One commonly referenced “alternative food” is insects– caterpillars, termites, crickets, you name it; someone, somewhere is eating it. But is there any merit or feasibility in bugs as a real meat alternative?
Well, it seems like it. Insects are very protein-rich, and contain more vitamins and minerals than your typical farm animal. Plus, the input-to-yield ratio is twelve times greater than that of cows. Insect meal can also be used as a replacement for feeding livestock, rather than soymeal or fishmeal, and would be cheaper. Insects can also be fed on human and animal waste, which we need a way to get rid of anyway.
Two fifths of the world already eat bugs for nourishment. Some species are treated as delicacies in these parts of the globe, like yellowjacket larvae, cicadas, and weaver ants. Caterpillars have been compared to lobsters in taste and texture. At least 1,900 species are known to be edible, and the list is still growing.
However, bugs aren’t perfect– it takes significantly more energy to produce insect-meal than soymeal or fishmeal, even though it costs less. Not all bugs are safe for consumption, either; bugs harvested in the wild may have been exposed to pesticides or contaminants. Even those raised industrially raise concerns; should we feed them on human and animals waste, the insects would be subjected to possible viruses and bacteria, not to mention heavy metals, that would make their way into our bodies. Plus, it is not yet known whether insect allergies are a concern, but the protein that makes many people allergic to shellfish is similarly found in insects.
Still, insects hold way too much promise to write them off. People of many cultures already find them delicious, and don’t view them with the same stigma that the West does. Many species are more nutritious than their traditional livestock counterparts; grasshoppers are actually more protein-rich than lean ground beef, and less fatty. Plus, industrially raising insects would use significantly less land, less water, and less resources overall than livestock. So are insects really the future of food? I’d wager they’re a part of it.