Ready or not, here they come. Many new companies are turning their attention to increasing food sources in the United States, and insect-based products will roll onto shelves as early as next year.
Is this new approach a trick or a treat? You decide. Argus Food writers tackle the issue, debating whether the movement is welcome and logical, or simply a waste of time.
In Favor of Insects as a Source of Protein
By Emma Davis, Staff Writer
Whether or not you appreciate them personally, bugs are one of Earth’s most abundant resources. According to the Encyclopedia Smithsonian, there are approximately 10 quintillion (10,000,000,000,000,000,000) insects alive at any given moment, representing about 80 percent of the world’s species. That’s about 143 million bugs per person, or 300 pounds for every pound of human on earth. Compare that with the number of chickens—19 billion as of 2009, or about 3 chickens per person—and it’s hard to understand why only one of these protein sources is considered central to our diet.
Insects are not only widely available, they’re also healthier than most of the livestock we rely on for food. For example, one hundred grams of grasshopper contains 20 grams of protein and a mere six grams of fat, whereas one hundred grams of choice sirloin beef has 29 grams of protein and an astounding 29 grams of fat.
Moreover, insects represent a more environmentally friendly source of food. A 2010 study conducted by Wageningen University entomologist Arnold van Huis revealed that raising insects such as locusts, crickets, and meal worms for consumption emits a much lower amount of greenhouse gas, producing 10 times less methane and three hundred times less nitrous oxide than farming livestock. Sure, that steak looks better on your plate, but is it worth the damage to your arteries and the ozone layer?
Since the yuck factor is still a major obstacle, particularly among Americans, it’s important to consider the number of cultures for whom eating insects is a delicacy rather than a horror. Despite associations with the primitive, bugs are enjoyed in a variety of sophisticated cuisines, from the iconic escargot in France to roasted bee larvae in China, to deep-fried crickets served with beer in Thailand. In Mexico, you can experience an insect dish with almost every kind of meal, ranging from French-fried caterpillars and buttered ant eggs for a snack, to chocolate-covered locusts, candy-covered worms, and worm-flavored mescal, an alcohol made from the agave plant, for dessert.
Lastly, to further highlight their culinary novelty, just imagine the food revolution that might result if insects were combined with 3D printing. With everything inside the exoskeleton mushed up into a protein-filled paste, you could simulate more appetizing meats—similarly to how pure gluten is used to generate seitan—or even create unique food sculptures, such as flowers or figurines. So, once the technology of 3D printing improves, what’s stopping you from making your next Valentine’s Day bouquet out of grasshoppers?
The Problem with Fake Food
By Erica DeMichiel, Staff Writer
In a New York Times blog post headlined “Disruptions: Silicon Valley’s Next Stop: The Kitchen,” Nick Bilton investigates a food start-up known as Chirp Farms and its advocacy of crickets as a source of protein in the human diet. Some might call this groundbreaking, others might say revolting. I call it pointless.
In reality, manipulating insects to make them fit for human consumption is highly unnecessary despite the company’s claims that there soon won’t be enough meat-derived protein to feed the world. Whether or not we resort to eating bugs, unless we address food waste we must abandon home for a world without malnourishment.
A parallel issue can be found with 3D food printing. Though the scientific ingenuity of such an endeavor cannot be denied, there is no reason why we should not first salvage food that is grown naturally before taking to the laboratory. In this way, we might better facilitate the distribution of wholesome foods to prevent global health concerns directly related to malnutrition and starvation.
According to the 2013 data collected by the World Hunger Education Service, over 870 million people across the globe struggle with food insecurity. Though the issue of hunger appears to be getting worse, the world is actually producing 17 percent more food than it was just 30 years ago. Data even reported that if the global food supply were apportioned to all 7.1 billion people on Earth, each individual would have a daily intake of 2,720 kilocalories. This figure surpasses the standardized two thousand-calorie diet promoted by major health organizations such as the Food and Drug Administration. Clearly, the problem is not a lack of food.
The true issue is poor allocation resulting in excess waste. The United Nations Environment Programme states that one third of all food produced during a given year gets lost or tossed. With 1.3 billion tons of uneaten commodities annually, the redundancy of alternative food sources could not be more obvious. Before we panic about scarcity, we must take steps to reduce waste by implementing measures to control portion sizes and to distribute leftovers to low-income households.
Bugs on grocery store shelves are bound to go uneaten, and 3D food printers are inefficient and expensive. Instead of searching for ways to artificially manipulate our food to solve health issues stemming from hunger, innovators should instead develop ways to improve the access and production of more natural foods that would otherwise go unused.