Way past quinoa: bugs can be the next new superfood trend

Waiter, I'd like a fly in my soup, please!
Edible Insects may be the next new superfood trend
Crickets, Salt N' Vinegar / by Brad.K | taken from Flickr and modified in size under CC license

Maybe next time, you should think twice before you whack those annoying insects with a newspaper. According to scientists, those miniature creatures could be the solution for food crises all around the world.

Are we running out of food?

The 2017 Global report on the Food Crises stated that in 2016, 108 million people were facing food insecurities on a daily base; a trend that has seen a drastic increase in the last couple of years. Several factors are seen as the cause of this the ongoing food crisis: staggering prices for food, especially staple foods like grain and rice, internal conflict, and droughts like the one caused by El Niño last year.

Besides the millions of people going hungry every day, our current food system also damages our planet irreversibly. The industrialised agricultural system focuses on mass production, ignoring the importance of biodiversity and soil conversion, resulting in exhausted, infertile, and unreliable fields. Our collective meat intake, for instance, has made livestock and their by-product the biggest contribution of carbon dioxide, CO2, with 31,000 tons of it per year, which accounts for 51% of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

On top of that, our current food system is responsible for using 70% of fresh water supplies world wide. Water pollution through usage of water on fields processed with pesticides and on industrial livestock farms have numerous the harmful effects, like antibiotic resistance and staggering levels of nitrate in our water. All in all, our current food system is depriving us from a healthy ecosystem, turning the earth into a homogeneous landscape without the capacity to protect and cultivate itself.

So how can we turn this around?

Bugs, bugs, and more bugs is what many scientists are now arguing. Entomophagy (the formal term for the practice of eating insects) has a variety of nutritional benefits. Insects contain between 30 and 70 % protein depending on the species, and are a source of essential fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals, like iron and zinc. And if the nutritional values have not got you convinced, how about saving Mother earth, one cricket at a time?

The whole notion of integrating insects into our diets challenges industrial agriculture. It will reduce massive meat production, which will lower CO2 levels, especially methane gasses. Lower meat production will also challenge the current mono-cultures of commodity crops, as these are now feeding the livestock and not the people. For instance in America, 80% of the corn production is used as cattle food, and of Argentina’s soy production, not even 3% reaches the people. If we could lower our meat intake by replacing those nutritional values with insects, all that agricultural production could benefit the hungry, instead of a multinational industry.

The benefits of eating the little fellows is overwhelming. Farming insects uses no water, no great areas, has a minimum effect on greenhouse emission and, above all, is abundant. The major challenge that lies as an obstacle of that becoming the coolest diet of the century is our repulsion for eating six legged creatures (or eight if you are into some deep-fried tarantulas).

Why is it difficult for some to eat bugs?

The issue is mostly present in Western cultures, where there is simply a taboo on insects, as they are not part of daily life, states Dr. Julie Lesnik, a biological anthropologist. When our ancestors migrated to the west, the climate was not sufficient for a large insect population, thus eating them was simply never a manner of survival.

Yet people in other parts of the world have eaten bugs for centuries, like the Brazilians who like their ants dipped in chocolate and dragonflies boiled in coconut milk and infused with ginger is a well-known delicacy in Bali. Focussing on these markets could be the key for an insect revolution. Many delicacies have addicted the world before; lobster, hummus, sushi. All of these were local dishes which would be considered at least odd, dangerous, or simply impossible in other cultures, yet were embraced overtime. Implementing insects in our diet is not like an episode of Fear Factor with massive life caterpillars that need to be gobbled down. Rather, there are thousands of delicious recipes that integrate insect into delicious day-to-day cooking. And for the less adventurous you can always just add a pinch of cricket-powder to spice up your banana-bread.

Femke Maurits

Femke has studied International Development Studies at the University of Amsterdam, where she specialized in WASH issues in urban settings and international development cooperation, especially North-South partnerships. She works for the Dutch Council for Refugees and she is part of a large Zero Waste project called ROUTE12. Femke has keen interest for environment issues and solutions.
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