A burger and flies: Why some scientists are promoting insects as food

Takeaway / Wikimedia Commons CC3.0

We’ve seen the same scene play out countless times on our favorite TV channels.

Scrappy travel show hosts stroll through street markets in foreign countries. They stop at a stall and cringe, retching and exclaiming in an exaggerated display of shock. They then purchase the item being sold—a fried insect on a stick—and as the camera gets a close-up shot, take a reluctant, quivering chomp.

Many people are revolted by the thought of eating creepy, crawly, bugs. But science suggests that those who snack on insects may have hit upon something good.

John Coupland, professor of Food Science at Penn State University and spokesperson for the Institute of Food Technologists, outlines seven benefits of eating insects.

  1. Insects, especially crickets, are high in protein. Exact numbers differ depending on what the bugs are fed, but in most cases, crickets contain a higher percentage of protein than beef does.
  2. Insects are high in other nutrients as well. Insect protein contains amino acids, vitamins, minerals and more.
  3. Many insect species have less than 5 grams of fat per serving, though others contain more.
  4. Farming insects is eco-friendly, as little space is needed and they are easy to feed.
  5. There are many ways to cook and prepare insects.
  6. Countless species of insects exist in the world, with diverse tastes for all.
  7. It may be hard to stomach the thought, but insect-eating aficionados swear insects taste great, with a distinct nutty flavor.

As the global population continues to skyrocket, keeping everyone’s stomach full is a serious concern, and insect farming could provide a viable, nutritious solution in areas where hunger is prevalent.

However, if you can’t fathom replacing a burger with a pile of grasshoppers, there are more palatable options. Many companies make food products derived from insects, such as flour. Meals made with these products pack an extra protein punch, and are also created from products that require less land and water than others do.

Other benefits that insect fans have proposed include the creation of jobs in insect farming and the decreased risk of pathogens carried by livestock such as Salmonella and Listeria.

Insects could not just supplement the human diet, but could also feed livestock and poultry. The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that feed production will have to increase by 70% by 2050 in order to keep up with growing populations. The FAO suggests that the most promising species of insects that could help us keep up are black soldier flies, common housefly larvae, silkworms and yellow mealworms. Yum.

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