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UN Says: Why Not Eat More Insects? 626

Posted by samzenpus
from the other-other-white-meat dept.
PolygamousRanchKid writes in with news about a U.N. plan to get more bugs in your belly. "The U.N. has new weapons to fight hunger, boost nutrition and reduce pollution, and they might be crawling or flying near you right now: edible insects. The Food and Agriculture Organization on Monday hailed the likes of grasshoppers, ants and other members of the insect world as an underutilized food for people, livestock and pets. Insects are 'extremely efficient' in converting feed into edible meat, the agency said. Most insects are likely to produce fewer environmentally harmful greenhouse gases, and also feed on human and food waste, compost and animal slurry, with the products being used for agricultural feed, the agency said. 'Insects are everywhere and they reproduce quickly,' the agency said, adding they leave a 'low environmental footprint.' The agency noted that its Edible Insect Program is also examining the potential of arachnids, such as spiders and scorpions."
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UN Says: Why Not Eat More Insects?

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  • Re:You first (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SJHillman (1966756) on Monday May 13, 2013 @09:45AM (#43709321)

    What do you think plants feast on? Then we eat the plants or the animals that eat those plants. It might not be human waste we tend to use as fertilizer, but it's got roughly the same "ick" factor.

  • Re:Parasites (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Xest (935314) on Monday May 13, 2013 @09:50AM (#43709403)

    I think that's the biggest problem by far. For most meats like beef and so forth we have rigorous food safety standards and testing facilities. Adapting those to both the very different biology, very different scale (in terms of physical size, and number of creatures we'd need to test), and very different diseases related to insects is going to be where the problems are.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 13, 2013 @09:52AM (#43709427)

    Humans cannot survive on full veg diet for long.

    There are only 2 essential things human body needs: 1) protein 2) fat.

    You don't need carbs, you don't need vegs. These 2 are what you absolutely need to survive. Eat only vegs without any protein, and all your muscles are gone within a year. Don't eat any fat for a year and you die.

    Humans aren't vegetarian race, and that's why we don't eat that way. Some choose to do so on ethical basis, but these people need to get essential stuff for us that's only got from meat, from other sources, usually pills. Like B12 vitamin. Drop that and you drop dead pretty quickly.

  • by Hans Adler (2446464) on Monday May 13, 2013 @09:53AM (#43709447)

    Obviously, in affluent countries you will have to make them expensive, not cheap.

    Insects aren't so different from shrimps, and apparently grasshoppers have a similar taste. Here is an article on the taste of insects: []

  • by slim (1652) <john@ha[ ] ['rtn' in gap]> on Monday May 13, 2013 @09:53AM (#43709453) Homepage

    Pretty much this.

    I'll eat pretty much anything. I've had Japanese colleagues play "take the gaijin to the izakaya and gross him out with weird foods", and I won (not that shirako is exactly pleasant...).

    But even I find the idea of eating insects a bit revolting. I mean, I'd give it a go, but I'd grimace a bit the first few times.

    In order to make any kind of impact, insect-eating would have to become really mainstream. We live in a society where lots of people won't even eat tripe, trotters, tongue or black pudding. Good luck getting these people to eat insects.

  • by slim (1652) <john@ha[ ] ['rtn' in gap]> on Monday May 13, 2013 @10:04AM (#43709583) Homepage

    Who says you cannot mix them with other meats or even heat dry and grind them as a powder additive to other foods? The nutrition is what we are looking for here - not necessarily the "grossing out" of folks.

    Unless you're going to covertly introduce ground insects to food, people will know. And if they know, they'll be grossed out.

    Personal experience suggests to me that at least a third of people in the UK are grossed out by black pudding -- part of our culinary heritage! There's nothing outwardly unappealing about a slice of black pudding. But people have been told that it's made of blood, and that's enough to put them off.

  • Re:You first (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gsgriffin (1195771) on Monday May 13, 2013 @10:04AM (#43709585)
    I see your point, but as someone that travels a lot to 3rd world conditions to help the poor (Kenya tomorrow), I can tell you that the UN often doesn't think things through well. The problem with this is two-fold: 1) Insects can digest and carry more disease than plants. The fact that insects are animal and not plant allows them to be Malaria for mosquitos. 2) The insects are actually crawling around in the crap. Plants aren't. Food needs to be prepared carefully. This care of washing and cooking to the right temperature and separating raw meat cutting surface from cooked meat surface is not well practiced around the world.

