A bug's future: Entomophagy
At some point in the future you may be presented with some new choices when visiting the meat aisle of your local supermarket.
Beef, chicken, pork, fish, beetle, grasshopper ... wait, what?
Insects could be the food of the future. Let me explain.
Our most popular protein sources such as beef, lamb and chicken take a large toll on the environment. No matter how you feel about eating animals, there's no denying our planet is running out of space and resources to feed our ever-growing population.
Insects, widely eaten across Asia and Africa, have been food sources since prehistoric times and to this day many people still use these critters in traditional meals. Between 1000-2000 varieties of insects are currently eaten including butterflies, beetles and ants. Although, it seems much of the western world continue to experience some neophobia when it comes to chowing down on these crunchy protein snacks (1). That is, a fear of trying an unfamiliar food.
Why are we suddenly being bombarded with creepy-crawlies on our plates?
Insects use much less land and water to raise than livestock and produce less greenhouse gases. They also convert feed into protein faster than livestock. This means they take less toll on the environment to produce the equivalent amount of protein (2).
These creepy crawlies are proving to be more than just a cheap protein fix, with many insects being high in unsaturated fatty acids, fibre, B12 and many other vitamins and minerals. However, nutritional composition tends to vary by the insect type and development stage, season and feed. Protein ranges from 20-76% of the dry insect and fat from 2-50% (3). An increased popularity of insect farming will also likely see feed and conditions optimised to produce the most nutritionally beneficial bugs.
Grilled or fried, you might ask? Luckily this might not be the only option.
Research has shown Europeans are more likely to eat insects in an unidentifiable form. Because of this, insects may first be more popularly sold as flour or incorporated into familiar foods such as biscuits (4).
Cattle and other livestock should also prepare themselves for a dietary change. Crops used to feed our farm animals take up a lot of space and resources, so swapping grains with edible insects will likely lessen the environmental impact of meat production.
So, whether or not biting into beetle shells, grasshopper legs or butterfly antennae gives you chills, we will likely begin to see these products lining supermarket shelves in the near future.
For those one-step ahead of the trends, or looking for new ways to lessen their environmental footprint, there are already many insect products available to order online; whether it be chocolate-coated bugs, flour or a tub of crickets. You can check out some recipes for "insect (meat) balls or even cake to ease yourself into entomophagy- the fancy term for “eating insects”.