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Why You Should be Eating Bugs

The UN's recent report that suggests that we, as a species, aren't eating nearly enough bugs has Nathan Anderith considering the creepy critters...

The UN released a report recently that’s shocking and unusual, mostly because someone actually read it. It makes the case that we, as a species, are not eating nearly enough bugs. I was thrilled, because I’ve been saying this for years, lecturing anyone who’d listen about what a great world this would be if we all replaced our hamburgers with ants and wasps. No one’s ever taken me up on it, oddly, but I figure now that the awesome power and influence of the United Nations is on my side, it’ll only be a matter of time until you’re ordering a McRoach at the drive-through. Because the UN is so good at convincing people of things. 

Still, hopeless causes are the only ones worth fighting, so I’m continuing my buggy theme from the last column to give you five reasons why you need to start chowing down on these crispy critters:

Pour yourself a bowl of the future.

1. They’re good for you. 

As obesity has overtaken malnutrition as the world’s leading food problem and Western culture has become obsessed with its waistline, we’ve taken extreme measures to stay thin – Atkins diets, superfoods, actually getting off our fat asses now and then. Nothing seems to work well, mostly because we’re still addicted to all the sugary, processed, chemical-infused Frankenstein creations that we’ve been convinced are actually food.

How about a bowl of bugs, fatty? 100 grams of crickets only have 121 calories, and that includes 13 grams of protein, about a quarter of your daily requirements, and only 5.5 grams of fat. If you’re looking to pack on the muscle, grab a caterpillar shake – 28 grams of protein per 100 grams. That’s better than beef, and it includes a healthy dose of iron and vitamin B. The iron is crucial, since anaemia is the world’s most widespread malnutrition issue. Bugs also have lots of fibre, zinc, amino acids – all the stuff your steady diet of cheese puffs isn’t providing. And, not surprisingly, they tend to be low in trans fats. Screw Atkins – the secret to real weight loss is the beetle diet. 

2. Everybody else is doing it.

You may think I’m a freak by now, and you may be right, but if so, I’ve got a lot of company. Humans have been eating insects since we were picking lice out of our fur. About two billion people still do, mostly in Africa, South America and Southeast Asia. The cynical would assume that they’re simply too poor to afford meat, but usually it’s a matter of choice. Caterpillars are the most popular, but termites are a real delicacy, too, fried, baked, and grilled across the world. Children in Italy catch moths because their digestive chemicals make them sweet and crunchy. Mexicans love them some grasshoppers, and shell out big bucks for the larvae of giant butterflies.

Why doesn’t the “civilised” world get in on the buggy buffet? Actually, it’s your fault, Egypt. Well, not so much you as the region that used to include you, the Fertile Crescent. Most staple crops were first cultivated here, since it was the primary agricultural centre, and since insects eat crops, they became the enemy. We Europeans share the blame, though, as for the last few centuries we've essentially defined what’s cool and what's not for the rest of the world. If we say eating bugs is lame, then it’s lame. But at the end of the day, that’s all the revulsion to bugs is – a social trend.

3.  You’re already eating them.

A while back Starbucks got in big trouble because people found out it was putting crushed beetles in its coffee. 

I’ll take a grande hot decaf triple five-pump vanilla non-fat no foam extra hot double centipede, please.

After the company promised to stop, protesters gave a victorious cheer, confident that they’ll never ingest beetles bugs again – as long as they never eat jello, candy, soda, icing, red meat, sausage, fruit juice, or yogurt. Or wear lipstick. Or take pills. Turns out the beetles, called cochineal bugs, are harvested for the red dye that builds up in their body, and that dye is used in just about every artificial red colour in food or cosmetics.

Add to that the fact that most countries’ food regulations allow for a number of insects to be left hiding inside fruits and vegetable sold to the public, and it’s a safe bet you’ve eaten at least a few bugs already today. 

4. They can actually be pretty tasty.

Now, I should be totally honest here and admit that the idea of a cockroach salad has about as much appeal to me as it does to you. I grew up with the same cultural ick-instincts as you, and I won’t be trading my chicken wings for butterfly larvae any time soon. But one of the great things about insect meat is its versatility – and how easy it is to disguise. Ground-up cricket tastes and looks pretty much like ground beef, with a slight nutty flavor. Caterpillars can be ground up into a paste and mixed with grains to make nutritious breads or pastas. What you don't know won't hurt you, and it might help save the planet.

5. We don’t have a choice.

You know that climate change thing everyone is always going on about? Drive a hybrid car or you’re strangling a baby polar bear with your bare hands? Well, meat production actually contributes more to climate change than anything else, even transportation. Clearing forests for grazing or growing feed kills trees that should be sucking up CO2. Manure creates nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas almost three hundred times worse than CO2, and methane is produced in massive amount by enteric fermentation (that’s science for cow farts).

Meet the villains that are destroying the world. Look at them... scheming... farting...

Our sad little species is going to hit 9 billion by 2050, and demand for meat is going to double. If we try to meet all that demand in the same wasteful way we have been, this planet is screwed.

But hey, you know what doesn’t eat much, poop much or fart much? Bugs. They use up less water, too, and a hell of a lot less space. They’re easy to store and transport, and they can be raised in small enclosures, which means that insect farming is an excellent cottage industry for poor folks. Wouldn't it be great if all those unemployed villagers in Upper Egypt could earn some cash farming crickets? Hell, we could start seeing atriums pop up on Cairo rooftops. 

I’m not delusional; I realise that trying to convince the developed world that they need to include caterpillars in their pasta is an argument I'm likely to lose. But we’re looking at a serious crisis in the coming decades, as the weather becomes steadily more insane and more people end up fighting for fewer resources. Is it really worth discarding out of hand a solution that will feed people, increase their income, and improve the environment, all because we come from a culture that happens to think some foods are gross and others aren’t?