This week's Boston Phoenix, the largest alternative weekly in the Boston area, had a fascinating -- if somewhat stomach-turning article -- on the efforts of scientists, food advocates, and even the United Nations, to encourage greater adoption of entomophagy, that is: the consumption of high-protein, low-impact "microlivestock", AKA bugs.
(To read the whole article -- including recipes! -- go here).
Many cultures in the world have been eating bugs since the beginning of time. Even in the U.S. we consume our fair share of arthropods (though most of us, probably, don't like to think of such delicacies as lobster, shrimp, or crab as "bugs", they are simply the aquatic cousins of terrestrial crawlies). Yet many of us (myself included) preserve that wonderfully acculturated cognitive dissonance: sea bugs, dipped in butter, are delicious; while land bugs, in any kind of preparation, remain revolting.
However, future generations may have no choice but to acclimate themselves to a more bug-centered cuisine. As the Phoenix points out,
Bugs take up significantly less room than vertebrate livestock, while creating less pollution (only termites, cockroaches, and a few beetle species emit the methane that ruminants like cows do). They are "much more efficient," van Huis continues, both in terms of how much feed they consume and how much of the bug can be eaten.
To produce one kilogram of meat, a cricket needs 1.7 kilograms of feed, as opposed to 2.2 kilograms for a chicken, 3.6 kilograms for a pig, and 7.7 kilograms for a cow, according to a van Huis opinion paper, "Bugs Can Solve Food Crisis," published this September in The Scientist. Meanwhile, "the edible proportion after processing is much higher for insects — 80 percent for crickets," as opposed to 70 percent for pork, 65 percent for chicken, and 55 percent for beef.
As the world's population grows, and its taste for meat increases, we may have no choice but to adopt more entomophagic agricultural and culinary practices here in the West.
Moreover, a diet centered around eating bugs may also be healthier.
Whereas 100 grams of ground beef contains 23.5 grams of protein, 288 calories, and 21 grams of fat, 100 grams of cricket contains less than 13 grams of protein, 121 calories, and 5.5 grams of fat.
(Speaking for myself it may also be healthier simply because, if bugs are the only thing at the buffet, my chances of going back for all I can eat will be less...)
Of course, it won't just be grabbing live bugs and shoving them down our throats... human ingenuity being what it is, bug-eating will open up a whole new field of preparations, from grinding mealworms into meal, to stuffing large beetles with smaller bugs (turducken a la scarabée, anyone?)
Which raises the question -- what do bugs taste like? Fortunately the author tried it for us, and reports the flavor to be mostly "nutty". (Which makes sense I guess, like bugs nuts are mostly protein.)
It will be fascinating to see if, in the next century or so, entomophagy catches on, as other forms of meat become increasingly expensive and hard to get.
Speaking for myself only, I'm not about to run out for an order of General Gao's Mantis. But future generations may have little choice -- and, with any luck, they may also have fewer deep-seated inhibitions about what they put in their mouth.