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Are insects the answer to world hunger?

A report published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation says that eating insects could help fight world hunger.

Cricket salad. Image courtesy of istolethetv

The findings conclude that doing so could boost nutrition and reduce pollution, whilst noting that Entomophagy – the consumption of insects and food, is practiced by more than 2 billion people worldwide. However, the UN report admits that the prevailing “consumer disgust” amongst developed nations notion poses a barrier.

Foods classed as “underutilised” for humans and livestock include beetles, flies, ants, butterflies, moths, wasps, caterpillars, and grasshoppers. The report says, “Insects are everywhere and they reproduce quickly, and they have high growth and feed conversion rates and a low environmental footprint.” It is also suggested that the food industry could help to raise the profile of edible insects by incorporating them in restaurant menus and recipes.  

But why eat something we usually try to avoid? Many insects contain as much or more healthy fats, protein, fibre and vital minerals, than many other food sources. As an example, mealworms provide proteins, vitamins and minerals on par with those found in meat and fish.

Raising and harvesting insets also requires a lot less land than rearing cows, pigs and sheep. They also convert food into protein more efficiently; or in other words, insects require less food to produce a higher output. They also emit minimal greenhouse gasses. In addition, farming and gathering insects is also a potential source of employment and income for those in developing countries. They are also particularly important as a food source for undernourished children.

Sea worms in lettuce cups. Image courtesy of George Arriola

Believe it or not, according to the National Geographic  Africa has 36 Entomophagous countries, 23 in the Americas, 29 in Asia and 11 in Europe. And in some of these places, insects are considered a delicacy. For example, in South Africa, caterpillars are considered a luxury and come with a hefty price tag. While eating insects for the first time may be a little hard to swallow, there are ways to handle this. Bugs can be ground so they are less recognisable, or simply “hidden” in meals with other more dominant ingredients and flavours.

Not sure what is ok to eat and what isn’t? Take a read of Creepy Crawly Cuisine, written by a leader of the Entomophagy movement, Julietta Ramos-Elorduy. And you can’t argue there is no variety. There are over 1,400 known edible insets which can diversify and enrich our food supply.

The movement is also gaining traction in the blogosphere, with a growing number of pages dedicated to Entomophagy. Some tried-and-tested recipes include chocolate covered crickets, caramel cricket crunch, mealworm quiche, mealworm fried rice and banana worm bread.

If you’re keen to overcome the “ick” factor associated with bugs, why not have a go at this recipe published by edible insect blogger Girl Eats Bug.

Waxworm Tacos

-          1 cup waxworms

-          1 cup chopped tomatoes

-          1 cup chopped onions

-          ½ cup chopped cilantro

-          ½ avocado

-          Tortillas

-          2 tbs olive oil

-          Pinch salt

-          Hot sauce


Sauté onions in olive oil until golden, then turn heat to medium-high. Add waxworms, stirring quickly to keep them moving, while adding a pinch of salt (to taste). Waxworms will start to straighten out as they hit the heat; this means they are partially done and are becoming firm, just like shrimp or fish. When you start to see a little bit of transparency around their edges, they are ready.

Simply use sautéed waxworms as you would any other taco meat, adding whichever complementary ingredients you fancy.

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