There’s absolutely no doubt that raising your own animals is the most sustainable and functional way to provide your family with meat. But for those of you who aren’t yet ready for the plunge into vegetarianism, but still find that chowing down on a Bessy burger isn’t your idea of a tasty meal (and I can’t blame you—recent studies found that mice express empathy, dolphins have names, and crows hold grudges), how about a nice, readily-available, oft-crunchy but still-meaty alternative—insects!
While you may be shocked and possibly grossed-out by the suggestion, insects are quite popular in meals around the globe. They’re also one of nature’s most efficient converters of plant matter to protein. According to National Geographic, 100 pounds of feed produces about 10 pounds of beef, but that same amount of feed can grow more than four times that amount in crickets. Not surprisingly, insect farming also uses significantly less energy than conventional meat production, and produces much less CO2.
Nutritionally, insects trump both traditional red meats and fish. Insects are great sources of B vitamins, thiamine, niacin, and iron, and they often contain more protein than beef—caterpillars, for example, pack 28 grams of protein per 100 grams of, well, caterpillar.
While you should be cautious (some insects aren’t edible, and many wild critters are contaminated with pesticides), don’t be shy about growing your own bugs for food. As Dave Gracer, owner of Rhode Island’s edible insect farming company SmallStock Food Solutions, says on his blog, “While some of the exotic ‘bugs’ I’ve gotten over the years are quite tasty and impressive, ‘the movement’ will make the most progress through the production of captive-raised insects.”
Countries that already regularly eat insects include Mexico, China, Ghana, Uganda, Thailand, Brazil, Australia, Japan, parts of the Middle East… you get the idea. San Francisco even has its own bug food truck, Don Bugito, which serves up steaming hot meal worms, wax moth larvae, crickets, and more. According to the bug truck’s proprietor, Monica Martínez, fried bee larvae taste like nutty, mushroomy raisins. Not so bad, eh?
So really, once we still-squeamish Europeans and Americans get our maggots-are-gross heads wrapped around the idea of eating bugs, insects could become a globally sustainable source of protein. Think about that the next time you have a shot at eating fried grasshoppers (served at Portland’s Mee Sen Thai Eatery). Just close your eyes and take that first bite—the insect-eating world has got your back.
by Genevieve Weber