    While there may be same "value" in this food, I would easily imagine more people getting sick from trying to eat the insects and digesting the bad stuff inside and outside them.

    Want to see other bad ideas from the UN, look up their Perma-Culture. While the concept is proven and helpful, try to going to poor people barely growing enough food and convince them to go 4 year with below normal crops in hopes that 7 years from now you will have a bumper crop...oh, yeh, then through in a drought every 7 years and see how much this idea helps.
  • Potential fish feed? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Dr. Spork (142693) on Monday May 13, 2013 @10:05AM (#43709599)
    Farmed carnivorous fish right now get fed bycatch, a slurry of little fish of no commercial value that fishermen pull out of the sea. There are many problems with this, one of them being the mercury that concentrates in the farmed fish and eventually humans. I wonder if they would be able to feed on farmed insects, which could be obtained in a much more responsible way, and clean of poisonous metals.
  • by wonkey_monkey (2592601) on Monday May 13, 2013 @10:27AM (#43709859) Homepage

    And if that doesn't gross you out, go ahead and google around for the acceptable upper limit of faeces. There is one, and it's not zero.

  • Religion (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ameen.ross (2498000) on Monday May 13, 2013 @10:36AM (#43709985)

    I'm sure nobody here's interested, but here goes.

    In Islam, insects are prohibited as food. Locusts are an exception (the only one AFAIK), so they may be eaten.

    What about the other major religions?

  • by BasilBrush (643681) on Monday May 13, 2013 @10:38AM (#43710013)

    Unless you're going to covertly introduce ground insects to food, people will know. And if they know, they'll be grossed out.

    Red food dye. Cochineal. Made from ground up cochineals. Insects. Plenty know, plenty don't know. Pretty much nobody cares, because they were brought up with it.

    Same goes for black pudding, tripe and haggis. People that were brought up on it don't care. So the trick is to get people when they are young.

  • Re:You first (Score:2, Interesting)

    by BasilBrush (643681) on Monday May 13, 2013 @10:49AM (#43710145)

    The UN aren't suggesting anyone goes bug hunting. Even if it wasn't for all the health issues, it's be a highly inefficient way of getting protein.

    This is about farming insects. The insects for human consumption would never have been outside in the open air. Everything they touch and everything they eat would be controlled.

    I suspect your idea of permaculture is similarly whack.

  • by FatAlb3rt (533682) on Monday May 13, 2013 @10:53AM (#43710191) Homepage
    It's in your head.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm not about to step up to the plate and show you how it's done, but it's in your head. A staunch vegetarian is probably as repulsed at the thought of eating a medium rare steak as you are that handful of aphids.
  • by TheCarp (96830) <sjc@carp a n e t . net> on Monday May 13, 2013 @11:18AM (#43710493) Homepage

    > But even I find the idea of eating insects a bit revolting. I mean, I'd give it a go, but I'd grimace a bit
    > the first few times

    Its not so bad, hell in some forms, you wont even notice, take it from me.... I have done it.

    We had some grubs infest a bag of rice in our pantry area. Funny thing about grubs, they don't look so different from rice. The whole family was sitting down to eat, we were about halfway through the meal when i thought one of the grains looked "burnt", then I noticed it also seemed to be made up of a number of ring segments, which is odd for rice.

    It took a few moments before I figured it out and let everyone know that there were grubs in the rice, and not just a few, quite a lot actually.

    Of course, everyone looked disgusted, stopped eating the rice, and tossed the rest of the bag.... but up until that point, nobody had noticed. In fact, we had probably been eating steamed grubs with our rice a couple of times a week for a while.

  • by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Monday May 13, 2013 @11:18AM (#43710495)

    Insect size is limited by oxygen concentration. No lungs, they rely on diffusion. Arthropods you could grow giant though.

    Or you could raise the insects in an enriched oxygen atmosphere - it isn't expensive to bump it up a bit. Added bonus: You can run a petting zoo. Because who wouldn't want to stroke the five-foot-wide butterfly?

  • by Synerg1y (2169962) on Monday May 13, 2013 @11:29AM (#43710603)

    It's a little deeper than you think in there... in the nature vs nurture debate our predisposition to insects falls into the nature part probably under instincts, so have fun overriding that one.

