The Surprising Food That Will Save the World

A look at why insects may be a potent food source for the future. (Shutterstock)

With slimy, squirming bodies, living in the least sanitary of locations, insects typically do not inspire thoughts of gourmet cuisine in the modern diner. Buzzing, crawling, and flying around, these creatures are more commonly treated with fear and disgust than with reverence and respect. However, by following traditional patterns of eating insects from around the world, Western societies have the opportunity to invest in a nutritious, sustainable, and surprisingly tasty food source for generations to come.

The consumption of insects, or entomophagy, has a long and varied history. A TED-Ed video details how crawly creatures have been used as food for both common and unique occasions for thousands of years, including in the ancient Greek and Roman empires. However, the spread of agriculture and the urbanization of society led to the view of bugs as crop destroying, biting, stinging pests who serve as principal irritants to many a family vacation. A tasty treat is not the first thing that comes to mind when dealing with a feisty fly, an annoying arachnid, or a bothersome beetle. The TED-Ed video notes, however, that 2,000 different insects are used as fuel for over 2 billion people globally. Perhaps a change in attitude is the first step.

Insects of all kinds are incredibly healthy. Substantial sources of protein, iron, and vitamins, they can be utilized as hearty entrées or satisfying snacks. The Iowa State University Department of Entomology notes that many commonly consumed insects have upward of 10 grams of protein per serving in addition to containing considerable amounts of iron and calcium, with caterpillars providing more protein than lean ground beef! As a protein source low in fat and cholesterol, insects need to be considered as an alternative food that can help alleviate dietary problems around the world, with the potential to reduce iron-deficiency anemia in developing countries as well as diabetes, obesity, and metabolic syndrome in the West. Along with the rise in plant-based, organic diets, the emergence of insects as the latest foodie trend could solve many nutrition-related dilemmas.

Most importantly, insects can be eaten in a sustainable manner for the planet. Able to be produced inexpensively and on a small scale, they have a minimal environmental impact because, compared to the rearing of livestock, there are fewer greenhouse gas emissions and less water and space required to raise insects to maturity for human consumption. The positive global ramifications of a switch to an insect-heavy diet are enormous.

From the pickiest eater to a street-food junkie, insects can be prepared in a variety of ways to maximize taste, health, and comfort. Whether they come dried, sautéed, simmered, deep-fried, roasted, or simply boiled with salt and pepper, worms, beetles, spiders, and dragonflies of all kinds can satisfy any palate.  Spicy Mexican chapulines (toasted grasshoppers) and tender Mopane worms in southern Africa (cooked in tomato broth) serve as prime examples of commonly eaten insects around the world. To inspire the adventurous, below is a recipe for grilled grasshopper kebabs from David George Gordon’s “Eat-A-Bug Cookbook.” Bon Appétit!

 

Grasshopper Kebabs

Ingredients:

12 large grasshoppers or similar edible insect

1 large red bell pepper cut into chunks

1 white onion cut into wedges

 

(For the marinade)

½ cup fresh lemon juice

1 tbsp. olive oil

1 tsp. honey

½ tsp. fresh ginger (grated)

1 tbsp. Dijon mustard

2 tbsp. mixed garden herbs of your choice (e.g., rosemary, mint, or thyme for a fresh summer feeling or oregano and basil for a more Mediterranean flavor)

¼ tsp. salt

Pinch ground pepper

 

Mix all the ingredients for the marinade in a glass bowl or baking dish. Add the insects, cover, and leave in the fridge overnight. When ready to cook, remove the insects and gently pat them dry. Skewer the ingredients alternating between pepper, onion, and insects so skewers are nicely arranged. Finally drizzle some olive oil over the kebabs and cook a few inches above a fire for just under 10 minutes, or alternatively under the grill, turning regularly until all the ingredients are golden brown and crispy.

Max Nathanson is a senior at the University of Colorado. He loves cooking and adventurous eating, and as a native Coloradan, Max loves being outside, being active, and chooses mountains over the beach any day. He may be reached at max.nathanson@gmail.com.

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Comments

Can citizens in the United States and Europe overcome cultural aversion, disgust, and distaste for insects in order to implement them into the mainstream food system, as they are in other cultures?

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