Would You Dine on Insects to Save the Planet?

Candice Gaukel Andrews by Candice Gaukel Andrews | January 21st, 2011 | 10 Comments
topic: Green Living, Health & Wellness, Healthy Eating


If it’s late morning or mid-afternoon where you are, chances are that you’ve already had at least one fleeting thought about dinner tonight. You may be picturing a juicy steak, a tender pork roast or a golden, baked chicken. I doubt that many of you dream about a steaming plate of stink beetles, leeches or cave spiders.

Yet, a few decades from now, the question “What’s for dinner?” might just conjure up such possibilities.

By the year 2050, the world will have added another two to four billion people to the planet’s population. And as of now, it doesn’t look like our current agricultural and meat production practices are going to be enough to meet that increased demand for food. It’s predicted that even our fish stocks will collapse by 2048. The most viable solution for this global shortage just may be insect farming.

Eating insects for centuries


It’s predicted that our fish stocks will collapse by 2048. ©John H. Gaukel.

Entomophagy — or the practice of eating insects — isn’t a new concept: it’s been around for thousands of years. Early hunters and gatherers ate bugs to survive, probably learning about which insects were nonpoisonous by observing what animals ate. In ancient Rome and Greece, dining on insects was de rigueur. Pliny the Elder, a first-century Roman philosopher and naturalist, wrote that Roman aristocrats loved to eat the larvae of beetles that had been raised on wine and flour. In the Old Testament, Christians and Jews were urged to eat grasshoppers and locusts. In the 1850s, a superintendent of the Pony Express in Nevada, Major Howard Egan, observed a Paiute Indian hunt for Mormon crickets, which are large, wingless grasshoppers. The Paiutes would dig a series of large trenches, cover them with straw and then drive hordes of the crickets into the excavated traps. Then they’d set the straw on fire, burning the crickets alive. Paiute women would gather the charred bugs and bring them back to their camps to make flour.

Today in many cultures in Africa, Asia and Latin America, bugs are a traditional food. Termites are fried, roasted or made into bread in Ghana. In China, beekeepers regularly eat larvae from their beehives. The Japanese are fond of aquatic fly larvae, sautéed in soy sauce and sugar. In Bali, dragonflies boiled in coconut milk are considered to be a delicacy. In Latin America, ants, cicadas and fire-roasted tarantulas are common in authentic dishes. In Mexico, agave worms, which are moth or butterfly larvae, are served on tortillas or placed in bottles of mescal liquor.

I think I’ll have the roasted cricket

Despite the fact that at least half of the world’s people are now eating insects, North Americans and Europeans still consider it disgusting. The cultural bias may have to do with history: After Europe became agrarian, insects tended to be regarded as destroyers of crops, rather than as a food source.

Farming and Crops

Current agricultural and meat production practices probably won’t be able to meet the food demand in 2050. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews.

But insect farming has the potential to not only solve an imminent food crisis but be far more economically efficient, better for the environment and healthier for us. One hundred pounds of feed produces only 10 pounds of beef, while the same amount of feed yields 45 pounds of cricket. In addition, insects require far less water. It takes 869 gallons of water to produce a third of a pound of beef (enough for a large hamburger). In contrast, one moist paper towel placed at the bottom of a cricket tank — refreshed weekly — will supply water to a quarter pound of crickets. And insects create a fraction of the CO2 and methane emissions that animals do.

Hamburger is roughly 18 percent protein and 18 percent fat. Cooked grasshopper, on the other hand, contains up to 60 percent protein with just 6 percent fat. Moreover, insect fatty acids, like those of fish, are unsaturated.

And instead of poisoning the planet as we currently do with the widespread use of pesticides in industrial agriculture, we could just eat the insects and keep artificial chemicals off the plants we would still be consuming.

Familiar with fragments

Although you may not know it, you are probably already eating one pound of insects per year. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration allows certain levels of “natural or unavoidable defects” in foods, as long as they do not pose a health risk. For example, chocolate can have up to 60 insect fragments per 100 grams, canned or frozen spinach can have an average of 50 or more aphids and/or mites per 100 grams, and peanut butter can have 30 insect fragments per 100 grams.

But the incidental eating of insects is a long ways away from actively choosing to eat them on a special evening out at your favorite restaurant. Before that happens, we may have to find a way to make roasted grasshopper look and taste like filet mignon.

Knowing that eating insects is much better for the environment, more economical, healthier for you and more sustainable compared to our current food production practices, are you ready to start crunching on crickets?

Happy trails,


Feature photo: Insect farming may be the solution to a global food shortage. ©John T. Andrews.


  1. I have no problem with it. As long as the insects were not feeding on pesticide/herbicide laden plants or creatures.

    justsomeguy | January 23rd, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  2. In 2011, I’ll already eat almost anything. In 2050 it should be fun.

    Jack | January 23rd, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  3. Eating insects can be fun and tasty! I’ve tried fried grasshoppers in Oaxaca and thought they were very interesting…and full of protein, too!

    Kris | January 23rd, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  4. I gotta be honest…I’d have to be at starvation-level hunger to even consider eating an insect, no matter how good it is for the environment.

    NineQuietLessons | January 24th, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  5. What do you think shrimp, lobster and crab are? Insects of the ocean.

    GregF | January 24th, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  6. I just plain think that it makes people feel a bit queezy to think of eating bugs!

    Kit Nordeen | January 25th, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  7. If they’re dipped in chocolate or soaked in booze, count me in.

    Art Hardy | January 25th, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  8. I think it’s all a matter of preparation and presentation. If it looks good, smells good and tastes good, then I would eat it. Maybe even seconds!!

    John H Gaukel | January 25th, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  9. No, probably not. But I wouldn’t mind at all if the rest of you do! LOL
    Eating plant-based foods feeds more people, if you skip the middle-man or “middle cow” in this case. (instead of feeding grains to animals, then eating the animals, just feed the grains to the people)

    Jacquie Whitt | January 28th, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  10. Absolutely! I’ve been wanting to raise crickets for years! The other insect I want, snails, do best in tropical climates. I have family that lived in some eastern country, I forget which, and they sent an 8 year old me a video of them making and eating chocolate covered crickets. I’d say it had an impact!

    Right now, I settle for chickens.

    Lydia | February 27th, 2011 | Comment Permalink

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