Is it realistic to ask people to change their minds on eating bugs?

Consider this.

a shrimpThat’s a shrimp.

Most of us eat them regularly. We think they’re delicious. They’re something we splurge on when we want to treat ourselves. They look gross.

a cricket

Now, here’s a cricket. We are repulsed by the idea of eating that. But is there really any reasonable basis for thinking those are gross but shrimp aren’t?

Among the younger, more liberal parts of our society, sushi is a delicacy. We don’t think of it as disgusting or unpalatable at all. We love it. But it wasn’t long ago when the vast majority of Americans wouldn’t even consider eating it. It was deemed gross, unsanitary, and unhealthy. According to a 2013 poll, 71% of Americans over the age of 65 would not be willing to try sushi.

Three or four decades ago, most Americans wouldn’t touch sushi. Now they love it.

If we can completely changed our minds about sushi in the span of a couple decades, why not insects?

Humans have a proven track record of constantly changing and opening their minds.

What would happen if we simply started to see that our repulsion to eating bugs is an untested belief of ours?

So how do you eat bugs exactly?

There are lots of ways to eat bugs. You could start off by eating whole beetles, if you want. But if you do tend to get queasy thinking about eating bugs, maybe you could start off simply by eating something made with cricket powder (sometimes referred to as “cricket flour”).

There are now many energy bars on the market that use cricket powder (see here, here, and here). You can also use cricket powder to make biscuits, pancakes, cookies, or a lot of other things you might use regular powder on (Food and Wine). No legs or antennae or thoraxes. Just powder packed with protein.

Or you could deep fry them so they are crispy, like french fries. Check out these Mexican chapulines.

Or maybe silkworms! You’re telling me you’ll eat shrimp, but not those! Come on!

silkworm with a bite out of it

Looking at and changing our beliefs

Entomophagy is an important part of our next systems. On a tangible, practical level, it can help us get the protein we need with a fraction of the environmental destruction and use of natural resources. And, in fact, billions of people think it can even be a delicious way to do that.

Maybe more importantly though, it gives us an opportunity to look at and question our beliefs. So much of creating a better world – whether it be rethinking capitalism, race, or religion – is about surfacing unconscious assumptions and beliefs and testing if they still make sense. We try to see what ideas we take as fact without really considering it.

Eating bugs gives us a palpable experience of trying new ways of being. Yes, the idea of it may repulse us and not make sense to us at first. But perhaps it’s also possible we will see our fears were unwarranted.

Perhaps we’ll even find that our lives were missing something great.

Where you can go to eat bugs

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