Would you ever choose tucking into a fried locust over a juicy burger? There are many people who think that eating insects, also known as entomophagy, is an inevitability rather than a choice. With the world’s population skyrocketing there are more people to feed than ever and less land available to rear livestock. The United Nations has previously identified using insects as a source of protein because they are able to be produced on mass and create far less greenhouse gases than animals.
It is estimated that 80 per cent of the world’s nations already consume insects as part of their diet, so Westernised cultures are in the minority. Westerners have the highest levels of meat in their diet, but they are far less likely to want to eat insects as they are seen as “unclean”.
Organisations such as Small Herds are emerging, dedicated to encouraging westerners to include insects in their diet. Some high-end restaurants are beginning to use insects in their cooking. Archipelago, a London restaurant specialising in exotic foods, serve locusts in salads. Many believe that the key to getting more of us to eat insects is to serve them so they are not recognisable as the creatures we’re so averse to; for instance, cricket protein flour is already available in the US.
Interestingly, insects often contain levels of protein similar to beef: house crickets contain 21g of protein per 100g compared to 26g of protein for beef. In addition, crickets have much lower levels of calories and saturated fats and are more environmentally friendly to rear then livestock. Even having small amounts of insects in our diets can help us get all the nutrients and minerals we need, you only need to eat two silkmoth larvae to get 10 times the amount of iron you would get in 100g of beef.
It is also thought that eating insects may be good for your immune system; many contain high levels of a protein called chitin, which promotes growth of healthy bacteria in your gut and inhibit growth of some harmful bacteria.
The benefits of eating insects are clear, but there are still many barriers to them becoming a worldwide food source, one being the struggle to get people to want to eat them, another is that only farmed insects are suitable for consumption as wild insects may eat poisons so insect farms would have to become the norm.
Insects are a cheap, nutritious meat alternative, and only time will tell whether they are the future of our protein consumption.