Bugs for Dinner!?
Alternative Protein Choices for a Sustainable Future of Food
September 15, 2021
I love being a foodie. Food is yummy and enjoyable and it’s fun to eat a meal that entertains our gastronomic senses. The only downside is that much of the food we self-proclaimed foodies love to indulge in are not so beneficial to our beautiful planet, Mother Earth. As a former highly carnivorous person, I can attest to the mouth watering deliciousness of a perfectly cooked rib-eye steak or the sumptuous creaminess of a perfectly seasoned goose liver pâté. I also love a plain old carne asada taco and yet, I stopped eating all of these things--by choice! Like many others in LaLa Land, I have made the conscious decision to quit eating meat. Why? Animal welfare concerns and sustainability reasons.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to get all self-righteous on you and expect anyone else to quit eating meat too. My kids still eat it, my husband only recently gave it up, and I hold no grudges against anyone who chooses to include meat products in their diet because I get it. I believe humans are meant to eat meat as our digestive systems and evolutionary biology would indicate. Many scientists believe that the huge spurt of human brain growth which has propelled us into this realm of me writing on a computer which connects into the world wide web, aka, humans being real smart, happened as a result of humans eating cooked meat. In fact, evolutionary biologists and anthropologists assert that humans could not have acquired such a large intelligent brain if not for meat and the advent of fire, thus leading to fire cooked meat. Likewise, organ meats have always been known to be incredibly nutritious and even medicinal in their nature, enabling healing and restoration for the human body.
Yes, I know all that and I still choose to not eat meat. To be clear, I do eat fish and seafood products, but I internally grapple with that as well. A part of me wishes I could be a vegan, but that way of eating has never worked out for me--and believe me, I’ve tried. My body needs animal protein, that is something I have come to know quite surely. And, as my kids like to point out to me, even when we eat all plants, we’re still killing something. Those plants were living things too and this is the nature of the food chain...like it or not, we live on somewhat of a parasitic planet. Until we can all become breatharians and live off the sustenance of sunlight, something is dying for us to survive. So the point is not about not eating living things. The aim is about eating foods that will contribute to the longevity of a healthy planet, the human species, and achieve a respectful approach to the other species with whom we coexist with on this fine earth.
Enter insects. Have you ever tried ants in your guacamole? Meal worms in your tacos? I have and I quite enjoyed the crunchy texture and nutty flavor. The extra protein boost was a nice addition as well. Insects exist in a plethora of species and with numbers in the tens of quintillions (seriously that’s a real fact and I’ve included the link below). With their exceedingly high population numbers, prolific and rapid reproduction rates, substantially lower environmental impact than typical forms of animal protein, and high quality nutritional components, insects seem like an obvious choice for a more sustainable food future.
For the bulk of human history, insects have been eaten around the world. We all know the French love their escargot and I don’t blame them because when you soak anything in butter and herbs long enough, it is sure to become delicious. Africans and Mexicans have long included insects such as beetles, termites, ants, and various larvaes in their diet; surely you’ve seen the worm at the bottom of the tequila bottle, daring the drinker to really go all the way. Well, that worm is more than a way to taunt the drinker to get crunked, it is representative of a culture that has prized many an insect and their larvae as delicacies. In Myanmar, I have eyewitnessed hives filled with larvae being sold at outdoor markets and watched as people sucked the white squirmy larvae into their mouths for a quick treat.
Though we may turn up our nose with a squeamish grimace to the thought of sucking larvae from a hive, ask yourself, do I eat honey? If so, perhaps you should know that honey is a regurgitation of bees, which also comes from a hive. And boy is it nutritious and delicious! Personally, I eat honey on the daily. Bugs are healthy! Insects boast high levels of protein as well as minerals and vitamins vital to human survival while also being low in fat. According to one source, “protein content of termites is on the same level as dried saltfish taken from the same area, and is much higher than in beef.” Bugs are an excellent way to stay alert, healthy, and alive when other foods are not available as stated in military survival manuals.
And yet, if you’re born and bred in America, I probably still have not convinced you to consider insects as an alternative to In-n-Out. Cricket burger anyone? It’s a thing! Eating insects doesn’t have to mean popping fried locusts into your mouth instead of potato chips, though I’m certain you could. Perhaps you’ve noticed the boxes of cricket flour now being sold more regularly at health food stores. I sure have, but I still haven’t bought it or attempted to make any cricket cookies yet. After researching and writing this blog though, I’m going to give it a try. Why not? My kids and I have bought boxes of mealworms at the Natural History Museum and we ate them! They were more of a novelty, but if we as a society could make eating bugs more than