Bugging Out Over Edible Insects

I’ve been telling my nutrition colleagues for years: bugs are the food of the future.

It’s always been a bit tongue-in-cheek, but as time goes by it becomes more apparent that eating insects is more than just a passing fad.

The Atlanta Hawks and Seattle Mariners have very successfully incorporated crickets and grasshoppers into their in-game concession stand offerings. In fact, they were so popular at Mariner games that the roasted bugs sold out before the first pitch on several occasions.

Why is this trend meaningful? I’ll give you several reasons.

Our attention has never been more focused on sustainability. Our population keeps growing and, although we can produce enough food to feed everyone, doing it in a way that conserves water and energy while limiting waste is difficult. Insects are incredibly efficient at taking food and water and converting it to edible protein. It takes between three and ten pounds of feed to produce one pound of poultry, pork, or beef. It only takes about 1.5 pounds of feed to produce a pound of crickets. Less feed means lower costs as well as less energy – fewer fossil fuels, less electricity – needed to produce the feed. Additionally, a far greater proportion of an insect is edible compared to conventional livestock. All told, it’s as much as twelve times more efficient to produce and consume insect protein compared to animal protein.

For these reasons, eating insects is also cheap. At least it will be once more people are doing it and it’s no longer a niche ingredient. As demands rise prices will drop, and it’s likely they will drop far below the level of beef, pork, or poultry. This is important in a world – and country – where far too many go hungry due to poverty.

Perhaps our country’s food waste problem could be addressed in part by utilizing insects, which could easily consume our food waste and convert it into a safe, edible protein source.

Bugs are really nutritious. Most edible insects have protein content comparable to beef, pork, chicken, and fish. They’re also a complete protein, supplying all essential amino acids. Zinc, iron, and calcium are also plentiful in most edible insects.

Insect ingredients are even versatile. They’re already being used as a protein powder, in chips, even in protein bars. Innovative chefs are using them in pies, coleslaw, tacos, guacamole, soups, cookies, breads, dips, and even as an alternative to bacon bits.

Almost one-third of the world eats insects. It’s not new to most of the world. It’s time for Americans to get on board. Hans Mayer’s brother had the right idea.

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