No one wants to talk about bugs. They're gross, invasive and nightmare inducing. In Starship Troopers they are even imagined as planning the destruction of the human race. With all that bad press, it is easy to understand why scientists are having a hard time convincing people bugs might just be the answer to global warming and food shortages.
If you have the uneasy feeling that I'm going to suggest something like we should be embracing entomophagy — the practice of eating bugs — you're right. It just so happens bugs are packed with protein, and eating them in place of red meat would help reduce the impact of livestock production on the planet.
Don't be grossed out! Reality shows have given eating bugs a bad rep — many cultures have been eating bugs for millennia. What exactly are they eating? We'll get to that, but first a little bit on exactly why eating bugs could save the planet.
The Poorly Balanced Equation Of Livestock Production
Not many people realize it when they grab a Big Mac, but livestock production is doing serious damage to the environment.
Maybe it's not much fun or glamorous to read about, but here are some seriously "wow" inducing facts that make you think:
- A Cornell University study in the late '90s estimated the U.S. alone could feed 800 million people with the grain produced for livestock to eat. Imagine what that those numbers would be now?
- In 2006 the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) examined the impact of livestock in a report called "Livestock's Long Shadow ." The report noted that grazing land occupies 26% of Earth's terrestrial surface and feed production about a third of all arable land. It hits the Amazon hard — 70% of previously forested land has been leveled to produce livestock.
- The same report also notes that livestock are responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, a bigger share than that of general transport. That doesn't even include the carbon footprint it takes to get the cows from the farm to the market.
Gadzooks, right? It makes you wonder how with a population of
our planet could handle growth of an industry that requires an input that is generally greater than the protein output/value we get in the end.
We're not saying that everyone has to stop eating meat, or that meat is evil and you're evil for eating it. We're also not saying that vegetarians and vegans need to start eating bugs. It's merely useful to juxtapose a commonly known protein source such as beef with the lesser considered option (at least in first world countries) of bugs.
Bugs? Why'd It Have To Be Bugs?
Meat eaters may love a familiar slice of beef, chicken or pork compared to a squirming, scuttling insect, but just because the dishes aren't a part of our culture doesn't mean we should ignore they have less impact on the environment when stacked up against their nutritional value.
Researchers from the University of Wisconsin and Pennsylvania State University are just some of the scientists that point out by adding edible bugs to the diets of meat eaters we could reduce the dependency on livestock farming. Edible bugs are more efficient to farm with less feed and definitely less space needed for a sizable yield.
The FAO's Livestock's Long Shadow report points out in some areas of the world eating indigenous bugs is also a solution to pest problems without introducing pesticides to the food supply. For example, the Thai government has encouraged people to harvest the locusts that were eating crops, and even gave out recipes to help people embrace the plan. The program was a hit on every level — saved crops and full stomachs.
The other big factor is that bugs are pretty darn good for you. Forget the shady cockroaches we see in urban settings and think more along the lines of grasshoppers and locusts. According to U.S. News and World Report,100 grams of top sirloin beef contains about 29 grams of protein and 21 grams of fat, while 100 grams of grasshopper contains 20 grams of protein and six grams of fat. That's a much healthier ratio.
Instinctively many cultures have known that bugs are good for them having added them to their diets over the centuries when times were tough and other food was scarce.
Bottom line, many scientists who are studying world population, climate change and hunger think that adding bugs into the mix could be a fast and efficient way of achieving a diet that is nutritionally sound and can ease the strain on the planet.