Quit Buggin' Out: Eating Insects and its Cultural Phobia

By: Dylan Rodgers

Why are some of the world's oldest organisms considered so alien?  Strangely enough once that crab (an arthropod) walks out of the water and transforms into let's say, a beetle (still an arthropod), our appetite jumps ship.  We could also ask ourselves as Americans, Why hasn't the insect-eating world gotten sick or turned into some horrifying "Anthropod" population?

The fact is, all people in the world consume insects whether they know about it or not.  It's estimated that every American eats nearly 3 pounds of insects a year from processed foods alone.

Now don't panic-if the insects haven't killed you yet, then they most likely won't.   But this may:  Pasta, peanut butter, ketchup, Red dye 4 (cochineal), fruit preserves, powdered cheeses, and flour are all riddled with the little, crunchy buggers.  Shockingly results from certain store-bought foods have continuously resulted in at least 4 insect parts per gram to .5 grams of the majority of the food products just mentioned.

Slow down now and remember to breathe.  I know you feel like you're part of some Truman Show/Fear Factor Reality Expose, but that's just it-Reality.

Most of the insectile contamination is what the FDA would call "natural contamination," something that could economically break the food industry if entirely prohibited but poses no known health threats.  In fact the only possible solution to insects in our food is to pump it so full of pesticides that we'd commit mass cult suicide.  Plus they evolve way too quickly.

So what if we collectively decided to get over our irrational fears and embraced the idea of insects as food?  To start, we'd be able to feed more people than we could dream of right now.  The Smithsonian Institution's Entomology Section estimates the total population of insects is somewhere around 10 quintillion (10 with 18 zeros behind it!).  To 'laymanize' that astounding figure, it's about 300 pounds of insects for every pound of humanity.

On feeding the hungry:  Insects 1-Entomophobia 0

Or how about the fact that gram for gram some insects contain more protein than chicken with only a fraction of the fat?  As an added bonus their nutrition packed carapaces are way more flavorfully diverse than the meat that tastes like everything plain.  Tastes like chicken again?!

For nutrition and creativity:  Insects 2-Entomophobia 0

And finally, the last tidbit of overwhelmingly persuasive info-the resources needed for grasshoppers to produce the same amount of nutritional protein as one beef cow is nothing short of minimal and results in 1/10 the greenhouse gasses. Time Magazine reported in 2008 that insects have a higher ECI (or how much mass an organism gains from x grams of food) than warm blooded creatures.  Cattle had an ECI score of 10 while German cockroaches reached 44.

Gag!  Cockroaches have always been my least favorite.  Nevertheless I can't deny the significance of these figures, nor can I ignore their implications.  A relatively slight palate change (like Meatless Mondays) would have long-term, astronomical effects on our economic resources, our environmental footprint, and our space efficiency (something pretty important moving towards 8 billion people).

The decision to incorporate insects into our diets shouldn't be taken lightly, nor looked down upon culturally.  Shoot!  I've eaten and enjoyed many.  But deciding to keep some gas guzzler simply because the futuristic electro-mobile looks and feels weird seems a bit pretentious, don't you think?  In the same respect, it is in our benefit as the human animal to eat some bugs here and there.

Just imagine the possibilities-humans embracing insects; insects embracing humans with that loving, Sci-Fi Horror sort of intimacy we could only get from an open-circulatory mini-monster wearing a skeletal space suit.

Bon appetit!

Dylan Rodgers is a writer with dreams of existential understanding and lyrical nonsense.  Share with him in the well of human experience @dylangers.wordpress.com.

Photo: Adam Schneider

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