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Insects: The Food of the Future

The global population is expected to reach 9 billion people by 2050, and many are wondering how to feed this growing population. In order to feed 9 billion people, current food production will have to double; however, with the rising threat of climate change, the agricultural industry will have to develop more sustainable food resources. Resources are already limited, and feeding a future population will only put further pressure on those limited resources. The Food and Agriculture Organization believes that insects will become one of the leading food sources of the future because of the low environmental costs of insect farming and the high nutritional value of edible insects. Over 2 billion people in the world already engage in entomophagy, the act of eating insects, and this number will only increase in the years to come. 

One of the advantages of transitioning to an insect-based diet is the low environmental impact of insect farming. Traditional agricultural farming poses significant environmental risks as the industry is one of the leading causes of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and deforestation for land use. For example, livestock production accounts for 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions and 70% of all agricultural land use; the global demand for livestock products is projected to double by 2050 resulting in increased GHG emissions and deforestation. In order to mitigate climate change impacts, the world needs to revolutionize the agricultural industry and adopt more sustainable diets. For this reason, leading environmentalists believe that insect-dependent diets are the future of food because insect-farming is low impact and sustainable. The production of GHGs is about 3,000 per kg of mass gain for beef cattle and less than 250 per kg of mass gain for mealworms, crickets, and locusts. Furthemore, livestock rearing requires about 4,387 km³ of water, and 70% of all water consumption worldwide is used by the agricultural industry. Insect farming requires less water and the industry is more drought-resistant than the cattle industry. Ultimately, insect-farming produces less GHGs, requires less land and water use, and is more sustainable than conventional agriculture. 

In addition to the environmental benefits of insect farming and consumption, there are a plethora of nutritional benefits. There are more than 1,900 species of edible insects, and while it may seem unappealing to eat them, insects have a multitude of nutritional benefits. Depending on the species and development stage, edible insects are high in fat, protein, vitamins, and minerals. Among the most popular for consumption are crickets, grasshoppers, and mealworms, as they have some of the highest nutritional value. In terms of protein content, 100 grams of crickets or grasshoppers can contain up to 28 grams of protein, which is 60% of the daily protein women need and 50% of protein men need. Similarly, 100 grams of mealworms can contain up to 25 grams of protein. In addition to high protein content, insects are also rich in amino acids, with mealworms containing a higher content of diet-essential amino acids than beef. Crickets and mealworms are also rich in minerals like iron, zinc, and potassium, also on par with the mineral content of beef. 

Considering all the great health benefits, health-conscious individuals and food entrepreneurs are beginning to take an interest towards insects. The market for entomophagy is highest in Southeast Asia, and the biggest producer of edible insect products in the region is Thailand Unique, a company based in Bangkok. Although Thailand Unique mainly sells in Southeast Asia, they offer international shipping and are popular among entomophagists all over the world. The company sells a multitude of products sourced from its GAP-certified insect farms; its products include insect snacks, insect protein powder, insect candy, and insect fortified foods. In order to make eating bugs more appealing to people who aren’t used to the concept, the company has created innovative products that make it easy to ingest insects that don’t look like insects. Their line of insect fortified foods include silkworm pupae chilli oil, black cricket oil, silkworm pupae pasta, silkworm pupae ramen, and even a giant bug chilli dipping sauce. By far the most popular type of product, especially among people beginning their entomophagy journey, is insect protein powder. Thailand Unique offers a comprehensive selection of different insect protein powders including cricket and silkworm pupae powder. If protein powder is too much of a hassle, the company even carries cricket and locust powder vitamin capsules. Another popular product among the insect-eating world is insect flour, which can be used for a multitude of baking recipes to add nutritional value. The opportunities for new recipes and products made from insects is endless, and food entrepreneurs are looking to invest in these ideas. 

Insects provide hope for feeding the growing global population, considering their low environmental costs and high nutritional value. Insect farming is low impact and more sustainable than traditional farming and is a potential answer that will revolutionize the agricultural industry. The rich nutritional value of insects is also a potential solution to world hunger and can be used to deliver vitamins and minerals to 700 million malnutritioned populations in developing nations. The advantages of adopting insect-based diets are not going unnoticed. With the rising threat of global climate change, the world is in desperate need of alternative farming methods and sustainable diets that will feed generations of the future. The world, including developed nations, will need to adopt a more sustainable diet, and introducing protein-rich insects will offer an alternative to high-impact meat diets. While the “ick factor” remains a huge barrier for the adoption of insects into regular diets, there are many companies that are revolutionizing the industry with new insect products that conceal the presence of bugs. Perhaps with the right marketing, more people will be keen on trying foods supplemented with insects eventually becoming an everyday food; in the coming years, you could be making insect-filled protein powder smoothies.

 

Works Cited:

Action Against Hunger (2021). World Hunger: Key Facts and Statistics

https://www.actionagainsthunger.org/world-hunger-facts-statistics?gclid=Cj0KCQjw4ImEBhDFARIsAGOTMj9q82dwvzhR0rsoOUqVxWhukBPcQQRydIdkAx-0GJSKBtY8GxOvzzMaAlvXEALw_wcB

 

Advanced Earth and Space Science (2020). Water Use in Global Livestock Production – Opportunities and Constraints for Increasing Water Productivity 

https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1029/2019WR026995#:~:text=We%20estimate%20that%2C%20annually%2C%204%2C387,of%20total%20agricultural%20water%20use.

 

Food and Agricultural Organization (2013). Edible Insects: Future Prospects for Food and Feed Security

http://www.fao.org/3/i3253e/i3253e.pdf

 

National Geographic (2013). The UN Urges Eating Insects; 8 Popular Bugs to Try

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/article/130514-edible-insects-entomophagy-science-food-bugs-beetles

 

Thailand Unique (2020). Edible Insects for Sale UK, US and Worldwide 

https://www.thailandunique.com/

 

The Ecologist (2019). Insects are “food of the future”

https://theecologist.org/2019/jul/02/insects-are-food-future

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