When one feels like eating a healthy snack, a salad or fruit may come to mind. But can you imagine eating insects to improve your health? Heather Jonasson questions why this isn’t already a common practice in the western world.
Many of us are well aware that insects can be very nutritious, with high levels of protein and minerals, depending on the type of insect. The discussion has been going on for a long time and of course there are already some countries that have been including insects in their day-to-day diet for thousands of years. But is the rest of the world willing to give it a try?
The benefits to eating insects are many. They are environmentally friendly – they don’t use much water or land to harvest food for themselves. They do not require much equipment to raise, which makes them a good option for countries with low economies. They are also less likely to transmit infections.
In many western countries, insects are seen more as a threat to food supplies and agriculture. Western countries have been trained by culture to see insects as disgusting and a nuisance, while insects are eaten in the tropics, China, Japan and Mexico. People in the U.S. eat plenty of insects unknowingly. Many are unaware of how many insects are legally allowed in their manufactured food. And with the number of times I’ve been food poisoned at fast food restaurants, I think I would be much better off with carefully cleaned, farmed insect bars.
The reason insects are popular in the tropics is because different species can be found year-round. The harvests stay predictable and people in these areas know where to find large numbers as well as their habits. We have forgotten this knowledge in the western countries, but many are starting to study and realize the benefits of insect consumption as our population is growing.
Insects are such a valuable form of protein that many people believe it could solve malnutrition problems in third world countries. It also has health benefits for the world in general, with the ability to reduce coronary disease, as insects can be a good source of unsaturated fats. Of course, good luck getting Uncle Bob to switch his French fries to beetles.
Some companies, such as Exoprotein, based in the U.S., have used food knowledge and technology to develop nutritional meals based on insects, stating that insects are high in micronutrients, require minimal feed, water and space, while possibly being a solution to a lack of protein in many developing countries’ diets.
Cricket flour is also used in Hopper Bars, another company from Austin, Texas, who have discovered the benefits of crickets as an alternative source of micronutrients and protein.
In fact, the most common way of giving people the nutrition they need would be to grind it into flour. As an article on Vox.com states, “These insects also have much higher levels of nutrients like calcium, iron, and zinc, partly because we can eat them ground into a fine powder, exoskeletons and all.”
Many companies making cricket powder for their products say that insect food is easier for westerners to accept when it is ground into a powder. People are put off by seeing an actual bug. My son and his friends recently found a shop that sold whole crickets in a bag for snack purposes. One brave boy stepped up and gave it a try much to the amusement of his friends. But the dare factor that brings in 10-year old boys will not work on others. The key to bringing the western world around will be in marketing, package design and eliminating the psychological taboos many have when it comes to consuming insects.
The rising costs of food and feed combined with world population growth are making the topic of edible insects a relevant issue. Insects could be the answer for economics, environment and nutrition. It’s time we started taking it more seriously.
Heather is an authentic Texas girl, a severe foodie and has probably eaten more bugs than she wants to know. She is the twitter expert at FeedingThe Accelerator. You can follow her at @FeedAccelerator and @heatheraudrey