Entomophagy — A Trending Unorthodox Diet

As the human population increases, the demand for an alternative diet will increasingly become significant as food scarcity and environmental impacts come into play. Air, land pollution and inefficient resource allocations are all part of the detrimental impacts that red meat, especially beef, has on our environment. This is why entomophagy, an insect-based diet, might contain the solution to many of the listed problems. Edible insects require far less water, land, and energy to farm, and can be raised using food waste. There are some drawbacks, however, as animal welfare — or the lack thereof — remains a major flaw in an insect-based alternative. As society moves towards embracing entomophagy into modern diets, they must acknowledge the environmental and nutritional benefits as well as the hypocrisy of animal rights presented as equally significant opposite sides of the argument.

Infographic on the land utilization of protein sources. Source — littleherbs.org

Entomophagy is advertised as significantly beneficial, especially for nutritional and environmental factors. Switching from a red meat diet to an insect-based diet will be more efficient in reducing pollution. While red meats can be found in most of our meals, “the popular red meat requires 28 times more land to produce than pork or chicken, 11 times more water and results in five times more climate-warming emissions” source? This comparison becomes even higher when compared to insects: “Crickets, for instance, are 12 times more efficient than cattle in converting feed to edible meat, at least four times more efficient than pigs, and twice as efficient as chickens, according to the FAO” (nbcnews.com). These data depict a distinct picture in the sustainable efficiency of farming insects compared to red meats. Changing our diet to entomophagy could conserve more than 10 times the amount of water compared to red meat, and 28 times the land, all of which could be allocated to provide shelter and water for people in need. Along with better allocation, entomophagy could relieve 5 times the amount of climate-warming emissions than red meat, reducing air pollution. Switching to entomophagy may resolve many environmental problems concerning pollution and sustainability.

Not only does entomophagy favor the environment positively, it also provides remarkable nutritional value. Red meats are popular because beef and dairy are advertised to be high in protein. Many insects contain high protein as well in comparison to red meats. One cricket provides around 13 grams of protein, while a traditional sirloin steak (100 grams) contains roughly 31 grams of protein (times.com). When comparing other commonly eaten insects such as the grasshoppers, one grasshopper contains around 21 grams of protein, while a roasted chicken breast (100 grams) has 31 grams of protein (times.com). Consuming 3 crickets or grasshoppers will match the nutritional value of eating common meats such as chicken or beef. When taking nutritional values to the extreme, consuming a caterpillar has protein ranging from 25 to 33 grams; an average cooked turkey leg has only 28 grams. Consuming caterpillars will result in more protein and unsaturated fats than consuming an entire turkey leg (which may contain saturated or unhealthy fats). Eating insects can provide equal or more amounts of nutrition compared to traditional meats.

Crickets & scorpions on a stick are often sold on the streets of Southeast Asia . Source — emaze.com

While entomophagy advertises as beneficial, several notable flaws still present as an obstacle for many to fully support an insect-based diet. One noteworthy flaw is the issue behind animal welfare or the lack thereof. While “some argue that farmed insects enjoy pleasant lives: ‘Insects raised in farms live in teeming dark conditions (preferable environment), with ample and abundant food supply, no natural predators, no risk of outside diseases or parasites […].’ But this ignores the generally higher infant-mortality rates of insects, as well as the possibility that lots of insects might die from cannibalism, etc.” (reducing-suffering.org). When factoring in insects’ high infant-mortality rate, insect farming concerns animal cruelty by mass producing insects when most are likely to die immediately after birth, even with an ample living environment and food. Considering the survivorship curve, insects — especially those who form larvae — belong in the Type III curve, which implies “that their rate of mortality is quite high in the early ages and may decrease comparatively in their later lives. In order to compensate for this, these individuals produce a large number of offspring …” (buzzle.com). This could lead to complications with many premature deaths with breeding high mortality rate animals.

Another factor is with regards to hypocrisy with animal cruelty. Many individuals concerned with the wellbeing of favorable animals (bears, pandas, tigers, penguins) would be least likely to be concerned with the wellbeing of unfavorable animals such as small insects. The wellbeing of insects are also hard to observe due to the cramped size of production areas. A likely situation arises that “even if in the future insect farms would not be able to provide an ethical environment for the insects, the public would not be as concerned with defending, for example, fly larvae in the same way that it is increasingly doing with livestock” (ilkkataponen.com). Animals well-being plays a significant ethical flaw in entomophagy, particularly in the field of prejudice humans have against insects as opposed to larger mammals, causing less treatment for the small creatures.

The problem with traditional meats is the detrimental effects they have on the environment. Switching to entomophagy substitute would not only decrease pollution, it would preserve the nutritional values that present in traditional meats. However, switching to an insect-based diet must first consider the effects they have on animal welfare. Smaller and lesser favorable insects are not likely to be observed and cared for when compared to bigger and favorable animals such as livestock. As the world begins to look into entomophagy as an alternative substitute for red meats, one must consider not only the positive effects they have on the environment and human health, but also the flaw in entomophagy, especially in regards to animal welfare.

Work Cited:

Bennington-Castro, Joseph. “How Eating Crickets Could Help save the Planet.” NBCUniversal News Group, 16 Feb. 2017. http://www.nbcnews.com/mach/environment/how-eating-crickets-could-help-save-planet-n721416 Accessed 17 Mar. 2017.

Sifferlin, Alexandra. “What’s in a Bug? Lots of Healthy Nutrients.” Times, 17 Aug. 2013. http://healthland.time.com/2013/08/21/why-eating-bugs-is-good-for-you-its-about-the-nutrients/ Accessed 27 Feb. 2017.

Carrington, Damian. “Giving up Beef will Reduce Carbon Footprint More than Cars, Says Expert.” The Guardian, 21 Jul. 2014. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jul/21/giving-up-beef-reduce-carbon-footprint-more-than-cars Accessed 27 Feb. 2017.

Tomasik, Brian. “Why I Don’t Support Eating Insects.” Reducing Suffering. 7 Apr. 2014. http://reducing-suffering.org/why-i-dont-support-eating-insects/#Why_insect_farming_may_cause_more_suffering_than_livestock_farming Accessed 18 Mar. 2017.

Ponen, Ilkkata. “Animal Welfare in Insect Farming.” Ilkka Taponen. 04 Jan. 2015. https://ilkkataponen.com/2015/01/04/the-animal-welfare-in-insect-farming/ Accessed 17 Mar. 2017.

Rauschert, Emily. “Survivorship Curves.” Nature News. N.d., 2010. http://www.nature.com/scitable/knowledge/library/survivorship-curves-16349555 Accessed 17 Mar. 2017.

Ray, Amita. “Types of Survivorship Curve with Examples.” Buzzle. 27 Jan. 2015. http://www.buzzle.com/articles/types-of-survivorship-curve-with-examples.html Accessed 18 Mar. 2017.