According to recent chatter in popular global markets and entertainment venues, eating bugs, or Entomophagy will save humanity and the planet. But will it?
In the western world, we generally have socially biased opinions of bugs overall, but now the idea of bugs as a food source is being widely promoted. That seems quite a tough sell since our western mentality is averse to the idea of being around bugs, having them in our homes, and most especially on our menus.
Other parts of the world differ in their mindset about edible insects and regularly make them a part of their diet. Adventurous tourists can find these unusual snacks on street corners in places such as Thailand, India, some African countries, and Mexico.
Supporters of edible insects becoming a regular lifestyle assert their value as interventions for global hunger, climate change, health and wellness, and expanded culinary options. But, let’s not forget the financial opportunities for those in a position to invest. Robert Downey Jr. speaks very highly of edible insects and how his investment in this agriculture industry is expected to grow nearly 30% in the next five years, an industry projected to reach approximately $3 billion by 2027. People in favor of this push toward creepy crawly consumption also mention edible insect versatility as there are around 2000 species that can be safely consumed by humans.
A comparison of edible insects and conventional livestock (meat) in terms of nutrition and agriculture shows some interesting facts. Nutritionally, edible insects are compared favorably to conventional meats in protein, fiber, minerals, and vitamins with edible insects dominating many, if not all, of these categories.
For the greenhouse gas (GHG) and the global warming-minded population, there are many claims for the benefits of resource efficiency for the agricultural future. Edible insect farming wins over livestock in all categories except energy use since globally some insects require about the same amount of energy inputs as livestock. Another potential benefit could be stable income for farmers in developing countries.
Critics speak out about concerns with edible insects’ possible allergens, especially for those who are sensitive to dust mites and crustaceans. Additionally, bacteria contamination is a concern since many insects live in and feed on decaying matter, rotting food, animal corpses, and human waste; insects also carry parasites, some of which are potentially deadly.
There is also some things called anti-nutrients such as phytic acid, tannins, and lectins which compromise nutrient absorption in many foods. Chitin,(which is the fiber content in edible insects made up of exoskeleton) contains small amounts of these anti-nutrients. Pesticide exposure is also a significant concern.
Toxins that naturally occur in many insects, including edible species, act as their natural defenses and if not properly removed or prepared can, and have, poisoned many people even where eating insects is a common practice. An argument to address some of these concerns is to have strict regulations of growing conditions that could potentially minimize bacteria, parasite, and pesticide exposure.
There are a lot of things to consider with this idea. Could edible insects be healthier for humans? Could it cut down on environmental concerns? Could it help people worldwide become more independent and able to care for themselves and their families? More critically though, could it be yet another concentration of wealth by the uber-wealthy consolidating their domination of one industry to another?
I am always cautious of anything that is driven so strongly by “powers that be” and those from pop culture who always seem to have arrangements involving greater financial and social gain (i.e., control), and while it seems like a strange and relatively harmless topic, isn’t that the way so many things often seem at first? This issue is greatly concerning since it involves such a high degree of global control over access to our food resources and nutritional well-being.