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Eating Insects: Good For People And The Planet, Says UN Report
May 14, 2013
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A Thai waiter serves bamboo worms and ants' eggs omelette in the city of Chiang Mai

This announcement might make some people bug out: a UN report is touting the benefits of eating insects.

A paper released by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations states that insects are a major and readily available source of nutritious and protein-rich food.

The report also says people throughout the world have been eating insects as a regular part of their diets for millennia and that they are "healthy, nutritious alternatives to mainstream staples such as chicken, pork, beef and even fish."

Not convinced by the "everyone else is doing it" argument? The FAO has a few more reasons why insects are a good look for your dinner plate: for one thing, high-protein insects are a low-fat source of sustenance, so they could help people stay healthy.

Scientists have actually found great nutritional benefits to eating insects. Fried grasshoppers have three times as much protein as lean beef. They're rich sources of thiamine and riboflavin. Bugs are also a valuable source of fibre, the important micronutrient selenium, and iron.

And another potential benefit, according to the FAO: turning to insects as a food source could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with livestock production. Good for the waistline, good for the planet.

Sounds like a plan, right?

Well, the report's authors seem to realize that an insect diet will be a tough sell for a lot of people.

"We are not saying that people should be eating bugs," said Eva Muller, Director of FAO's Forest Economic Policy and Products Division in an interview with Reuters. ""We are saying that insects are just one resource provided by forests and insects are pretty much untapped for their potential for food, and especially for feed."

In Thailand you can chow down on deep-fried waterbug

In the UN report, it says that inclusion of insects into the diet, "could improve iron status and help prevent anaemia in developing countries. WHO has flagged iron deficiency as the world's most common and widespread nutritional disorder, affecting some 40 per cent of preschool kids in developing countries."

In places like Thailand, street vendors sell deep-fried grasshoppers, crickets and assorted creepy (but crunchy) crawlers and throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America hundreds of millions of people have been known to snack on them as well.

The New Yorker recently ran an article saying that from an ecological perspective, "insects have a lot to recommend them" as they are renowned for their small "foodprint".

Insects produce a fraction of the emissions released by other, larger livestock, including methane, ammonia, climate-warming greenhouse gases and manure, all of which contaminate the environment.

Oh, and here's one more little fact: we're already eating bugs - we're just not aware that we do.

That same New Yorker piece points out that, in the U.S. at least, "peanut butter is allowed to have thirty insect fragments per hundred grams, and chocolate is O.K. up to sixty." Also, every frozen or fresh package of spinach can contain a certain number of aphids and mites before it's labelled contaminated by the FDA.

Also, as it says in the book They Eat That?: A Cultural Encyclopedia of Weird and Exotic Food from Around the World, often foods we take for granted as normal are anything but: "imagine eating insect vomit... When you realize that our beloved honey, made from honeybees that eat pollen and then process it through regurgitation is so made, you may look at it differently."

The book also lists the most commonly eaten insects. Globally, beetles are the most popular critter, dominating 31% of the market. The next most consumed are caterpillars (18 percent); bees, wasps and ants (14 percent); and finally grasshoppers, locusts and crickets (13 percent).

In They Eat That? it says that North Americans are picky about what they eat...but "there is a host of edible animals eaten throughout the world: insects, snake, lizard, frog, armadillo, rabbit, bear, squirrel, turtle..."

As true as that may be, it'll probably be a few years before you can serve up a grasshopper souffle at your dinner party without raising some eyebrows.


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