09 May 2014

Entomophagy

Welcome back. No matter where or how I begin this topic, the moment you learn what the post title, entomophagy, means--presuming you don’t already know and have gotten this far--half of you are going to go Ecchhh! and stop reading. So I’ll get right to it.

Entomophagy is the consumption of insects, yes, as food; especially by humans. That includes you and me.  

Flour made with crickets
(www.thailandunique.com)

Are you still there? Hey, this is all new to me, too. If you can control that gag reflex and think of the subject objectively, it’s actually fascinating and could have significant benefits.

FAO Report and World Status

I’ve mentioned that, when I was in academia, I consulted for the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (e.g., Rome and Vatican City Time). FAO teamed with the Netherlands’ Wageningen University to produce an excellent, 201 page report, Edible insects; Future prospects for food and feed security. That’s what got me onto the topic.

I wasn’t aware that insects are included in the regular diet of at least 2 billion people worldwide. Beetles, caterpillars, bees, wasps, ants, grasshoppers, locusts and crickets are the most commonly consumed bugs, yet over 1900 insect species having purportedly been used as food.

And what’s that got to do with you and me? Well, as the world’s population grows, there are limited opportunities to increase the production of food from land or ocean. Making greater use of insects for both human diet as well as animal feed should be considered. The reasons are clear.

Bugs Are Nutritious

Are you a healthy eater? Get this. While there’s wide variability, edible insects are generally high in protein, vitamin, mineral, fiber and good fat content. By “high,” I mean, nutrition-wise, they can be comparable to or better than meat and fish. And this comparison applies to animal feed, where fishmeal and soy products are the major components for aquaculture and livestock.

Non-Nutritional Benefits

There are a handful of other reasons to reach for the edible bugs when you’re hungry. I’ll stick with two: environmental and economic.

Edible insects emit fewer greenhouse gasses than most livestock; require less land for rearing and no land clearing; and being cold-blooded, are much more efficient at converting feed to protein than conventional livestock. Take crickets. They need 12 times less feed than cattle to produce the same amount of protein.

Gathering and raising edible insects, whether at the household or industrial level, can improve the livelihood of people in developing countries. While most edible insects are gathered from forest habitats, there are opportunities to link science with traditional knowledge; innovation in mass rearing of insects has already begun.

The Way Forward

The FAO report outlines four steps to tap the potential that insects offer for enhancing global food security:
1) Document and promote the nutritional value of edible insects. The big gap is getting Western cultures to invite a bug to dinner or even for a snack. Instead, Western cultures have a history of suppressing entomophagy, for example, by Native Americans and sub-Saharan African groups.
2) Assess the environmental impacts of harvesting and farming insects compared to traditional crop and livestock production.
3) Assess the socioeconomic benefits of insect gathering and farming for food security, especially for the poorest of society.
4) Develop the regulatory framework for edible insect production and trade to increase investment.

Snack bars made with cricket-based
flour (chapul.com)
Wrap Up

Though I am or at least used to be somewhat flexible on eating (Dining Out), I’m not quite ready to munch on a scorpion or mealworm even if it’s dipped in chocolate. On the other hand I’m sure I could handle something made from insect-based flour. I guess we do that anyway. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration allows wheat flour to contain on average up to 75 insect fragments per 50 grams. Gee, that’s not even 2 ounces. Sorry, you probably didn’t want to know that. Thanks for stopping by.

P.S.

-FAO report: www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3253e/i3253e.pdf
-TED talk on topic by Marcel Dicke (2010, 16:34 min): www.ted.com/talks/marcel_dicke_why_not_eat_insects
-Video on topic by 2013 Hult Prize winner McGill University team (2:20 min):
www.youtube.com/watch?v=eOLFu9sDl7o
-Example newsletter on topic: www.foodinsectsnewsletter.org/
-Example website: edibug.wordpress.com
-Example vendors:
chapul.com
www.hotlix.com
www.flukerfarms.com
buggrub.com/
www.thailandunique.com
-FDA regulation on food sanitation: www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/SanitationTransportation/ucm056174.htm
-Example edible insect cookbooks:

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