Insects have the potential to become an excellent famine-relief product. The thing is, not enough time or effort has been put into insect product practices by today’s entrepreneurs.
[Insect] production practices are just too expensive. Everything from how we farm them to how we render them into a food product can be exponentially improved.”
—Harman Singh Johar
Many, not surprisingly, face a huge mental barrier when faced with the idea of eating insects. Consider it the “ICK-factor.” It’s a huge deal in your mind, until you put a bug in your mouth, start chewing, and think “Eh – it’s kinda good!”
Around the world, eating insects isn’t a big deal. Around 2 billion people regularly enjoy everything from fried scorpions in Thailand to yellow-jacket larvae in Japan.
In the US, Africa, and Latin America, however, insects typically are raised on a small scale with inefficient, outdated technology, or gathered wild from farm fields where pesticide contamination is a problem. The supply is too erratic to be a real solution for malnutrition in developing countries, and too marginal to make a dent in the environmental footprint of developed ones.
We need innovation driven by competition in the private sector.
THE ENVIRONMENTAL ARGUMENTS in favor of swapping insects for conventional livestock as a protein source:
- Insects are coldblooded and don’t waste feed staying warm, but instead convert it directly into body mass.
- Ex) Ten pounds of grain yields about 5 pounds of cricket meat vs. half a pound of beef, a pound of pork or 2 pounds of chicken (Source: 2013 study in the Annual Review of Entomology).
- Ex) Half a gallon of water produces a pound of cricket meat, Johar says, compared with at least 500 gallons of water per pound of beef.
- Insects can be raised nearly anywhere.
- Insects are rich in protein and iron, the top two culprits in child malnutrition.
- Crickets only take 6 weeks to mature.
WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN to spur ento-innovation and market expansion in the United States:
Experimenting with techniques like flash heating and slow roasting that retain more protein and result in better flavor and texture.
- Research to automate farming techniques and develop feeds that are sustainable and speed up growth.
- Lower the wholesale price from $30 per pound to a cost that can compete with conventional meat.
We have a long way to go but, within 10-15 years, we should see radical changes.