Sunday, June 08, 2008


The very qualities that make bugs so hard to get rid of could also make them an environmentally friendly food. "Nature is very good at making insects," says David Gracer, one of the chefs at the Richmond festival and the founder of future bug purveyor Sunrise Land Shrimp. Insects require little room and few resources to grow. For instance, it takes far less water to raise a third of a pound (150 g) of grasshoppers than the staggering 869 gal. (3,290 L) needed to produce the same amount of beef. Since bugs are cold-blooded invertebrates, more of what they consume goes to building edible body parts, whereas pigs and other warm-blooded vertebrates need to consume a lot of calories just to keep their body temperature steady. There's even a formula, called the efficiency of conversion of ingested food to body substance (ECI), that can be used to compare the weight different animals gain after eating a certain quantity of feed. Beef cattle have an ECI of 10. Silkworms range from 19 to 31. German cockroaches max out at 44.
Incredibly efficient to raise, insects are also crawling packets of nutrition. A 100-gram (3.5 oz.) portion of cooked Usata terpsichore caterpillars--commonly eaten in central Africa--contains about 28 grams (1 oz.) of protein, slightly more than you'd get from the same amount of chicken. Water bugs have four times as much iron as beef.
Bugs can be tasty too--Gordon swears by his white chocolate and waxworm cookies--but Americans first need to overcome the "eww" factor. We think bugs are dirty, disease-laden or otherwise dangerous to eat--though they're not, as long as you cook them properly, are not allergic to shellfish (which, like insects, are arthropods) and aren't collecting bugs from fields that have been hit with pesticides. We're revolted by their alien appearance, but then again, lobster could hardly be described as cute and cuddly. And food taboos are not eternal; think of how unlikely it would have seemed 50 years ago that there would be more than 9,000 sushi restaurants in the U.S. There's also the possibility that someday the exploding global population and the damage of climate change could bring about the collapse of our resource-intensive food supply. "At that point," notes Gracer, "insects could become a pretty attractive option."

Eating Bugs

Residents of at least 113 nations eat bugs, says Julieta Ramos-Elorduy of the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City. This practice, known as entomophagy (en-toh-MOFF-uh-jee), makes sense, she says, because insects tend to be quite nutritious. Indeed, many scientists around the world have put insect eating on their research menus. It was also the focus of a February United Nations conference in Thailand, where researchers discussed insect-eating trends and evaluated the nutritional value of bugs and the environmental aspects of entomophagy.

Insects: The Original White Meat

1 comment:

pual said...

good read!

i want me some weedle now :P