The world's population is creeping up on 7.5 billion, but estimates suggest we'll have a whopping 9 billion mouths to feed by 2050. Unless we all stick to salads, the global production of meat will need to double in that time to feed our growing population, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of United Nations (FAO). Feed and crop production will also have to increase in kind to support livestock and our own appetites, inevitably taking up more land space and water — precious and dwindling commodities required for cattle.But resources aren't the only issue. This increase in agricultural production will exacerbate the effects of climate change by releasing more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere (agricultural activities currently contribute nearly one-tenth of the country's greenhouse emissions). What's more, animal waste releases ammonia, a pollutant that can affect soil and water quality. Yet this seemingly large food security problem may have a bite-sized solution: insects.
In a 2013 report, the FAO suggested our current farming and food production practices are unsustainable — but that edible insects are a viable, untapped resource that could help meet the food and water demands of the world's ever-expanding population.
"We are right on schedule with where the industry should be at this point," says Kevin Bachhuber, CEO and founder of Ohio's Big Cricket Farms, which, in 2014, became the first insect farm in the country to raise crickets exclusively for human consumption. "I think it will take 10, 20, or even 30 years to develop edible insects into a full-fledged market."
Experts agree edible insects will someday shift gears from fad to mainstream, as Bachhuber believes. But it's a long road, and proponents will need to hurdle significant obstacles along the way. The practice of entomophagy (eating insects) is most common in the tropics, where insects are bountiful throughout the year due to warm temperatures, says Julie Lesnik, an anthropologist at Wayne State University in Michigan who studies entomophagy. Higher latitude areas like much of Europe don't have constant insect exposure that would allow widespread entomophagy to take root, which may have prevented it from developing in North America.When Christopher Columbus first came to the New World, he encountered indigenous peoples who ate bugs, a behavior described as being "como bestias" (like beasts) because the crew had only seen it before in animals. "I really think we haven't overcome that," Lesnik says. Non-profit organizations have recently launched education-based programs to change this lingering public perception and promote the many benefits of edible insects.
I can't possibly imagine eating insects on purpose. That seems to be pretty disgusting to me. And I am too old to change that belief even if I wanted to, which I don't. A few years back I recall stopping my consumption of certain drinks after discovering that the color of these drinks was obtained via ground up cochineal insects. Even today though there are a fair number of food products which include insects added for color. But when you don't know something nasty is present in your food your personal ick factor won't be triggered. It's one thing to drink something that has undetectable amounts of ground up insects or other dodgy ingredients. It's something else again to scarf down stir fried crickets, raw grubs or popcorn silverfish. But then again to be fair people eat lobsters, shrimp, crabs and oysters, all of which to me appear to be at least as unappetizing as insects. Crustaceans are actually closely related to insects. The lobster used to be known as the cockroach of the sea. Lobster was something that only poor people or animals ate. Lobster was not considered a luxury item in the US until relatively recently, historically speaking. People's perceptions and taboos changed. So perhaps it's time for us to throw out our silly unfounded prejudices against eating insects and learn to love a good blowfly smoothie and pasta locust carbonara. Maybe a century from now people will look at the idea of raising and slaughtering a fellow mammal with the same sense of revulsion that I experience when I consider slurping down a juicy boiled caterpillar with just a soupcon of tartar sauce. Who knows?