This blog was originally based on a course ran by Professor Nick Gray of the Trinity Centre for the Environment at Trinity College Dublin who also wrote a textbook for the module Facing up to global warming: What is going on and what you can do about it. Now working as an independent consultant, Nick continues to work in the area of environmental sustainability and looking at ways of making a difference without recriminations or guilt. Saving the planet is all about living sustainably.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Is cooking up insects for dinner an answer to increasing food shortages?

 Would you eat a seasoned and fried cricket or locust? Most of us would recoil at the thought. However, after a bit of research into enantiomophagy (the consumption of insects as food) it dawned on me how common it is around the globe to consume insects as a cheap and adequate source of protein and nutrients. Some of the most popular insects are mealworms, crickets, locusts and various beetle grubs, particulary so in developing regions of of Latin America, Africa, Asia and Oceania.

I believe that the worlds population today consumes and produces too much meat, especially beef. The raising of livestock is slowly but surely destroying our planet’s biodiversity and natural beauty. Animal livestock is the largest anthropogenic user of land and apart from the animal cruelty that takes place, apart from the destruction of native forests to grow animal feed crops, and apart from its contribution to global climate change, it saddens me to think of the volume of meat which is wasted by us in the Western world, while 870 million people worldwide still do not have enough to eat.

The consumption of edible insect species as a food source has been suggested by many scientists and others alike as a more sustainable way of eating. Professor Arnold van Huis, an entomologist at Wageningen University in the Netherlands and the author of the UN paper, says eating insects has advantages. "There is a meat crisis," he said. "The world population will grow from six billion now to nine billion by 2050 and we know people are consuming more meat. Twenty years ago the average was 20kg, it is now 50kg, and will be 80kg in 20 years. If we continue like this we will need another Earth.” Van Huis is an enthusiast for eating insects. "Most of the world already eats insects," he points out. "It is only in the western world that we don't. Psychologically we have a problem with it. I don't know why, as we eat shrimps, which are very comparable."

So why is enantiomophagy a more sustainable way to eat? In analyses of particular edible insect species, it was found that ectothermic insects can have an energy input to protein ratio as much as 12 times that of endothermic vertebrates. Livestock also contribute hugely to the production of greenhouse gases whereas insects produce very little in comparison despite a higher relative growth rate. In relation to another environmentally damaging practice, some people argue that the use of harmful pesticides is economically damaging and insufficient due to the fact that the insects killed by this practice can contain up to 75% protein, while the crop being protected by their destruction often contain no more than 14%. This strikes me as a typical example of a human activity which doesnt make any sense economically.

I realize that it could also be of some concern that if insects became globally more popular as food, their populations may decline, a common outcome of human exploitation, such as with the decline of fish in the sea or threat to the survival of the honey bee. It cannot be denied however that farming insects would be a lot more sustainable than farming cattle or pigs.
An interest in entomophagy is slowly growing in the developed world in parts of the US and Europe. It seems that its novelty is catching peoples attention and time will tell as to whether it will take a stronger, more permanent hold or if the novelty will simply wear off.

A good website  ia all that is required to find out which restaurants are currently offering insects on their menus and if you’re feeling brave, it also has some recipies for people to try out. 1,462 insect species worldwide are currently recorded as edible. So why not give it a go?

Danae Wollan

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