Entomophagy is the civilized term for bug-eating, and if the United Nations has its way, the practice will infest the world like termites in a lumberyard.
In the spring, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization released a report extolling the virtues of insects as a sustainable solution to expanding the food supply and introducing healthy alternatives to proteins we now consume.
The “Edible insects: Future prospects for food and feed security” report estimates the Earth is populated by more than 1,900 edible insect species, hundreds of which are currently consumed by about 2 billion people in many countries.
“Insects are healthy, nutritious alternatives to mainstream staples such as chicken, pork, beef and even fish,” according to the report.
Bugs are regularly prepared cooked and raw around the globe, according to the report, and it's only Western culture that rejects the practice as a whole.
The report says many insects are packed with protein, fiber, good fats and vital minerals — as much or more than many other food sources.
For example, mealworms are aptly named. The larval form of a specific breed of darkling beetle that lives in temperate regions worldwide, they provide protein, vitamins and minerals similar to those found in fish and meat. Small grasshoppers offer as much protein as lean ground beef but at a fraction of the cost of fat per gram. And it doesn't get anymore grass-fed than a grasshopper.
“Insects are everywhere and they reproduce quickly,” the report said, adding they leave a “low environmental footprint.”
The report indicates how urgent it is that insects as food and feed emerge in the 21st century due to the rising cost of animal protein, environmental concerns, population growth and the increasing demand for protein among the middle classes.
I fear it'll take another generation or two until we're farming bugs for food in Oklahoma.
“While the findings are interesting, I don't view it as something we would seek funding from the Legislature to study further at this time,” said Jeanetta Cooper, who not only serves the state Department of Agriculture's Plant Industry and Consumer Services but also claims to have eaten many kinds of bugs.
“Especially since most departments of agriculture were established to eradicate certain insects,” she said.
If the corn industry is as nefarious as it is often portrayed in films like “King Corn” and “Food Inc.,” bugs have a lot to worry about. That's because the U.N. study says bugs offer alternative solutions to conventional livestock and feed sources that “urgently need to be found.”
The report states in 2011, combined world feed production was estimated at 870 million tons, with revenue from global commercial feed manufacturing generating approximately $350 billion globally.
The study estimates production will have to increase by 70 percent to sustain feeding the world in 2050, with poultry, pork and beef outputs expected to double.
Insects are “extremely efficient” in converting feed into edible meat, the study said. On average, they can convert 4.4 pounds of feed into 2.2 pounds of insect mass. In comparison, cattle require 17.6 pounds of feed to produce 2.2 pounds of meat.
Chicken and fish already nosh on bugs, and larvae could be produced and processed for other types of feed. There is no mention of how fish and poultry that fed on insects tasted to humans, but it does state it would decrease costs of the proteins. The amount of protein pumped full of fillers that we consume at fast-food establishments daily is proof we'll skimp on flavor to save a few dollars.
Aren't bugs are gross?
It's not too difficult to see us feeding bugs to the animals we consume, but feeding on bugs ourselves will be a tougher sell.
Throughout its 200 pages, the report details the benefits of bug-eating, including good health, environmental advantages and reduced costs across the food industry. Some insects are rich in copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, selenium and zinc and are a source of fiber.
University biologists have analyzed the nutritional value of edible insects, and some of them, such as certain beetles, ants, crickets and grasshoppers, come close to lean red meat or broiled fish in terms of protein per gram.
Bugs in food
Here are a couple of recipes for early-adopters.
Garlic Butter Fried Insects
¼ cup butter
6 crushed garlic cloves
1 cup mealworms
¾ cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
¾ cup milk
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 cup grasshoppers
Recipes provided by: Jeannetta Cooper, state Department of Agriculture.