How insects could be the future of food

Bug Mac: A grasshopper meat burger topped with dried grasshoppers and mealworms. © Getty

Should we all eat insects? New EU rules have paved the way for more bug-based foods. As population growth is set to strain global food supplies, some think insect diets are the answer.

Locusts, worms, cockroaches: for many people these creepy critters conjure up feelings of disgust rather than delight. However, they could soon be on the menu at a restaurant near you.

That is because new EU regulations have come into force making it easier for businesses to sell insects as food. Previously each EU country set different (often conflicting) food standards on insects, but now they are the same for everyone.

The law has changed, but the real challenge will come in convincing the public that they should be eating bugs for breakfast.

Currently two billion people across the world eat insects as a daily part of their diet — the majority from African and Asian countries.

In the Congolese capital Kinshasa, the average household consumes 300g of caterpillars per week. Termites are considered a delicacy across several other sub-Saharan countries. Boiled and seasoned with a pinch of salt they reportedly taste just like crispy bacon.

But now some argue that it is time for Western countries to embrace an insect-based diet: both for the good of our health, and the health of the planet.

By 2050 there are projected to be nine billion people on Earth, and the UN predicts that food production will have to double to meet demand. But even at current levels, our food system is having a devastating impact on the environment. Raising livestock alone produces more greenhouse gasses than all the world’s transport.

Bugs could offer a much more efficient food source. For example crickets require just 1.7kg of feed to produce 1kg of meat, whereas a cow needs 8kg to produce the same amount. Crickets also pack much more protein than your average beef steak.

And there are plenty of other critters to choose from. Scientists have so far discovered over 1,900 different types of edible insects: from crunchy beetles, to soft and slippery mealworms and maggots.

So should we all be eating insects?

Grubs up

Of course, argue some. Humans have been eating insects for thousands of years. The environmental and health benefits are clear. We just need to get over our modern squeamishness and view insects just like any other food source. If we can do this, an exciting culinary world of new flavours and textures awaits. Let's get stuck in.

It is not that simple, others respond. Low-level insect farming may well be environmentally friendly. But we cannot be sure how sustainable the process will be once scaled up to fuel massive global food chains. What is more, researchers have found that some widely eaten bugs contain harmful toxins. If we want to make them a major part of our food system, we will need much more rigorous safety checks.

You Decide

  1. Would you be happy to eat insects as part of your diet?
  2. Is it moral to eat meat?

Activities

  1. Imagine you have been made head chef at a brand new insect restaurant. It is now your job to design a tasty bug-based dish. What bugs would you use? How would you cook them? What would your dish be called? Draw out your design and share with your classmates.
  2. Do some research into how bugs are consumed around the world. Use the BBC article in Become An Expert to start. Did you find any dishes that particularly interested you? Would any of the meals you found be popular in the UK? Do you think bug-based diets will ever become widespread in Western nations?

Some People Say...

“Insects are the original superfood.”

Shami Radia

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Entomophagy is the technical name for eating insects. Globally, beetles and caterpillars are the most popular bug and are consumed as much as all other types of edible insect combined. It is estimated that the average person accidentally eats at least 453g (one pound) of bugs every year.
What do we not know?
The harmonisation of food standards across the EU is hoped to encourage insect food businesses to expand more easily across the continent. However, it remains to be seen how popular insect based foods will become in Western nations.

Word Watch

Regulations
EU novel foods regulation (2015/2283).
Conflicting
For example, Italian authorities prevented chef Roberto Flore from serving bee larvae at a Milan event; however, he was allowed to serve the dish in Belgium days before.
UN predicts
According to a panel discussion at the 64th General Assembly entitled New Cooperation for Global Food Security.
Produces
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation report Livestock’s Long Shadow, released in 2006.
Mealworms
Farming mealworms is also relatively environmentally friendly. They produce between 1% and 10% of greenhouse gas per kilogram compared to the amount produced by pigs.
Scaled up
This issue is explored in more detail in the Forbes link under Become An Expert.
Researchers
For more information on the potential health risks in eating insects follow the The Guardian link in Become An Expert.

Subjects

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