  • Re:Religion (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Rogue Haggis Landing (1230830) on Monday May 13, 2013 @11:30AM (#43710619)

    What about the other major religions?

    There are some pretty explicit food laws in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Chapter 14 of Deuteronomy [] gives a good list. 14:19 says, "And every creeping thing that flieth is unclean unto you: they shall not be eaten." This is presumably referring to insects, so they're out. Also out are pigs, camels, rabbits, anything from the water that doesn't have scales and fins (God hates shrimp! []), any animal that "dies of itself" (i.e., carrion), and a smattering of other animals -- no eating bats, people.

    Anyone who is actually keeping kosher will follow these laws, which means most Orthodox Jews and many other Jews. Not many Christians follow these dietary laws, but some do.

  • by MightyYar (622222) on Monday May 13, 2013 @02:13PM (#43712571)

    In my middle age, I've taken to eating all sorts of things that used to disgust me. Once you pop a snail out of it's shell and suck it down, how bad could a grasshopper be? Goose liver foi gras is disturbing in concept and morality, yet it can be quite tasty. I actually prefer fish prepared whole now, whereas I used to want boneless filets only. And really, is there any insect more horrifying in appearance than a crab or lobster?

    The one place I haven't been able to go is native in the Philippines [].

  • Honey. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by bdwoolman (561635) on Monday May 13, 2013 @02:47PM (#43712921) Homepage

    Bee excretia anyone? Excretia, not excrement. There is a difference. More like bee vomit. By the way, I'll take any honey you don't want any more.

    It is very interesting to see the negative reactions here to the prospect of eating these non-traditional insect foods. (In the West. Or perhaps I should I say "The North?") Anyway, such food aversions can be very powerful. People have died rather than eat survival foods like bugs and other bush tucker. Literally starving to death in the midst of plenty -- even when they are presented with the option by knowledgeable companions. As Spock would say: "Fascinating."

  • Agreed about it all being in people's heads though.


    I can't eat anything that has more than 4 legs.

    Every so often, I order fish someplace and they bring it with a bonus prawn or two on top. Which means I get to send it right back for a new one, as even a bit of cross-contamination can cause an unpleasant reaction. ("This time, please do not merely remove the crustaceans that have dripped their juice on the fish and bring the very same fish back out to me as you've just tried to do. My family are really very nice people who don't like filing lawsuits. Thanks.")

    People actually express sympathy when I explain to them, sure I can broil some crabs for them if they'd like, I'll just have to fix myself something else... Which is weird, when you think about it--how can I miss something I can't eat anyway? (Even weirder--how can I be so good at cooking things that I daren't eat myself?)

    I did try a fried grasshopper once. While it didn't knock me flat on my back for the next day or so, the way eating a bite of lobster would, I still got a fair case of indigestion--something I normally almost never suffer from.

  • by Immerman (2627577) on Tuesday May 14, 2013 @04:30PM (#43724125)

    Heck, for that matter we can't digest almost anything without the aid of our gut bacteria - in fact we couldn't survive long at all without the symbiosis of dozens (hundreds?) of different bacteria. Half the sugars in human milk are actually indigestible by humans, they exist to promote the growth of gut bacteria that the child will need to survive later in life. We're only beginning to reconize the interconnections, but the basic truth seems to be that life on Earth is microbial, with a few macroscopic species around that have learned to work with their diminutive cousins. Heck, supposedly the cells in our own bodies are outnumbered 10:1 by bacteria, a number that sounds ridiculous until you consider that the average bacteria is about 1/10 the diameter of the average human cell, or 1/1000 the volume (~= mass since we're all mostly water). Given that I would think the 6 lbs of bacteria in the average human would translate to a 600lb human, so either our bacteria are larger than average, or the 10:1 ratio is only an order of magnitude estimate.

    So anyway, I tend to regard "macroscopic organism + symbiotes" as a single "entity" for most purposes. Dairy cows actually suffer horribly because they are typically fed grain which gives much higher milk yields, but the bacteria that aid in digesting grain are much harsher on the cow's system, and life expectancy typically drops by 30-50% over grass-fed cows.

One small step for man, one giant stumble for mankind.