Nobody likes ants at a picnic. But what if the ants are the picnic? A growing number of scientists argue that the only way to feed all of the planet's 7 billion people is to start eating lower on the food chain--way lower. They advocate entomophagy, i.e., eating bugs.
Bugs were once a normal part of the human diet, and in many places, they still are. Ancient Romans were fond of larvae, and the Torah notes that locusts are kosher. Japan, Thailand, Australia, and many African countries still have thriving insect-eating traditions.
At Wageningen University in the Netherlands, Professors Marcel Dicke and Arnold Van Huis have been advocating insect consumption since the 1990s, noting in the Wall Street Journal that bugs are "high in protein, B vitamins, and minerals like iron and zinc, and they're low in fat." Economical too: A pound of feed produces at least five times more cricket protein than beef protein, and while you can eat only about half of a cow, you can eat almost all of a bug.
More pluses: Insect-ranching requires little land or water and involves no steaming piles of excrement. And while meat eaters typically limit themselves to a handful of species, insectivores can pick from more than 1,000 edible options, among them wasps, crickets, grasshoppers, caterpillars, termites, beetle grubs, and ant larvae.
"People who refuse to eat bugs are basically finicky eaters," says Dave Gracer, who promotes entomophagy through his company Smallstock Food Strategies and calls insects "the shrimp of the land." Still, he knows bugs are a tough sell--witness the backlash when customers learned that Starbucks used dye derived from cochineal beetles in its strawberry Frappuccinos. (The dye is also used in yogurts, artificial crab, cosmetics, and other products.) But with almost a fifth of the planet's greenhouse gases coming from livestock production, it may be time to get over such squeamishness. In the food world, Gracer says, "cows and pigs are the SUVs and bugs are the bicycles."
Illustration by iStockphoto/simonox