The Occidental culture has somehow evolved towards a vegetable, grain and fish & meat diet. However, this diet is not scalable to the rest of the world, as it requires an extensive use of lands for agriculture and farming, and many resources for their production. A possible alternative can be the one of eating insects. Yuck, but healthy.
Feeling butterflies in your stomach?
Insects are found throughout the world, in different forms and species. Ants, grasshoppers or some types of caterpillars are examples of edible insects that are consumed in several countries.
- They are a good source of protein and healthy fat, and rich in calcium, zinc and iron.
- Environmentally, they represent a much lower polluting risk than livestock for instance, as their greenhouse gas production is more limited (especially methane).
- They can be “farmed” in all types of lands without the need to clear forests or other natural spaces
- They need less food than other animals, mainly due to the fact that they are cold blooded, so they are much more energy efficient.
- In Nature, they represent a great plant reproduction factor and also contribute to waste biodegradation.
- They are widely available everywhere, even without the need for “farming”.
Commonly accepted insect products
- Honey is the most well known. It once was the only way of obtaining a sweetening agent in European areas. Bees are responsible for the production of honey, which they use to feed the baby bees inside their waxy hives. It is therefore the equivalent of milk to mammals.
- Silk is another example of a commercially widespread insect product. During the maturation process of certain types of larvae, a cocoon is woven than will protect them from external phenomena. If taken prematurely, this cocoon is at its best in terms of physical properties and texture – it can be processed into silk. Silk is then used for a variety of clothing apparel, particularly for luxury dressing.
- Beeswax is derived from the material the bees produce to build their hives. It is used for the production of natural candles and cosmetics.
Why do Westerners find eating bugs disgusting?
It is a cultural matter. When agriculture and farming started some millennia ago in the Northeast of Africa, it became clear that it was more efficient to farm big animals (45kg or more) that, in addition to providing food with their meet, would result in side products such as leather, milk, wool or the force to carry goods or persons. Agriculture simplified the “gathering equation” to just seeding, watering and harvesting. In addition, it provided a much easier way to store the goods for the future (by drying or fermenting them).
A system got established in which most of the food would be produced by animals farmed by humans or crops cultivated by humans. It is taught in this way, and food outside the system is culturally rejected or questioned. Most Western people would consider eating bugs or insects as a prehistoric behavior.
Major types of edible insects
- Beetles: 40% of all insects in the world are beetles; therefore it is normal that they are the most consumed (and widely available). They are mostly found in Africa, southern Asia and South America, where they are also consumed. A particular type that is used to feed reptiles and other animal species can be found in specialized shops in the Netherlands, for human consumption.
- Caterpillars: they go next at 18%, and are especially popular (and abundant) in the sub-Saharan area in Africa. They are mostly consumed in their larval phase, although moths and butterflies can be eaten (Australian indigenous).
- Bees, wasps and ants: they represent 14% of the world consumption of insects. Ants are very popular in China, both as a food and as a nutritional and health supplement. Larvae of wasps are commonly consumed in Japan (hebo), but due to the high demand importations form Australia and Vietnam take place.
- Grasshoppers and crickets: due to the widespread use of insecticides, grasshoppers and similar species are prone to having toxic substances, making them unsuitable for humans. If the area is known to be safe and free of insecticides, they are best collected very early in the morning.
- Leafhoppers, cicadas: they are consumed without wings. Lerp, which is a derivate product from the larvae’s protective layer, is secreted by those psyllid insects and tastes sweet.
- True bugs: they are popular in sub-Saharan Africa, both as a food (fried) or as a source of oil. In Mexico, an insect caviar in produced that mixes eggs from 7 different types of true bugs.
- Termites: they are eaten in Africa and South America. They are very rich in proteins (64%) and represent a good source of minerals (iron, calcium).
Nutritional value of insects
The nutritional value of insects varies widely between species (as it is between chicken and beef for example). The energy provided by 100g of insects ranges between 90kcal and 1200kcal. The protein content in insects can be as low as 13% and as high as 77%. Fat is also quite variable but some species can contain as much as 67% (dry weight), with the good news being that it’s unsaturated fat (similar to the one found in fish and particularly salmon). They are a great source of iron and zinc, as well as vitamins and fiber.
Next time mom tells you to finish your greens, tell her you’d be better off finishing your worms.
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