It’s A Bug’s Life suddenly just got a lot more interesting. Entomophagy, the human consumption of insects has seen a steady rise in western culture. While roughly 2 billion worldwide consume insects from crickets to grasshoppers to mealworms, it is far more common in eastern cultures and places such as Latin America where bugs are in abundance due to their tropical settings.
An increasing demand however is changing the landscape and catching the attention of suppliers and consumers alike. Gone are the days when these tiny creatures were reduced to animal feed. Today, new shops are cropping up all over the U.S. and Europe with unique choices from protein bars to cookies to cricket flour to artisan items such as insect bread.
When considering the perception of insect consumption, many people often associate eating them with pranks, poverty or otherwise extreme circumstances. It is not often that we witness consumption of bugs as a normalcy. In fact, upon his discovery of the New World, Christopher Columbus watched in amazement as indigenous people consumed bugs and forever associated the practice with that of beasts. Sadly, that perception lives on and serves as a barrier to the current niche market which has yet to go mainstream as a result.
Why The Insect Delicacy Craze?
If entomophagy has been the norm around the world, why only now is it becoming more common in the western world? The answer is pretty simple. A growing awareness of consumer health and sustainability is causing people to think outside the box and look to healthier alternatives. Animal farm factories, as they are commonly known, often have widespread unethical practices when it comes to harming an animal. Consumers may be more inclined to get onboard with entomophagy as the “slaughter” process is generally nothing more than a freezing process.
In 2014, an insect consumption company called Next Millennium Farms launched and noted the health importance when marketing their company. The protein found in crickets is just as concentrated as protein in beef, but with less fat and calories than its beef counterpart. Crickets in particular also carry a high calcium and zinc content and they have the good source of carbohydrates to boot. Not only is it a source of protein, but insects also carry the necessary vitamins needed for maintaining overall good health. What’s more, the livestock industry is one -- if not the biggest -- contributor to greenhouse gases and insect farms do not require nearly as much space, thus overall reducing or mitigating a consumer’s carbon footprint.
The customization of an insect’s diet is incredible. Business owners in the niche field claim customer orders often have very specific dietary requests for their insects. Bugs can be given a gluten-free diet, making them a healthy protein source without the gluten.
Fighting World Hunger Insect Style
If consumers are becoming more health-conscious about the food they consume and how that food is raised, it seems insect farming is a no-brainer. With a world population on pace to surpass 9 billion by 2050, sustainable food sources are quickly becoming part of the conversation among lawmakers and industry lobbyists. With so many mouths to feed, the world’s food supply would require double the meat production already taking place. This inevitably leads to more carbon emissions and a squeezing of precious resources. Another point to consider is the comparison of foodborne illnesses often associated with the livestock industry to that of insect farming. Infectious diseases such as E. Coli and listeria are rampant in the livestock and meat industry, yet insect farming poses far less of a threat especially when farms are kept indoors and have tight controls. The amount of excrement is also not at the level of livestock. This helps in keeping the spread of disease down.
Without the need for large scale factories or complicated irrigation systems, insect farming requires little space and their feed ratio is significantly lower compared to that of livestock. Further, to break down barriers in the U.S. and Europe, marketers are banking on the health benefits of consuming insects. Education groups and researchers alike are joining forces to enlighten consumer perception of not only the benefits of insect consumption, but also the environmentally-friendly way in which we raise and consume them.
Monetary resources are also worth considering when it comes to breaking down barriers. While there are mainstream grocers and restaurateurs willing to get in on the latest craze, it takes a strategic marketing plan to get consumers to see the value in insect consumption. The food industry is incredibly competitive and while some niche markets thrive, others dissipate quickly due to their lack of funds and industry backing. This is why many of the companies in the U.S. entomophagy market are partnering to not only raise awareness, but to get consumer buy-in on what could be the future of food as we know it.