Could Eating Insects Be the Key to Healthy, Hunger-Free Communities?

June 24, 2013

A new report published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO) provides evidence that introducing insects into our daily diets could improve global nutrition, reduce pollution, and even boost the economy.

by Hayley Gleeson, HSC Intern

When my sister was six, she ate a caterpillar. We were eating at a restaurant in Zimbabwe where you were awarded a certificate if you were brave enough to eat one. At twelve, I was far too grossed out by the prospect of eating a bug to do it, but my sister put one in her mouth immediately and then demanded her prize. And this wasn’t just any old backyard creepy-crawly, either: this was a mopane caterpillar, the most commonly eaten caterpillar in the world. An incredible 9.5 billion of these grubs are harvested annually in southern Africa, driving a hugely profitable industry worth over $85 million per year. Mopane caterpillars are a staple of the diet in this region. They are also just one of the many creatures that the United Nations is recommending we start eating in order to reduce hunger across the globe.

A new report published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO) provides evidence that introducing insects into our daily diets could improve global nutrition, reduce pollution, and even boost the economy. Eating insects, or entomophagy, as it is scientifically known, is common practice for almost 2 billion people – almost one-third of the world’s population! Almost 2,000 types of beetle, caterpillar, bee, ant, grasshopper and cricket (among others) are already consumed in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, but disgust and taboo prevent many Western nations from adopting this practice. While the thought of stink bug paté, chop suey ants and mealworm spaghetti might inspire slight nausea in even the most strong-stomached of us, the UN report raises some very interesting points relating to nutritional and environmental health. (By the way, these are all real dishes: can be found in Julieta Ramos-Elorduy’s cookbook “Creepy Crawly Cuisine.”)

The UNFAO offers three primary reasons for increasing our insect consumption. The first is nutritional value. Insects are an extremely healthy source of vital nutrients, and are great alternatives to other staples like chicken, beef, pork and fish. Bugs are high in proteins and essential fatty acids like omega-3, which are essential for human growth and development. They are also a rich source of micronutrients like iron, zinc, potassium and vitamins that prevent malnutrition and increase overall health.

The second reason to eat more insects is the environmental impact: eating bugs is much more eco-friendly than eating “traditional” meats. Agriculture is an important contributor to climate change because of the use of machinery, pesticides and other chemicals. The process of turning insects into food produces far fewer greenhouse gases and other pollutants than the process of preparing livestock, so by increasing consumption of bugs, we may be able to reduce global pollution.

Third, harvesting and rearing insects for consumption is a great money-making opportunity for low-income communities. Many communities around the world have been eating insects for generations, and already have the knowledge and skills to prepare the bugs. An increase in worldwide insect consumption could create many more jobs in the developing world.

Overall, this report shows us that eating insects is good for our health, good for our communities, and good for our planet. So what do you think? Would you feed bugs to your own family? Can you see mealworm spaghetti on your school menu within the next few years, or will the gross-factor win out?