It’s no secret that we are not using the earth’s resources sustainably, meaning that if we do not change our current habits drastically, the world will be a very different place in the not too distant future. And not in a good way as our supply won’t be able to meet the demand.
The positive news is that a large number of both industries and individuals are becoming more aware of the seriousness of our negative progress, and therefore changing the way that they use natural resources.
Our meat consumption is a huge player in this topic, and as a result, some businesses have even begun implementing a ‘meat-free Monday’ or other meat reduction plans. But is this enough, or is it simply the epitome of ‘too little too late’? However, despite some shocking revelations about the rate that we are using the earth’s resources, I always like to remain optimistic, looking for alternatives to save the world, no matter how damaged it may seem.
A relatively new idea that I recently came across is ‘entomophagy’, which is defined as the human use of insects as a food source.
Whilst this might seem like a bit of a crazy idea for us, two billion people across the world currently already include insects as a food group in their diet. And in fact, you are probably eating insects already and you don’t even know it.
Next time you eat a bag of marshmallows, pink gummy sweets, or in fact anything with pink dye in it, take a look at the ingredients list. If you see the word ‘cochineal’, ‘E120’ or ‘carmines’, you are eating insects. These processed and powdered cochineal bugs are known for producing a beautifully rich dye which means that manufacturers can legally write ‘no artificial colours’ on the packaging.
And if the idea of eating insects still sounds alien to you, let me take you back to the late 16th century, when the potato was first introduced to the Old World by the Spanish. People thought that eating potatoes was a crazy idea as they were seen as very creepy novelty items, whereas today eating potatoes is as normal as eating bread, rice, and other common everyday staple foods. So will insects be the new potato of the 21st century?
Could insects really be a substitute for meat?
There are currently over 1,900 species of insect that have been recorded for food use around the world, including beetles, caterpillars, wasps and ants. And just like you would with your current food items, insects can be cooked in a variety of different ways with a variety of different spices to flavour them further. In Stefan Gates’s book on eating insects, he says, “we need to continue evolving and adapting our food and our diets to sustain the planet’s population in a way that doesn’t create an untenable burden on existing resources, and exploring new food sources is integral to that.”
I think that this statement is incredibly true, and we certainly do need to explore other ways of utilising the earth’s resources in the most efficient and waste-free way if we want to create a healthier planet. According to the UN, by 2050 there are likely to be 9 billion mouths to feed on earth, so unless we explore new ideas we will never move forwards, or know what works and what doesn’t before it’s too late.
Sure, the idea of eating insects is pretty weird, and not at all what your brain and palate are used to, but surely that’s the same when you try any new food? In the Western world we are used to eating, chicken, for example. And eating chicken seems like a perfectly normal thing to do because we have simply grown up with it, in supermarkets, in restaurants, and on our dinner plates. But imagine if it hadn’t been, if we had only ever seen chickens walking around in the wild…surely we would think it extremely strange to eat that feathered bird that walks around and eats corn?
Are insects better than cattle?
Studies of entomophagy have found that there are huge benefits to the practice, and even some that could outweigh those of eating ‘traditional meat’. As previously mentioned, our current meat consumption across the world is way too high to make it sustainable. Something huge needs to be done about this to make enough of an impact, and substituting some of our beef consumption for insect protein could alleviate a lot of current pressure on the environment.
One of the major reasons why meat is not currently sustainable is due to the amount of feed that the livestock need to grow and be a good protein source for us. In comparison, insects are a lot less wasteful, as well as requiring a lot less land space, and in order to produce protein insects only use 50% of the amount of feed in comparison to chickens and pigs, four times less than sheep and 12 times less than cattle.
The livestock industry also currently produces 44% of all anthropogenic methane greenhouse emissions. In huge contrast, some insects produce less than 100 times less methane compared to beef and pork production, whilst many other insects do not produce any methane at all.
Another highly crucial factor in the meat consumption problem is the element of water. As climate change becomes more prominent in farming methods, focusing on water use is crucial. It currently takes 22,000 litres of water to create just 1kg of beef, not to mention the huge amount of land use that is needed for livestock, both of which are dramatically reduced factors when examining insect production.
As well as these land use facts, insects themselves as a food source have huge nutritional benefits. Insects are generally a very high source of protein, as well as being an excellent source of fat including fatty acids such as omega, which are also found in fish and are essential for organs, the brain and bones. Cricket powder contains over double the amount of protein compared to the same amount of chicken breasts, and insects are also packed with numerous micro-nutrients which include minerals and vitamins, and a rich source of iron, zinc, potassium, magnesium and sodium.
Whilst the idea of including insects in our diets is still a relatively new idea, lots of studies are finding that it really could be one of the ways forward to save our planet.
What do you think, would you give it a try?