Insects: The "New", Sustainable Protein
Updated: Apr 6
Here in the United States, we tend to think of insects as gross, creepy crawlies associated with uncleanliness and disease. This couldn’t be further from the truth. While it is true that some insects are in fact dirty and vector diseases, the vast majority of them are clean, well-kept, and loaded with nutrients.
Last time, we covered many of the negative ways the meat industry affects the environment. It destroys wildlife habitat, lowers the quality of land, and leads to increased methane emissions. The belching of cows alone actually accounts for the emission of over 200 trillion pounds of methane in the atmosphere annually! Methane makes up about 30% of the gasses responsible for global warming.
So, where does that bring us? That’s right, insects. Believe it or not, insects are sanitary, highly nutritious and loaded with protein, and far more abundant and sustainable than current meat industry practices.
I know what you’re thinking. Eating bugs? That’s just vile and gross. But actually, this is a mindset that persists just here in the US. All across the globe, many nations and cultures have included insects as staples in their diets. I learned a good deal about this in the introductory entomology course I took in my last semester of college. Many of the graphics and images used going forward are courtesy of my former professor, Dr. Deborah Delaney, Ph.D.
Before we get into the sustainability aspects of insects, let me try and sell you on their nutritional benefits. When compared to a standard helping of chicken or beef, insects provide far more nutrients. Check out the graphic below to see how 100 grams of crickets compares to 100 grams of chicken.
See how crickets have more of everything? They don’t only serve as an alternative to meat, but also vegetables and dairy.
Not only are insects nutritious, but they also excel at being sustainable. Insects reproduce a lot more and much faster than current livestock animals, at a fraction of the resource costs. Where cows might only produce 1 or 2 offspring, insects can produce offspring in the thousands. See how cricket rearing compares to cattle rearing.
How To Eat Them
There isn’t just one simple answer for how to consume them. In some dishes, they can just be thrown into a pan and fried up by themselves or with other ingredients, like the Mexican dish chapulines. Other methods include mashing them up and straining through cheesecloth, like in the case of bakuti, a Nepal-based dish made using bee larvae, or grinding them down into flour. Personally, I think the latter is the best way to introduce insects into the American diet. It might be hard to eat a cricket straight, but if they’re ground up into flour, it’s probably easier to convince yourself that it’s something else. And if cooking just isn’t your thing, some can be eaten raw, like termite queens.
Mindsets Against/ Barriers
So, we now know that insects are far more nutritious and sustainable than our standard meat practices, as well as a few ways to prepare and eat them. But you’re probably still telling yourself that insects are gross and there’s no way you could ever do it. That’s fair, I get it. Even though I’m all for it in the nutritional/ sustainable sense, I still think of eating them as revolting (which is why I suggested that insect flour is the best way to start going about it). But, knowing this information, I’m now more inclined to try eating insects and incorporating them into my diet than I ever have been before.
Another barrier to wanting to eat insects, which was an objective opinion in our class discussion, is the fact that they still have heads and appendages after being prepared. If the heads and legs were removed, I think it’d be a lot easier to eat them.
That being said, insect products are also expensive right now due to the fact that we don’t really include them in our diets. Even if you wanted to eat them, you might be turned off by the price. A pound of cricket flour can range anywhere from $35 to $50. Of course, this price will drop the more accepted eating insects becomes.
And believe it or not, we actually already do eat insects! As much as we want things to be clean and sanitary, nothing is 100%. See below to find out what the FDA accepts sanitation-wise.
If there’s anything I missed, check out this 2017 TED Talk featuring Yesenia Gallardo, and you can also see them being cooked in action in the Netflix show Cooked with Cannabis’ fourth episode “Futurist Food”, in which mealworms star as an ingredient in a few of the dishes (not an advertisement, just trying to spread the word).
Now, we all know a little bit about the nutritional and sustainable aspects of insects as a food source. You might think of them as gross, but in reality, they are probably cleaner and more sanitary than our current livestock. I implore everyone who reads this to try something new and eat an insect. It might just change your mind about them, which in turn might just help save the world.
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