March 21, 2019
Beetles Over Beef
Beetle eating a flowerSource: Beetle Eating a Petal | Penelope Peru Photography P³
Beetles. Caterpillars. Bees. Ants. Grasshoppers… Is your mouth watering yet? No? Well, it should be. Opting for beetles over beef may just save our planet.
A Bit of Context…
As we learned earlier in the month, our climate is impacted by Earth’s orbit, volcanoes, and other factors, according to The Committee on Climate Change. However, by 2013 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was 95-percent certain human-emitted greenhouse gases were responsible for more than half of the rise in temperature since 1951.
Greenhouse gases (GHGs) such as Carbon Dioxide (CO2), methane, and nitrous oxide are the leading cause of climate change, NASA reports.
Agriculture and deforestation account for 21-percent of all GHG emissions, according to the University of Minnesota. Agriculture alone is responsible for roughly half of all global methane emission, a GHG 26-times stronger than CO2.
Livestock are the most important source of human-related methane emissions, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). Methane is released naturally as a part of their digestive process. Manure also releases methane and other GHGs into the air.
As outlandish as it may sound – and as a biology professor of mine had said during my first semester:
A shocked-looking brown and white cowSouce: Through the Wire Pen |Penelope Peru Photography P³
In 2016, the American Chemical Society found the consumption of beef releases 1,984 lbs of CO2 per American citizen annually.
If Americans were to switch from beef to a plant-based diet, the American Chemical Society estimates 91 million acres of cropland and 770 million acres of rangeland would be saved. It would also reduce the emissions of CO2 by 278 million metric tons and reactive nitrogen (Nr) by 3.7 million metric tons.
However, plants aren’t our only option. Entomophagy, the practice of eating insects, is also a sustainable alternative to beef and other meat-related proteins.
Beetles Over Beef
Cow and sheepSource: Cow & Sheep | Penelope Peru Photography P³
Insects have been a regular part of the human diet around the globe for thousands of years, according to the FAO.
Of the 1.4 million animal species we are aware of, at least 1 million are insects. Although it is hard to pinpoint how many edible insects there are, some researchers have listed as many as 1,900 distinct species fit for human consumption.
Most common edible insects around the worldSource: Edible Insects Future Prospects for Food and Feed Security | FAO | (Pie chart by The Burgundy Zine)
The most commonly eaten insects worldwide include:
- Beetles (31%)
- Caterpillars (18%)
- Bees (14%)
- Wasps (14%)
- Ants (14%)
- Grasshoppers (13%)
- Crickets (13%)
- Locusts (13%)
- Cicadas (10%)
- Termites (3%)
- Dragonflies (3%)
- Flies (2%)
A wasp and dragonflySource: Insects | Penelope Peru Photography P³
“Insects are highly nutritious and healthy because of their high fat, protein, vitamin, fiber and mineral content,” Maria Antonia Tuazon, Nutrition and Food Systems Officer of the Nutrition and Food Systems Division with the FAO-UN wrote in an email correspondence. “The nutrition varies quite a bit from species to species – even within the same group of species, depending on its metamorphic stage, habitat, and diet.”
Tuazon said edible insects were assigned her focal point for the Nutrition and Food Systems Division as a new recruit, most likely because she had been stationed in Bangkok, Thailand, (where insects are commonly consumed) for three years.
Some of Tuazon’s personal favorite edible insects include crickets, grasshoppers, silkworms, and ant eggs.
“Even though the legs from the grasshoppers and crickets may get caught between your teeth, they taste good,” Tuazon wrote.
Sustainability of Entomophagy
While entomophagy could reduce GHG emissions from livestock to a similar extent of plant-based diets, it’s also important to factor in the impact it would have on insects.
“Sustainability of entomophagy all depends on the type of insects consumed,” Tuazon explained. “Some of the edible insects are now in danger for a number of reasons like: overharvesting, pollution, wildfire, and habitat degradation. Climate change will also impact the distribution and availability of edible insects.”
On the other hand, farming insects is far more environmentally sustainable than livestock.
“It takes two pounds of feed to produce one pound of crickets. It takes six pounds of feed to produce one pound of beef,” said Professor Christopher Etherington during a presentation on entomophagy earlier in the month. “It takes 1,400 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef. It takes one gallon of water to produce one pound of insects.”
Why Insects Aren’t Commonly Consumed in Western Societies
Although insects are consumed around the globe, western societies tend to shy away from entomophagy.
“Maybe it is because they associate eating insects with something primitive or maybe they are worried about microbial safety and toxicity – particularly if they are reared in unsanitary conditions,” Tuazon wrote.
However, Etherington said the probability from contracting a disease from eating insects is less likely than contracting a disease from mammals or birds. That being said, it’s still a concern.
Another reason western societies tend to shiver at the thought of chowing down on a plate of mealworms boils down to our perception. From birth, we are often socialized to fear insects or be repulsed by them.
Tuazon said clever marketing and developing appetizing recipes could help western societies become more receptive to entomophagy.
Currently, Tuazon said the FAO is organizing seminars that feature interesting research about entomophagy to open the discussion and propel the global push towards eating insects.
“Cost is another major issue that may hinder consumers from eating insects,” Tuazon said. “On Amazon, a pound of cricket powder costs up to $40. A snack-size pack of spiced mealworms costs around $7.”
In spite of our perception of entomophagy and the price of insect-based delicacies, 72-percent of US consumers said they would eat insects in 2018, according to Statista.
Monarch caterpillarsSource: Monarch Caterpillars | Penelope Peru Photography P³
Edible insects were a $406 million market in 2018, which is projected to grow to $1.8 billion by 2023, Statista reports. The North American market is projected to grow by 28-percent, outnumbering any other region in the world (Statista).
Insects are a safe, sustainable, and nutritious alternative to meat and other animal products – which are currently contributing to climate change and other forms of ecological devastation.
Opting for beetles over beef may just keep our world turning.
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