Yet Another Way to Save the Planet: Eat Bugs

If you are not yet exhausted by all the appeals to change your lifestyle in order to save the planet, here is another: “Eat insects!”. I should actually say, “Eat more insects!” or “Eat insects intentionally!”, since you are already consuming measurable amounts of adventitious insect parts in your food [1].

How is this for a headline (courtesy CNN): “ The food that can feed, and maybe save, the planet: Bugs.”  If I reproduced the pictures there of cooked caterpillars, it would be counter-productive. The biggest con for North Americans is the irrational yuck factor. So, let’s get to the pros:

Devouring bugs instead of methane-producing livestock is an easy, excellent way to deliver quality nutrition to the masses of humanity while helping the environment.

But it’s not just protecting the ozone. Bugs don’t use much water (there’s a global water crisis). They can be grown on organic waste (poo-poo platter anyone?). And they can be grown vertically, in a small amount of space.  That last bit is huge: According to the FAO, over a fourth of the world’s land is used for grazing livestock. Another third of the earth is dedicated to growing crops that will be eaten by livestock.  Just think of it: Bugs can be grown in small cages nested inside insect skyscrapers.

If that is huge, this next fact is gargantuan: Because they are cold-blooded and need less energy to stay warm, bugs need much less food than animals.  Crickets, for example, need 12 times less feed than cattle, four times less than sheep, and half the feed needed by pigs and broiler chickens to produce the same amount of protein, according to the FAO.  “If you look at the production of a pound of beef, you’re looking at a conversion rate of about 20 to 1 – 20 pounds of feed to produce one pound of meat,” Tomberlin said. “If you look at insects, you’re looking at about 2 to 1 ratio. So it’s a much more effective conversion rate.”

If that isn’t enough, there’s yet another plus: the fast life-cycle of insects.  “While you may feed an animal for six weeks to ready it for market, during that same period you (could) have multiple generations of insects,” Tomberlin said. “Add that to the fact that you can raise them in such little space, on so little feed, and you’ve got three ways in which insects are superior food products than livestock.”

The 2019 population estimate from the United Nations says that our world will grow from 7.7 billion now to 9.7 billion in 2050.  Consider the devastating effects of climate change, overfishing, water shortages and a reduced productivity of crop-growing fields, and it’s easy to see how insects will soon be the protein of the future.

 A similar exhortation with similar reasonings, “Why Eat Bugs?   Adding Bugs to our Diet is GOOD FOR US & GOOD FOR THE PLANET!” is found on the Edible Insects web site. You can be a change agent: “You can help by creating conversations and posting about your edible insect experiences.”  The Edible Insects site offers delicacies such as these:

The CNN article anticipates the yuck factor of putting worms (however crispy) and crickets (even with indigestible legs removed) on your fork, and suggests that food manufacturer will turn insect materials into more familiar fare. In the future you may “toast bread made with cricket flour, drink a protein smoothie made from locust powder, and eat scrambled eggs (made extra-creamy with the fat from mopane caterpillars) with a side of mealworm bacon.” Sort of like how Beyond Meat synthesizes almost-hamburgers from peas and beans, and cocoa, coconut and canola fat/oil, and potato starch and methylcellulose, and beet juice and apple extract (for color and flavor).

If you can’t wait for this glorious future of bug-based bacon to arrive, you can take matters into your own hands today by simply taking a walk in the woods with a collection jar, and cooking and eating your entomological finds. This article from, 12 Edible Bugs That Could Help You Survive,  is packed with useful tips on collecting and preparing different bugs (and what ones to avoid). It is easy to pick up slow-moving grubs and larvae with your hands, but collecting ants is less obvious:

One good way to collect them is to hit an anthill or other habitat (like a rotting log) with a stick a of couple times, then put the end of the stick in the opening.

As ants rush to bite the stick, dunk it into a container of water—ideally the container you want to cook them in. Repeat until you have a few hundred.

Capture as many as you can, putting them straight into the water so that they drown while you catch more. Once you’ve caught a sizeable portion, boil them for about six minutes. This will neutralize the acid in their bodies.

Hopefully you will never need to survive on ants, but if you ever do, remember this blog post…


[1] “The US Food and Drug Administration allows 30 or more insect parts and some rodent hair in every bar of chocolate; nearly two maggots in a 16 ounce can of tomatoes or pizza sauce; and up to 450 insect parts and nine rodent hairs in every 16 ounce box of spaghetti. There’s just no way to get rid of all the creatures that might hitch a ride along the food processing chain, so the FDA has to allow what they call “food defects,” which you eat without knowing.“ – from CNN

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