Our planet contains about forty tons of bugs for every human, says Helena Goodrich, offering and “ongoing ‘all you can eat” insect buffet.” While snacking on cicadas probably won’t catch on in the U.S. anytime soon, could eating more bugs help solve world hunger?

eating-bugsAccording to a recent U.N. report, insects could indeed be part of the solution to some of the world’s food security and health problems. More than 1,900 species have reportedly been used as food and insects form part of the traditional diets of at least 2 billion people. So why isn’t entomophagy (consumption of insects as food) more popular among Westerners?

The main reason, of course, is that cows and chickens taste better than crickets and cockroaches. But that shouldn’t stop us from promoting insects as an edible alternative:

The case needs to be made to consumers that eating insects is not only good for their health, it is good for the planet. Additionally, insect rearing should be promoted and encouraged as a socially inclusive activity. Rearing insects requires minimal technical knowledge and capital investment and, since it does not require access to or ownership of land, lies within the reach of even the poorest and most vulnerable members of society.

In the future, as the prices of conventional animal proteins increase, insects may well become a cheaper source of protein than conventionally produced meat and ocean caught fish. For this to occur, there will need to be significant technological innovation, changes in consumer preferences, insect-encompassing food and feed legislation, and more sustainable food production.

It would be easy to mock the U.N. report—indeed, that was my intention before I read the document—but it raises some thought-provoking issues. Many underdeveloped nations need better access to both inexpensive forms of protein and economic opportunities for women. Raising insects—or “minilivestock” as the U.N report refers to bug ranching—can provide both:

Minilivestock enterprises are advantageous because they (FAO, 2011b):

• require minimal space;

• do not compete directly with food for human consumption;

• have a demand which outstrips their supply;

• have high reproductive rates;

• create cash inflow in a short period;

• have high to very high financial returns in many cases;

• are nutritional and a part of human nutrition;

• convert feed to protein efficiently;

• are relatively easy to manage;

• are easily transportable;

• are often easy to raise and do not require in-depth training

Insects, along with other minilivestock, support diversified markets because they can be sold to consumers across the rural–urban spectrum. In many cases, rural people will sell their minilivestock within their villages; however, due to their transportability, insects can easily be moved to urban markets by, for example, bus, truck or bicycle.

Rearing insects can also be carried out as a complement to other livelihood strategies. Additionally, insect rearing can be done by both landowners and the landless because not much space is required.

The U.N. reports offers some intriguing ideas for advancing entrepreneurial solutions to poverty, hunger, and economic development. Selling Westerners on the idea may be a tough sell, but you never know what will catch on. Maybe some day even Americans will be serving locusts and wild honey alongside hot dogs and burgers at our Memorial Day barbecues.

  • The idea of eating insects, whether at the chrysalis or adult stage is on in many areas of Nigeria and other countries in Africa. What is needed now is to popularize the concept.

  • The North Carolina Museum of Natural History used to (looks like they still do…) hold an annual “Bugfest” where they brought all the bugs out onto display, bu they also served a number of bug-“infested” dishes. There were mealworm hushpuppies, chocolate chirp cookies, and a number of other dishes. Here’s the most recent lineup: http://www.bugfest.org/cafe.htm

    The recent news about cicadapocolypse provoked my economic thoughts: If we started eating the cicadas it would represent a positive quality of life shock and a simultaneous negative GDP shock, as we purchased less store-bought meat.

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