Eating Bugs: Should You Be Doing It Too?
While more than 2 billion people from non-western cultures around the world have been eating bugs for generations, a big chunk of westerners still cringe at the thought. But with celebrities like Angelina Jolie and chefs from Michelin-starred French restaurants taking the lead, crunching down on creepy-crawlies has become the”in” thing to do.
So should you be following their lead? With approximately 1,900 edible species of insects out there, are there any benefits to eating bugs, or is it just a passing cool-kid craze? Here’s what you need to know.
Why eating bugs could be good for you
While the nutritional value of each edible insect species is different, the overall consensus is that bugs are good for us. They contain protein, healthy fats, fiber, vitamins and minerals, and even rival some of the more commonly known protein power-houses. Grasshoppers, for example, contain almost as much protein as lean beef, but with less fat. Some caterpillars, on the other hand, contain more protein per weight than turkey legs, with the added bonus of healthy, monosaturated fat.
Insects like house crickets, superworms, yellow mealworms and butterworms are furthermore also unlikely to harbor salmonella or listeria. Which implies that these species only pose a very low risk of infecting humans with relevant microbe-associated diseases. (Note that the United Nations still recommends that edible bugs be either pasteurized or cooked to kill off any potentially harmful microbes.)
Why eating bugs could be good for the environment
But it doesn’t end there. It’s no secret that the earth’s booming population is placing more and more pressure on its limited resources. And while some are turning to meatless Mondays and vegan diets to help alleviate this pressure, others feel that eating bugs may be part of the answer. Crickets, for example, require up to 12 times less food that cattle and only half as much as pigs to produce an equivalent amount of animal protein. Plus, insects produce fewer greenhouse gasses and can easily live off food industry byproducts, thereby reducing waste even more.
And as if that isn’t enough, insects are also easy to keep alive and they reproduce rapidly – no wonder the United Nations feels that insects may “combat world hunger” and “boost health worldwide”!
The good stuff (minus the yuck factor)
But let’s get real for a moment. Most of us would struggle to dig into a crispy cricket leg, even when armed with all of this information. Which is why groups around the world are working on ways to make insect-eating more appealing. A group of MBA students from McGill University, for example, won the $1 million Hult Prize in 2013 for a project that focused on producing nutritious, insect-based foods with year-round accessibility for some of the poorest city dwellers in the world.
“We are farming insects and we’re grinding them into a fine powder and then we’re mixing it with locally appropriate flour to create what we call power flour,” one of the team members explained in an interview with CBC News. Which means that those who eat this product will gain all of its nutritional benefits without any recognizable bugs or bug body parts in sight.
In fact, in taste tests held by the team from McGill, people seemed to prefer food products made from a mixture of corn flour and cricket flour. “…it turns out that people either find it to be tasting neutral or even better than products that are made with traditional corn flour [alone],” a team member said.
Why you’re probably already eating bugs without even knowing it
Still hesitant to take the plunge? The good (or bad, depending on how you look at it) news is that you’re probably already eating bugs without even knowing it. How so? Just think about it. Despite our best de-bugging efforts, invertebrates are still everywhere. They’re on the crops growing in the fields, on fruits and veggies during harvesting and some even make it through the processing and packaging process.
Consider this: The Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) Defect Level Handbook actually stipulates limits for the numbers of bugs and bug parts allowed in specific types of food. Ground cinnamon, for example, may not contain more than 400 insect fragments per 50 grams of product. And, brace yourself, chocolate may not contain “60 or more insect fragments per 100 grams when six 100-gram sub-samples are examined”, or 90 insect fragments per single sub-sample. Yikes.
If it tastes good and it’s good for you, why not?
Perhaps the words of San Francisco food cart owner, Monica Martinez, who serves up dishes like chocolate-covered salted crickets and mealworm tacos at her business called Don Bugito, sums it up best. “Once you learn about all these amazing things and then at the end you try something that tastes really good, it’s like, why not?”, she says. And she certainly knows what she’s talking about. While her creations sometimes “gross out” the uninitiated, most of her customers are regulars. Which, we’re sure you’ll agree, speaks for itself.
- Why you can, should, and probably will eat bugs, Online publication, Sep 19, 2014 ,
- The early adopters of insect cuisine will be young, food-curious men, Online publication, Sep 05, 2014 ,
- Here’s Why You Should Start Eating (More) Bugs, Online publication, Feb 10, 2014 ,
- I Hate to Break it to You, but You Already Eat Bugs, Online publication, Jun 05, 2013 ,
- Should we eat bugs like Angelina Jolie?, Online publication, Feb 21, 2017 ,
- Flour Made From Insects Wins $1M For McGill Team, Online publication, Sep 24, 2013 ,