How Edible Insects Can Contribute to a Sustainable Food System

Derek Ma Oct 14, 2023
15 People Read
Table of Contents
  1. Why Don’t We Eat Insects?
  2. Are There Nutritional Advantages to Eating Insects?
  3. What are the Environmental Benefits of Eating Insects?
  4. Do Farmed Insects Suffer?
  5. Do You Think That Insects Will Become a Part of the U.S. Diet in the Near Future?
  6. Final Thoughts on Edible Insects
  7. Where can I purchase insect products?

It’s estimated that around two billion people across more than 100 different countries enjoy consuming insects as part of their standard diet.  

What’s even more interesting is the fact that people have been eating insects for the past 10,000 years.  

For something that’s prevalent in many countries and has occurred throughout our human history, it’s interesting how small of a market it has here in the U.S. So, why is that?

Why Don’t We Eat Insects?

The simple answer is that eating insects has been stigmatized.  

The full answer or theory is a little more complicated.  According to an NPR story, desirable edible insects are not as prevalent when you move further away from the equator.  

This is because areas further away from the equator generally have colder seasons during the year.  

This is particularly true for Northern areas such as Europe.  Therefore, consuming insects never became a major part of the European diet.  

When Europeans came over to settle and colonize North America, the indigenous North Americans were seen and portrayed as “beasts” because they consumed things such as insects. 

Subsequently, eating insects became strongly stigmatized, and the “civilized” Europeans would refrain from eating them.  

Are There Nutritional Advantages to Eating Insects?

There are many nutritional advantages to eating insects.  Compared to most other meat sources, edible insects are known to have similar or greater amounts of essential proteins, iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, B vitamins, and more.

According to the Kresser Institute, Americans are severely deficient in a number of important vitamins and nutrients.  

Iron, protein, magnesium, calcium, and zinc are some of the most widespread and debilitating vitamin deficiencies here in the U.S.  

Fortunately, many of these vitamins and nutrients can be found in edible insects and are a great solution to these problems.  

Any specific examples? 

From worms to tarantulas, there are countless edible insects.  In fact, there are more than 2,000 edible insect species that are eaten worldwide.  

One of the most commonly consumed insects is the cricket.  

According to Insight, when comparing the nutritional value of 100 grams of crickets with common foods 

Crickets 171 mg calcium - milk 125 mg calcium

Crickets 8.7 mg iron - spinach 2.66 mg iron

Crickets 4.41 mg grams fiber -  3.4 grams fiber

What are the Environmental Benefits of Eating Insects?

As the global population continues to increase, so does the demand for food. 

However, traditional agricultural practices are putting a strain on our planet's resources. 

This has led to a search for alternative protein sources that are both sustainable and environmentally friendly. 

One such solution that is gaining traction is the consumption of insects. 

While this idea may seem unappetizing to some, insects have long been consumed in many cultures around the world. 

Not only are they a rich source of protein, but they also offer numerous sustainable benefits that make them an attractive option for the future.

When compared to traditional livestock such as cows or pigs, insects have a significantly lower impact on the environment.

They require less land, water, and feed to produce the same amount of protein. 

For example, raising one kilogram of beef requires approximately 25 times more land and emits 20 times more greenhouse gases compared to producing the same amount of edible insect protein. 

Additionally, insects have a faster reproduction rate and can be farmed vertically, reducing the need for vast amounts of space. 

This makes insect farming a highly efficient and sustainable practice.

The current population is around 7.7 billion people.  

Current projections estimate that the human population will reach 9.8 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion in 2100.

As the population continues to increase, more strain will be placed on the world’s food systems.  

In the next 50 years, meat production will need to double to keep up with demand.  

This is a concerning problem since current meat production is already using a third of all arable land and freshwater.  

Do Farmed Insects Suffer?

In addition to being more nutritious and environmental, there are moral advantages to eating insects.  

According to an NPR article, insects are organisms that might prefer to be farmed than live in the wild. 

 “Insects raised in farms live in their preferred dark conditioned environment, with an ample food supply, no predators, and no risk of disease or parasites.  

When they're culled the temperature is lowered so that there is no violent death or change in state.  

This is because insects are exothermic and their metabolism slows until they go into a coma-like sleep without any pain”.

Do You Think That Insects Will Become a Part of the U.S. Diet in the Near Future?

While there are challenges associated with embracing the sustainable benefits of eating insects, they are not insurmountable.

In many Western cultures, the idea of eating bugs is often met with disgust and hesitation. 

However, educating the public about the nutritional value and environmental advantages of entomophagy can help shift these perceptions.

Another significant challenge is the regulatory framework around insect consumption. 

In some countries, insects are not yet recognized as a safe and viable food source, making it difficult for businesses to produce and sell insect-based products.

 Advocacy for regulatory changes and establishing clear guidelines for insect farming and processing can help overcome these barriers.

I am optimistic that insects will eventually become a significant part of the American diet.  

I believe that we can eventually overcome the stigma of consuming insects.  

We have already done it before.  The lobster was once considered the “poor man's meal.”  

Due to the overabundance of lobster, people became sick of the shellfish and only fed it to animals, prisoners, and indentured servants.  

Subsequently, lobsters became quite stigmatized.  

However, lobster has quickly overcome that stigma and is now a sought-after luxury food.  

Farmed edible insects have the potential to be a great and sustainable food source. 

They are nutritious, humane, sustainable, and earth-friendly.

Final Thoughts on Edible Insects

It is evident that there are numerous sustainable benefits to incorporating insects into our diets. 

From an environmental perspective, the production of insects requires significantly less land, water, and feed compared to traditional livestock. 

This means that by choosing to consume insects, we can effectively reduce our carbon footprint and contribute to the preservation of natural resources. 

Additionally, insects have a high reproduction rate, which allows for a steady and reliable source of protein. 

This is particularly valuable in regions where food security is a pressing issue. 

Moreover, insects are highly nutritious, providing essential amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. 

They are also a rich source of healthy fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids. 

By consuming insects, we can diversify our diets and improve our overall nutritional intake. 

Furthermore, the cultivation of insects as a food source offers economic opportunities for farmers and entrepreneurs. 

Insects can be bred and processed on a small scale, requiring minimal investment and infrastructure. 

This allows for the creation of local, sustainable businesses that contribute to local economies. 

Lastly, the cultural and psychological barriers associated with eating insects are slowly diminishing as more people become aware of their benefits. 

With innovative cooking techniques and creative food products, insects are becoming more palatable and appealing to a wider audience.

Where can I purchase insect products?

Currently, regulations are on a state-by-state basis.  The current framework is preventing grocery store chains from putting consumable insect products on their shelves.  

However, there are several online retailers that carry consumable insect products.  

You can find and buy a variety of edible insects on Amazon.  I also recommend trying
Chapul for their cricket protein bars and powder.

Table of Contents
  1. Why Don’t We Eat Insects?
  2. Are There Nutritional Advantages to Eating Insects?
  3. What are the Environmental Benefits of Eating Insects?
  4. Do Farmed Insects Suffer?
  5. Do You Think That Insects Will Become a Part of the U.S. Diet in the Near Future?
  6. Final Thoughts on Edible Insects
  7. Where can I purchase insect products?