Insect-eating, though familiar enough to two billion people, is largely confined to Asia, Africa and Latin America. Most Westerners see it as survivalist bravado in the ‘bush tucker trials’ of reality TV, where C-list celebrities gag on witchetty grubs. But are they losing sight of a valuable protein source?
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation report, ‘Edible Insects: Future Prospects for Food and Feed Security’, seeks to put that right. Besides adding them to the pot, it points to “potential new uses of insects for direct human consumption [and] farming them for food and feed”. Why not, for instance, use insect protein in fortified blended foods (FBFs) to target malnutrition, instead of imported soya, wheat and corn?
The arguments are backed by an impressive weight of information on nutritional value. Locusts and termites can be as much as 28% protein by weight, as good as any meat or fish; crickets are almost as protein-rich; while the Mexican chapuline grasshopper can be as much as 48% protein. And because they are cold-blooded, insects are very efficient feed converters: crickets, for example, need 12 times less feed than cattle, and four times less than sheep, to produce the same amount of protein.
Should we be eating bugs instead of beef [see 'What's on the menu for a sustainable future']? Yes, says Mark Driscoll, who heads up Forum for the Future’s work on food. “Insects could play an important role in providing alternative protein sources, if we can overcome current prejudices. Western diets do have to change if we are to feed an increasing global population within an increasingly resource-constrained world.”
A shift from gathering to farming could spawn sizeable enterprises, like the South African fly factory which grows insects on animal waste and turns them into feed. It has just won a $100,000 prize from the UN-backed African Innovation Foundation.
For something more seductive, try Ento Box. Inspired by the marketing of sushi, graduates from London’s Royal College of Art and Imperial College are combining elegant presentation and cookery skills to give insects an image makeover. They are catering initially for supper clubs and festivals, and aim to open a restaurant in due course. Their ready meals are still in prototype, but they’re hopeful we could see them in supermarkets by 2020.
Image credits: Ento