Can insects solve our food crisis?
Munching meal worms and scoffing scorpions is all part of the game for celebrities down under in ITV1’s annual series of I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! During their jungle stint celebrities take part in Bush Tucker trials which allow the contestants to gain food and treats for camp. The most notorious of these are the ‘food’ trials. The foods eaten can include: crickets and cockroaches (either cooked into biscuits, blended into drinks or eaten dead or alive), green ants, mealworms, witchetty grub, roasted spider or tarantulas, and kangaroo testicles or anus.
But whilst these seem more ‘trick’ than ‘treat’ to our delicate western palates, for some parts of the world these are valued sources of food.
Witchetty grubs: whilst most of us would wretch at a witchetty grub, for Indigenous Australians they form a staple part of their diet. The large, white, wood-eating larvae of moths are eaten raw or lightly cooked in hot ashes and are sought out as a high-protein food. The raw witchetty grub is said to taste like almonds and when cooked the skin crisps up like roast chicken while the inside becomes light yellow, comparable to a fried egg.
Mealworms: these are the larval form of the mealworm beetle, usually eaten by reptiles, fish and wild birds. Mealworms are high in protein, and are a food source scientists are studying as a potential solution to the world’s future food shortage.
Fried spider is a regional delicacy in Cambodia where they are vended as a popular attraction for tourists. They are described as bland, “a cross between chicken and cod”.
There are serious concerns about the food shortages we face in an increasingly over-populated world. In 2008 the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) held a meeting on the theme in Thailand in which insects were discussed as a potential food source. A world congress on the issue was scheduled for 2013.
Professor Arnold van Huis, an entomologist at Wageningen University in the Netherlands and author of the UN paper, puts forward the case for eating insects. He says that bugs have high nutritional value, carry less health risk to humans and require less land and feed to farm. This makes them cheaper to farm and produces far less greenhouse gases than current livestock.
“Psychologically we have a problem with it. I don’t know why, as we eat shrimps, which are very comparable.”
Two-thirds of the world’s farmland is given to raising livestock such as cows, pigs and sheep and directly causes 20 per cent of all the greenhouse emissions behind global warming. Van Huis warns of a population rise to nine billion by 2050 – one which will be consuming way more meat – 80kg in 20 years compared to 20kg just twenty years ago, which means the problem is only going to get worse. (Guardian August 2010)
More than 1,000 insects are known to be eaten around the world in 80 per cent of nations. “Most of the world already eats insects,” he points out. “It is only in the western world that we don’t. Psychologically we have a problem with it. I don’t know why, as we eat shrimps, which are very comparable.”