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Government Idle Science

UN Says: Why Not Eat More Insects? 626

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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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 13, 2013 @09:31AM (#43709181)

    I say "Because OMFG, gross!!!"

    • I say "Because OMFG, gross!!!"

      If you live in the United States, you likely already engage in accidental entomophagy. Allow me to introduce you to the USDA's guide to what are the acceptable levels of insects in your food []. Go head and CTRL+F on that page for 'insects.'

      Having particularly good eyesight, I don't think I've ever eaten a blackberry that didn't have thrips or aphids on it. Guess what? They're delicious on blackberries!

      Of course, getting my Wilderness Survival merit badge on my way to Eagle Scout gave me the opportunity to forage for edible insects and I would actually recommend the fly larvae that attach to grassland stalks and form 'bulbs' around them. Taste like walnuts! Too bad it takes forever to harvest them or I'd make a product out of that for the granola-brains community.

    • Every westerner I see trying them on TV is like, "Wow! That's good!!"

    • by Guido von Guido II ( 2712421 ) on Monday May 13, 2013 @09:48AM (#43709387)

      I say "Because OMFG, gross!!!"

      We already eat other arthropods, like shrimp, crab, crawfish and lobster.

      • And, paradoxically, the arthropods we do eat are foul feeders. It is common knowledge that crabs and lobsters and their ilk eat sea-bottom carrion. Many insects (also arthropods of course) are vegetarians (take crickets). There are tribes in South America that think eating shrimp is disgusting (and with some justification), but who will scarf down a cricket with relish. There was a good upbeat article in the New Yorker some time ago on bug eating... Hmmm. Found the New Yorker citation, anyway. Paywalled so

    • by slim ( 1652 ) <john@hartnup . n et> 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 bagboy ( 630125 ) <neo&arctic,net> on Monday May 13, 2013 @09:58AM (#43709495)
        When people imagine insects as food they always think that means in some manner of native/raw form. 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.
        • by slim ( 1652 ) <john@hartnup . n et> 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.

          • 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.

      • But even I find the idea of eating insects a bit revolting. I mean, I'd give it a go

        You have probably already "given it a go". Have you ever had cherry yogurt? Read the ingredients. It usually contains the red dye carmine [] which is made from beetles.

        I have eaten lots of bugs. Once you get past the squeamishness, they are good. Honey ants are delicious. Fried grasshoppers have a wonderful crunch. When I was in Panama, I had sauteed banana spiders that tasted like shrimp.

      • > 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 bickerdyke ( 670000 ) on Monday May 13, 2013 @10:05AM (#43709593)

      Coincidentally, that's exactly the same thing Hindus say about eating beef. Or half of the world about eating pork. Or 95% about oysters. Or anyone besides the french about "escargots"...

      I find the idea gross, too. But there is a differenc between something that is gross and something you've been raised to find gross.

      • by poity ( 465672 )

        Somehow I doubt they really feel a visceral disgust on the same level as people do with insects. I mean, Jews/Muslims shun pork, but eat other things like chicken/lamb/beef that are very similar in experience; Hindus shun beef, but eat chicken/pork/lamb that are very similar in experience. Oysters I can understand, since not every country has access to the sea. It would seem to me that disgust for a particular item WITHIN a category of food would not be quite as strong as disgust for an ENTIRE category of f

        • Somehow I doubt they really feel a visceral disgust on the same level as people do with insects. I mean, Jews/Muslims shun pork, but eat other things like chicken/lamb/beef that are very similar in experience

          That seems to be a perfect analog to people shunning insects but eating other things like crayfish/crabs/lobsters/shrimp.

  • Why not Zoidberg? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sockatume ( 732728 ) on Monday May 13, 2013 @09:34AM (#43709201)

    I started carefully reconsidering my emotional response on insects as food when I really considered the use of the term "mud bugs" for delicious little crawfish. It's totally apt: those little things (and most of the shellfish I eat) aren't really all that un-bug-like. Now I'm quite looking forward to trying some if the opportunity arises.

  • by Marrow ( 195242 ) on Monday May 13, 2013 @09:36AM (#43709219)

    See the whole part about them eating human waste and slurry and that stuff you just said? Thats why we dont eat bugs.

    • 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: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.
    • by poity ( 465672 )

      But most of the fish we eat do the same thing.
      I don't see why we can't make protein powder from insects. Then you just need some celebs to endorse it and make it cool.

  • I was thinking this sounded like a decent idea, but then remembered how many grasshoppers I've seen with parasites. I don't consider this worth the risk for me personally.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Grashoppers are best deep fried with a slug of tequilla on the side. Any parasite surviving that means we're in real trouble.

    • Those are wild bugs. Wild animals tend to have lots of parasites and diseases too. However, if we farmed bugs they would be mostly parasite and disease free. Given that bugs need relatively little room compared to an equivalently sized cow or pig, it would be cheaper and easier to raise them indoors... maybe even right in cities where food is needed the most.

    • 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.

    • Re:Parasites (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Captain Hook ( 923766 ) on Monday May 13, 2013 @09:55AM (#43709469)
      You are worried about parasites in an insect but happily eat other mammals whose parasites are far more likely to be evolved to infest us?

      Parasites in insects can be dealt with in the same same humans deal with almost parasites in our food, we cooked the meal first.
  • by Kelbear ( 870538 ) on Monday May 13, 2013 @09:42AM (#43709299)

    If they don't taste good, or if you can't gin up appealing recipes for them, nobody'll eat'em. Aside from countries that are already eating these insects, convincing other countries to cast aside cultural taboos on insect consumption will be difficult. Even if you price them cheaply, there is still a price floor from costs of transportation to bring them to market.

