Since the second half of the twentieth century animal agriculture has grown swiftly. So swiftly, in fact, that we’re now recognizing it as unsustainable. As developing countries expand and incomes increase, their populations’ consumption of animal protein increases. Why eat grains when you can eat steak, right? Well, there are several reasons. For one, animal agriculture uses enormous amounts of water. In the United States alone, 2,500 gallons of water are needed to produce just a single pound of meat.
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Not only are precious water resources needed for the raising of livestock, but so are our land resources and farm-produced grains. For example, approximately 70 percent of grains produced in the United States is used as animal feed. Moreover, in the United States alone, over 260 million acres of forest have been cleared to develop croplands for livestock feed. Additionally, livestock grazing can lead to overgrazing, erosion and even desertification of the land if abused. This is an issue, as 30 percent of our planet’s usable land has been purposed for grazing and growing animal feed.
Lastly, studies have shown that, for nearly a decade now, livestock animal agriculture has contributed to 10-15 percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions. That means that animal agriculture is a larger greenhouse gas contributor than our transportation industry. This growing non-sustainability of animal agriculture means we urgently need to create alternative solutions for protein supplementation in our diets. While it’s easy to say that eating less meat is a solution, it’s not as realistic a thing to ask or expect.
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In many Asian, African, Central and South American countries, insects are a vital source of proteins, minerals, vitamins, fiber and even fat. More than 190,000 species of insects are used as food (entomophagy) in the diets of at least 2 billion people throughout the world. In some areas, entomophagy is so popular that certain insect populations are at risk of being over-harvested. Large-scale insect agriculture would help to lessen and eventually resolve the impact of traditional insect harvesting.
Not only do insects require less water and land resources to farm, but they also release less greenhouse gases. Furthermore, feeding insects is quite efficient. For example, the feed-to-weight gain ratio for crickets is 2:1, compared to cattle’s ratio of 9:2 at its most efficient operation. Insect agriculture can also help to reduce the impact and need for cropland purposed for livestock feed.
Because insect agriculture uses less resources and affordable technology compared to traditional animal agriculture, numerous tangible jobs are created for people around the world, including those in urban settings. As fish and poultry farming expand, and fish meal and soy become more expensive, farmers are increasingly looking at insect agriculture as a feed alternative. This will most likely be the first step in introducing large scale insect agriculture into Western countries.
Sadly, in most Western countries entomophagy is received with distaste and revulsion. In Western countries, eating insects may be perceived as lower-class and even primordial; this is certainly not the case in countries where entomophagy is actively practiced. Due to this negative reaction in Western countries, the only agricultural research involving insects is that surrounding their beneficial and harmful effects on crops and ecosystems.
As the tides turn and insect agriculture earns legitimate attention, solutions are being found to introduce insects into the diets of Westerners. While insects are often consumed whole, that will most likely not be the case as they begin to be introduced into Westerners’ diets. For these weary consumers, insects may be ground up or mashed into unrecognizable granular or paste supplements. These supplements may be added to flour, beef and other foodstuffs to help hide the taste and form of insects.
These hidden forms of insect-derived nutrition will hopefully be a stepping stone for the expansion of animal agriculture in Western countries. For the planet’s sake, we should hope Western countries will change their perception on entomophagy soon. With all this said, would you eat bugs to help make agriculture more sustainable?
If you’d like to learn more about the non-sustainability of animal agriculture and the future of insect agriculture, take a look at the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ publications “Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues & Options” and “Edible Insects: Future Prospects for Food and Feed Security“. All the information provided in this article was derived from them – plus, there is much more to learn![/su_divider]Featured Image: An Insect Caterer in Bangkok, Thailand. Image via Wikimedia.