As gross as the idea may seem, there are some reasons you might consider eating bugs. On the other hand, there are reasons you might not want to. From the start, it is tough to get the Western mind around the idea but about 80% of the planet already eats at least some of them.1 In fact, much of Asia, Africa, Central America and South America have included bugs to eat as a diet staple for generations. As a food source, we don’t know a lot about them but we do know that they are nutritious and we do know what it takes to raise them.
Eating bugs for protein
It might seem gross (it does to me) to eat bugs but the fact is they are full of nutrients. Protein is among the most notable. In fact, just 3.5 ounces of grasshoppers contain 14-28 grams of protein. The same amount of red ants has about the same amount of protein as well as more than half the iron you need for the day. Compare that to beef, which contains about 25 grams of protein in 3.5 oz (depending on the type). Catepillars, crickets and beetles are great sources as well.
The protein content of bugs is significant because humans are protein.2 Besides water, it makes up most of the ‘stuff’ we’re made of. It makes up your skin, muscles and even bone and is essential in making repairs, which is a non-stop process. This is why protein is such a big deal for athletes and especially bodybuilders. They know that they need it to keep their bodies going their best. Combined with iron, you get a great combo since iron supports your blood and immune system.
They are more efficient than animals
We’ve gotta have protein and bugs give us about as much as beef but they consume fewer resources. Just think about all the food and water a cow consumes before it is butchered and the amount of land it needs. A cow requires about 15 liters of water for every 1kg of beef it produces whereas an equivalent amount of mealworm only requires about 4 liters. In addition, some 70% of agricultural land worldwide is used for livestock. An equivalent amount of bugs would require far less space.
Fewer greenhouse gas emissions
Our culture has drilled into our minds that man is destroying the environment and we will all cook to death as the world gets hotter and hotter; all our fault of course. This view is far more political than scientific as so so-called dangerous greenhouse gases are a non-issue to some, but my point here is not to delve into politics. What I will do is share the facts.
The first is that livestock produce a lot of methane, a greenhouse gas that is supposedly a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. Cattle also release nitrous oxide and ammonia in their bodily fluids and gases. Insects on the other hand, produce far less of these chemicals. Livestock produce 10-80 times more methane and 8-12 times more ammonia than bugs.
You might help secure food for future generations by eating bugs
There is no doubt the population of the world is increasing. But to be fair, it is expected to begin decreasing in about three decades. So, for now its growing and it is becoming more and more difficult to feed everyone. The Food Aid Foundation and others often give us the numbers of people ‘going hungry.’ While these numbers are only estimates and likely inflated, its still a lot of people that could use more food, and the number is only going to increase. So, what’s the answer? Eating edible bugs of course!
It is only theoretical, as we don’t have large bug harvesting farms, but if we did, it seems reasonable that we could more easily feed everyone. After all, it requires far less land that livestock and far fewer natural resources. Plus, bug farming doesn’t require large machinery and can potentially provide a stable income to those that go into bug farming. It’s a great possibility for even the poor because it is so less investment intensive than farming or ranching.
The negatives of eating bugs (besides the very idea)
Not everything about eating bugs is green fields and daisies; there is a dark side too. First and foremost is the sheer nastiness of the idea for most people. But aside from that, there are reasons that it might not be such a good idea. Here are some of the main ones:
- Allergies: People are sometimes allergic to foods and can be allergic to edible bugs.
- Bacteria: You don’t think they are clean, do you?
- Anti-nutrients: Bugs have some chemicals in them that inferfere with the body’s ability to absorb and use protein
- Pesticides: Until bug farms are regulated, you just don’t know.
- Toxins: They sometimes make toxins to use against enemies that you’ll get in your body if you eat them.
Will edible bugs become part of your menu?
The thought of eating these things might turn your stomach but you may consider it. There are potential benefits but don’t ignore the possible reasons you might not. It is important to understand that eating bugs doesn’t necessarily consuming a dead, raw grasshopper any more than it means eating a plain chunk of meat. It can be seasoned and cooked different ways to make it more delightful. And the truth is, we all accidently eat bugs all the time. Tiny aphids on our broccoli, insect fragments in your pepper and so on. Yes, the FDA allows a certain amount of bugs in food. They call it “natural and unavoidable defects.”