Saturday, January 5, 2013

Eating Bugs

Eating insects seems like a disgusting prospect for many Americans, but why? In over 80% of the world's nations eating bugs is common, so why is it so taboo in so many developed countries?

Do these look appetizing? Source. Credit: Ed Oudenaarden/AFP/Getty Images

Entomophagy, or the act of eating insects, is quite common for both humans and other animals alike. It is also quite efficient. There are over 1,000 known edible insects and 1,417 known edible arthropods (including arachnids), which are often included under entomophagy. And all of these bugs are loaded with protein and other nutrients.

Okay, that grosses me out too. Source

There are many advantages to eating bugs. One advantage is that they can be cultivated. Like cows or chickens, most insects and arthropods can be farmed, grown in large quantities fast enough to make them a viable food source. With some minor plant matter food source, a "pen" to hold them, and some close watching, edible bugs can be domesticated and then harvested.
Another advantage is that cultivating bugs takes up a lot less space than raising other animals like cows. The raising of conventional livestock takes up 25% of the Earth's landmass, whereas raising insects would take up significantly less. For example, one calculation indicates that growing meal worms could take up to two-thirds less land than cows. 
The cultivation of insects would also be very eco-friendly. The livestock industry is one of the largest contributor of greenhouse gas, accounting for 18% of all greenhouse emissions, 4% higher than the entire transportation industry. Cultivating bugs as livestock could reduce these emissions by one-half or even more. 
Insects are also highly nutritious. Some studies have indicated that bugs could be kept around as treatments for malnutrition. And not only that, they could be an efficient form of food that could replace other meats in everyday diets.
Bugs are also resilient creatures. Anywhere that has bugs can cultivate them as a food source, meaning that every country could harvest them. All current livestock animals have very specific environmental requirements. Large tracts of land are required for bovines to graze, moderate temperatures are required for chickens to live comfortably, etc. But bugs can be raised in almost every environment.
The benefits of insects just keep going. I've even heard that they taste good, if you can get past the texture and the appearance.

Common pests can be used as food. Source

I suppose we should all switch over to bug diets. It would be healthier for us and for the environment. But then again, I really do like beef, and bugs look weird...
It doesn't seem likely that most first world countries will adopt insect diets anytime soon, but for developing countries, they are a legitimate option.

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