Bugs for breakfast: The new frontier in sustainable cuisine

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Grasshopper tacos

By Kajsa Ernestam – a dietitian at Swedish health and fitness app Lifesum (www.lifesum.com)

The prospect of a plate of insects may not immediately fill you with excitement. However, it is time to put aside your squeamishness. Entomophagy, or the human consumption of insects, is a trend on the brink of taking off in the Western world – and one we should all embrace.

Entomophagy, if you aren’t familiar with it, is much more than a new fad. It’s a shift in  culinary culture, based on a wealth of nutritional and ecological benefits. While eating insects is established in multiple places around the world, the idea is still nascent in most parts of the West.

Edible insects are not only abundant in numbers, but are cost-effective and have considerable health benefits. They are a source of bioavailable vitamins and micronutrients like B12, iron, manganese, and calcium. Research has also recently linked the consumption of certain edible insects with improving gut-health. Gut-health is, of course, increasingly seen as having profound effects on physical and mental well-being.

The benefits of edible insects are far from being only nutritional – the environmental advantages are truly profound. What may seem like a drop in the ocean now could in the future be a revelation and world-wide solution. Just to give you a glimpse of our damaging footprint, it is estimated that traditional (i.e. mammal) livestock farming accounts for up to 18% of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions. Conversely, as revealed by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, insect farming produces around a hundred times less greenhouse gasses than equivalent production of beef cattle or pigs.

Insects also generally have a higher food conversion efficiency than traditional meats. Warm-blooded vertebrates need to use a significant amount of energy just to stay warm, whereas cold-blooded insects don’t. Insects also reproduce at an astonishing rate. A female cricket can lay upto 1,500 eggs in three to four weeks, whereas for beef, the ratio of  breeding to market animal is 4 to 1.

There has been a dramatic shift in recent years towards sustainable dietary trends, such as veganism, anti-food-wastage, and a greater demand for locally-produced alternatives in the supermarkets. At Lifesum (www.lifesum.com), the health app where I work, we aim to embrace new ideas and trends, to encourage culture-change in behaviours.We noticed the growing body of research and conversations around entomophagy, and wanted to accommodate this trend.

To put this in action, Lifesum is allowing its users to log three of the most common edible insect types (as provided by experts at Entomo Farms, North America’s largest edible insect producer). The North American edible insects market is predicted to increase by over 40% in the next eight years, and as a result  experts from Entomo Farms are well-placed to provide in-depth nutritional statistics for insect consumption. Lifesum users are able to know with decigram specificity how much protein, fibre, or fat they are consuming. Not only that, but we have also provided a mighty grasshopper taco recipe, to get you salivating. Meanwhile, Lifesum’s team of chefs will begin integrating insect-based dishes into our app’s recipe section, to inspire users to be fully creative when preparing meals.

Finding a food solution to our ever growing issue of population is challenging. By 2050 the population is set to hit an alarming 10 billion. So we really shouldn’t be averse to these crawling creatures and instead be integrating them into our diets. It is also becoming clearer that investors and entrepreneurs are recognising the role of entomophagy, with the industry receiving increasing attention from Silicon Valley decision-makers.

If you are a bit squeamish or can’t fully comprehend the idea of consuming a real life insect, do not fear. With Lifesum you can also log mealworm or cricket powder which might relieve you of the initial fright, also with these products you can optimize the nutrition value of everything from baking to main meals. But this truly is only the beginning. There are over 2,000 edible insects out there to be consumed Countries such as Thailand, Ghana, Mexico and China are already ahead of the game by snacking on grasshoppers, crickets and woodworms. Soon this taboo will be broken So why don’t you give it a go and take the ‘crunch.’

 

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