Could insects feed our growing population?

3 min read

A recent paper in Nutrition Research Reviews has discussed the feasibility of fighting world hunger through the incorporation of insects into the diet due to their substantial protein, iron and zinc content. Whilst you might be gagging at even the thought of eating bugs, it’s fairly common across the globe, and is even considered a delicacy in some countries such as Thailand where you can find them offered fried and seasoned. They apparently go well with a cold beer! If I’m honest, I’d give it a go. I’ll try any food once and there’s not much I won’t eat. Except corned beef. It’s not food as far as I’m concerned, ever since I saw the congealed fat at the bottom of a can. I ate all my veggies without coercion as a child, but my mum made me eat corned beef once, and I threw up. I still haven’t forgiven her. I’m not squeamish or fussy though when it comes to trying new foods, but for many of you reading this, you probably feel disgust that someone could even consider chomping down on a cricket or a grub. That disgust factor could be a psychosocial trait you developed throughout life, or learned from your family, that protects you from getting sick. It’s thought to make up part of the behavioural immunity response theory. The theory proposes that by quickly assessing your environment, you can tell if what you could eat there could be beneficial or detrimental to your wellbeing.

In North America and Europe, we associate bugs with dirtiness and whilst they have their place in the world, we don’t have much of a place for them on our plates and in our kitchens. Not unless it’s some trendy, experimental restaurant. In low income countries where eating insects is not seen as such a taboo, and eating meat is a luxury that few can afford, insect farming could provide an affordable and sustainable source of protein among other nutrients. The idea of insect farming is not a new idea. Insects may look very different to livestock we are accustomed to such as cows, sheep, and pigs, but on a molecular level, insects contain the same amino acids and fatty acids, albeit in varying compositions. Insects don’t have to be eaten whole either, they can be ground down into paste or powder form and added into a regular meal. Protein shake anyone? (A quick google search just told me this is already a thing). Furthermore, increasing attention has been drawn to the ethical, environmental and health considerations surrounding a high meat intake, and even some of the most dedicated meat eaters are considering at least reducing their meat consumption for one or more of these reasons. A massive 70% of the world’s agricultural land is used to produce the animal-derived products that continue to be in high demand. Insect farms would take up considerably less room and have far less of an impact on the environment.

The human population is growing rapidly with the global population projected to reach 9-10billion people by 2050. Currently there are about 815 million hungry people on this planet, and 750 million people have what is known as ‘hidden hunger.’ This means that whilst they may have access to staple foods such as cereal or vegetables, they eat a poor variety of foods and consume few animal products. Cereals and raw vegetables also contain food components that can inhibit other nutrients, as is the case with phytic acid inhibiting iron, calcium, manganese, and zinc. Therefore whilst many more studies are needed to investigate the benefits and bioavailability of the nutrients in insects, it certainly is looking like a favourable solution to an ever increasing problem.

I don’t think you’ll be finding canned bugs like the one in the photo on the supermarket shelves any time soon. But what do you think? Could you try edible insects in your diet?