If your life depended on it, would you eat a bug?
If you're like most Westerners, this might be the only circumstance under which you could imagine voluntarily eating a bug -- stranded in dire straits, desperate for any source of nutrition you can get your hands on, doing any disgusting thing you have to in the name of survival. But elsewhere in the world, entomophagy -- the practice of eating insects -- is a part of everyday life. It's not just food-insecure communities either: the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that roughly 2.5 billion people worldwide -- over a quarter of the population -- consume insects as a regular part of their diet. In regions of Asia, Africa, and South America, these critters range from standard street fare to sought-after delicacies. According to Julieta Ramos-Elorduy, author of the book Creepy Crawly Cuisine: The Gourmet Guide to Edible Insects, in Mexico City, “[a] pound of ants costs ten times more than a pound of meat, and the white agave worm fourteen times more. Grasshoppers, the red agave worm, and water boatman eggs all cost twice the price of beef.”
Here in the West we’ve been conditioned to regard insects – particularly in the context of food – as, well, icky. But it turns out there are several excellent reasons why we should all at least try to get over our collective hangup. Among those with an eye toward sustainability, there's a growing consensus that the cultivation of edible insects offers a vital solution to the daunting problems of feeding a growing population. With chronic malnutrition affecting some 805 million people worldwide and current livestock practices already straining the earth’s resources, bugs could very well be the key to ensuring both food security and environmental sustainability for the planet’s future.
So ask yourself: if the world depended on it, would you eat a bug?
Bugs: The Better Livestock
In 2006 the FAO published a report titled Livestock's Long Shadow in which it explored the sobering environmental consequences of modern-day agriculture. The findings cover a host of environmental problems, ranging from air and water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions to rainforest destruction and soil degradation. According to the report, livestock activities account for 18% of total global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – more than the transportation sector. When it comes to individual greenhouse gases, livestock rearing accounts for a full 35 - 40% of global methane emissions and up to 65% of nitrous oxide emissions – both of which gases carry significantly higher global warming potential than the oft-demonized CO2. The livestock sector currently occupies around 30% of the planet's ice-free land, and the expansion of livestock grazing is considered to be the number one driving factor behind the destruction of our rainforests.
Reducing livestock's environmental impact, then, is of critical importance to addressing the effects of global climate change. But with a global population expected to reach 9 billion by 2050, scaling back on food production simply isn't an option. In fact, the FAO predicts that agricultural production will have to as much as double to keep up with demand, effectively exceeding the planet's supply of arable land. With pollution, population growth, and nutritional needs all poised for collision, the word “unsustainable” doesn't even begin to cover the challenges ahead.