Six-Legged Saviors

By Kary Vannice

I’ve seen visitors to Mexico visibly gag or turn away in disgust when offered a bowl of chapulines (fried grasshoppers) along with their guacamole. I’ve witnessed a few more daring travelers hesitantly touch their tongue to a margarita glass rimmed with sal de gusano (salt containing ground-up agave worm larva). But I’ve rarely seen a foreigner “chow down” on insects undeterred by their preconceived notions about eating bugs.

Most of us are disgusted by just the thought of bugs crawling around in the cabinet where we store our food and are horrified to see mealworm larva float to the top of our cereal bowl.

Eating two or four-legged creatures is fine, but add an additional pair of legs, and most westerners are “out.” “No, thank you, I’ll pass!”

But could it be that our social and cultural conditioning is preventing us from taking advantage of one of the planet’s most nutritious, eco-friendly, and sustainable sources of protein – insects?

For centuries, 80% of all the world’s cultures have been incorporating insects into their diets. Countries like the United States and Canada make up part of the 20% that are staunch holdouts to embracing the edible insect.

Over a hundred edible insect species are eaten in Mexico and there are almost 2,000 species of edible insect that humans around the world consume. Nearly two billion people eat insects as a regular part of their everyday diet. And for good reason.

Most edible insects are high in protein, low in saturated fat, and high in fiber. They contain various essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B12, vitamin D, phosphorous, iron, calcium, zinc, copper, magnesium, and manganese. And many are a one-stop-shop for all nine essential amino acids, and also contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, as well as antioxidants. According to http://www.Hey-Planet.com, “Insects contain almost all the nutritional benefits that you get from eating meat, fish, and rye bread – all at once!”

And if the nutritional benefits alone don’t convince you to start incorporating insects into your diet, perhaps the environmental ones will. The Food and Agricultural Association (FAO) of the United Nations points out that “Crickets need six times less feed than cattle, four times less than sheep, and twice less than pigs and broiler chickens to produce the same amount of protein … and they emit less greenhouse gases and ammonia than conventional livestock.”

In our post-pandemic world, we are facing new food-system concerns like supply-chain disruptions, food scarcity, and the rising cost of food, particularly meat. This, along with the ongoing climate crisis, has led many to suggest insect farming as a viable, environmentally friendly, and lucrative solution to all of the above problems.

Last year, the BBC featured insect farming in an online series focused on the future of food. The article stated that insect cultivation uses only a fraction of the land mass, energy, and water of traditional animal farming and has a significantly lower carbon footprint.

One reason for this is that insects can be farmed vertically, meaning that large high-rise warehouses can be used to grow tons of insects on a very small parcel of land. And farmed insects can be fed on what would otherwise be considered “waste” in other food industries, such as spent grain from breweries, food scraps, and other organic waste, which solves yet another problem.

Because insect farming does not require vast tracts of land, it can be done in and around large urban centers, so there’s no need to ship this protein-rich food source to where the majority of people live. This virtually eliminates the supply chain altogether.

Before making it to the consumer, most insect protein is ground into a fine powder, making it much more palatable and easier to incorporate into a mainstream diet. Imagine eating a delicious batch of coconut cookies that just happens to contain cricket powder or enjoying a protein-packed brownie made from silkworm larva flour. You’d probably never even know you were eating an insect, yet imagine the good you’d be doing your body and the planet.

If you live in Mexico and want to give insect protein powder a try, the Mexican-based company One Chance offers delicious protein shake powders that are all available from Amazon Mexico. I recommend the matcha!

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