| Indulging in insect specialties

Introducing bugs as a nutritious and environmentally-friendly supplement to our menu

Insects and creepy crawlies are common Halloween decorations here in North America, but, in 80 per cent of the world, insects are also a staple of the dinner plate.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), 1,500 edible insect species are eaten around the world. In Africa, Asia, and South America, insect dishes range from fried ants and candied grasshoppers to canned grubs and caterpillars. The eating of insects, however, is on the decline.

Robert Kok, an emeritus McGill professor in Bioresource Engineering, said, “A lot of people remember their grandparents consuming Mopani worms but don’t indulge themselves anymore.” “There’s a very strong modern cultural bias against eating bugs.”

The adoption of insects as food may not only help to alleviate the ethical issues and health concerns associated with eating meat, but also to reduce the negative environmental impact of meat production, including pollution and land degradation.

“Insects are animals and their flesh has pretty well the same composition as the flesh of our more commonly-consumed food animals,” said Kok. “So, if you eat their meat you get pretty well the same nutrition as when you eat chicken,” he continued.

It has been projected that, by 2050, food production must increase by 70 per cent to meet the needs of the growing world population. Livestock, which is notoriously internally inefficient at converting plant feed to protein, is unlikely to meet these demands.

Researchers such as Arnold van Huis, an entomologist in the Netherlands at the Wageningen University and Research Centre, have shown that many insect species efficiently convert plant feed to edible protein. While cows require 10 kilograms of feed to produce one kilogram of protein, locusts only need two kilograms of feed to produce the same amount of protein. Moreover, it’s been shown that insects release between 10 to 300 times less greenhouse gases such as methane than livestock.

“[Insect] materials could be used as food chemicals to make industrial foods and feed for fish farming, chickens, biodegradable plastics, et cetera.” Kok said. He noted, however, that the conversion efficiencies, costs, and environmental impacts are not fully clear since there have not been industrial insect farms to produce food for humans yet.

Additionally, Kok believes that North Americans are unlikely to embrace insects anytime soon. Nonetheless, mass production and the use of insect parts in food chemicals such as chitin, oils, and protein presents an opportunity to introduce insects into our diets.

Though crickets are not on the shelves of grocery stores yet, you can get a taste of chocolate covered ants at the Montreal Insectarium. Additionally, local markets and internet sites have also begun to sell insects for human consumption. Daniella Martin, an advocate for entomophagy, hosts a web-based show called Girl Meets Bug. This show provides a host of recipes for those who would like to add “Fried Scorpions” and “Cabbages, Peas ‘n’ Crickets” to their menu.

“To me, edible insects represent a whole new culinary world to be explored, one which has the potential to be highly eco-friendly and maybe even help solve hunger problems,” Martin said. “Insects are historically and globally popular, easy to raise, very nutritious, and usually quite tasty. What’s not to like?”