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Entomophagy (eating bugs), in five minutes

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Entomophagy, the short version

Meat production is one of the world’s greatest contributors to ecological destruction and climate change, not to mention animal cruelty. Eating insects is substantially more environmentally friendly and humane. And though we in the West often consider it disgusting, the majority of human cultures have happily, voluntarily eaten insects for millennia. Perhaps it’s not as disgusting as we make it out to be?

Entomophagy, the longer version

We should all be eating bugs. Seriously.

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 (packed with protein and often Omega-3 acids), cheap, and easy to come by.

(More on insects as food here)

An emerging answer to climate change

But 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 production is a significant 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).

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?

I know you’re thinking it. I don’t disagree with you. Eating bugs does seem unappetizing, if not outright repulsive.

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. There’s no reason to even try.

That is, there was no reason until it became painfully obvious that our overconsumption of natural resources is destroying the planet’s 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.

Can we reasonably continue on with this behavior? Should we?

Is it realistic to ask people to change their minds about 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 repulsive 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 disgusting, 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 change 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.

So how do you eat bugs exactly?

There are many ways to eat bugs. You could start 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.

Embed from Getty Images

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

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, eating insects can help us get the protein and nutrition we need with a fraction of the environmental destruction and use of natural resources. And, in fact, billions of people already think it is 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 make sense.

Eating bugs gives us a palpable experience of trying new ways of being. Yes, the idea of it may repulse us. But perhaps it’s also possible we will find our fears were unwarranted.

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

Entomophagy, in practice

More and more emerging business are trying to capitalize on new interest in entomophagy. One example is Arizona’s Chapul, a new company started by Pat Crowley that sells cricket flour and energy bars made with cricket flour. Chapul rose to popularity after an appearance on the entrepreneurship TV show Shark Tank. Chapul is driven by creating a world that uses natural resources more efficiently and sustainably and is preserved for future generations.

If you are like most of us and a bit put off by the idea of eating bugs, the first thing you can do is challenge yourself just to try them. Order a Chapul bar. Order the fried grasshoppers at your local restaurant. Make some baked goods out of cricket flour.

Ultimately, really the only reason not to eat bugs is our own stigma against. So challenge that stigma. Open your mind and give it a chance. You’ll likely find that they are not only tasty, but an easy way to shift away from a meat-intensive diet.

Recommended reading

Edible: An Adventure into the World of Eating Insects and the Last Great Hope to Save the Planet

by Daniella Martin

In this rollicking excursion into the world of edible insects, Martin takes us to the front lines of the next big trend in the global food movement and shows us how insects just might be the key to solving world hunger.

Kindling makes a commission for purchases made through the links above.


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Peter Schulte

Peter Schulte is the founder and editor of Kindling. Peter is also Senior Digital Engagement Associate for the Pacific Institute and the UN Global Compact's CEO Water Mandate, connecting businesses to sustainable water practices. Peter holds a B.S. in Conservation and Resource Studies and a B.A. in Comparative Literature from University of California, Berkeley, and an M.B.A. in Sustainable Systems from Pinchot University. He lives in Bellingham, WA, USA with his wife, son, and cat.