    I wonder how you'd market this product? What kind of pitch do you make? Talk up how it's all-natural, earth-friendly, or high in nutrition? One way or another, somewhere on the product you'll have to cop to the fact that you're selling bugs as food, which is a massive hurdle in western countries. The easiest way would probably be to just blend them up, and batterfry them or cover'em in chocolate to get people to ease into the idea of eating them.

    I can get over the visuals of eating bugs if you can make it taste good. Escargot doesn't look all that different from some bugs. Ate fried mealworm too (and it was TERRIBLE, like eating pure flour).

    • 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 TapeCutter ( 624760 ) on Monday May 13, 2013 @10:09AM (#43709653) Journal

      If they don't taste good, or if you can't gin up appealing recipes for them, nobody'll eat'em

      I accidentally ate chocolate coated ants once. My wife had left half a mars bar neatly wrapped in the console, I spotted it while driving and with one deft movement popped the whole thing into my mouth without taking my eyes off the road. At first I thought I had hair on my face but it soon became apparent some ants were also feasting on the chocolate. I wound down the window and spat the ball of half chewed insects and toffee out the window. For the next half hour if felt like I had hair stuck at the back of my throat.

      • I once served hot chocolate with a boiled fly to my wife. I had prep'd a couple mugs with the hot chocolate powder and then went to do some chore while the water boiled. I came back in a few minutes and filled the mugs up without inspecting their insides. My wife was soon wondering why something with a little chew was in her sip. Apparently a fly had decided to taste test the hot chocolate and got a boiling bath. No, I still haven't lived that one down.

    • by bickerdyke ( 670000 ) on Monday May 13, 2013 @10:11AM (#43709679)

      Even if you price them cheaply, there is still a price floor from costs of transportation to bring them to market.

      I wonder how you'd market this product?

      Wrong sales tactic. You need to set the price as high as possible to sell otherwise unsellable stuff. Caviar, escargots, oysters....

  • My understanding is: if you are going to safely eat insects, they have to be specially grown. Wild insects are loaded with insecticides.

  • We already eat lobsters, crab and shrimp. And you don't have to directly eat the insects, you can process them through a hog to get yummy bacon.

  • by rot26 ( 240034 ) on Monday May 13, 2013 @09:45AM (#43709323) Homepage Journal
    I have been told that roasted spiders taste just like shrimp.

    I will never know first hand of course.
  • Bugs aren't that bad - anyone in the area when its happening should check out the Purdue University bug bowl event that happens each year on the West Lafayette, IN campus - they have some tasty samples!

  • Enough! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Evtim ( 1022085 ) on Monday May 13, 2013 @09:47AM (#43709377)

    I have just had enough of all this!!!

    Look, if we preserve the way we do things as civilization, there is never going to be enough. Of anything. Ever.

    At this moment there is enough food to feed well the whole humanity. Period.
    At this moment if we stop our Ponzi scheme of a civilization and continue to develop technology while the need for ever increasing number of people and consumption per person is gone we will have ever more per person. Do you hear me? Finite demand in infinite Universe - is that so hard to understand?

    Why is everyone hailing the "green revolution"? What did it do to us? Allowed us what, 2 decades of "phew, we fed the world" warm feeling? While replacing food with tasteless accelerated growth watery fodder! You know, people pay premium prices for "biological food", but in fact this is food. Not biological , just food. The other stuff is different - processed food. This should be the division - food and process food, rather than food and biological food.

    Without going into discussion why and what , here is a statement for you - the green revolution did not "save people from starvation" Those people where already there. Understand! Noone started developing the revolution in anticipation of an increasing population. The increased population was already there. It existed, therefore it had food to eat. Instead the green revolution increased the yield so we can throw the food in the sea to keep the price "right". The revolution helped very little (if at all) the actual people that were lived with malnutrition.

    So now we will eat the bugs. Then the fungi and the rest of the microorganisms. And then what? "Low environmental impact"? Are you kidding me? So 1 billion people eating beef or 3 billion eating insects - what is the difference. As I said it many years ago here - there is no "low environmental impact" as long as the Ponzi scheme works. More efficient engines - cars get cheaper - people buy more cars. Better plane engines - cheaper prices - people fly more. And so infinitum.

    We are trying to cheat reality! It won't work!! It never does!!! Why nobody hears?! The whole issue is as usual heavily distorted by political and business interests. Why am I surprised...

  • It doesn't matter how ingenious, how wonderful, or how awesome a product is. If people don't want it, they won't buy it.

    The US suffers from the "ew, bugs are gross" factor. Until this changes, the US won't adopt eating bugs en mass. This will be a fringe thing until we're basically forced to because meat becomes prohibitively expensive.

  • 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.
  • 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?

    • Re:Religion (Score:4, Informative)

      by iggymanz ( 596061 ) on Monday May 13, 2013 @10:56AM (#43710241)

      animals that are basically insects from the sea are permitted in some sects of Islam (such as lobsters)

    • 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.

  • Waiter! (Score:5, Funny)

    by sp1nl0ck ( 241836 ) on Monday May 13, 2013 @10:37AM (#43710003)
    There's some soup on my fly!
  • by DNS-and-BIND ( 461968 ) on Monday May 13, 2013 @10:40AM (#43710031) Homepage

    I'll go for this when the dining rooms at the United Nations [] serve insects instead of Foie Gras Terrine with Brandied Cherry, on pretzel bread or Lamb Tartare on Japanese cracker with Tsar Sturgeon Caviar. And not insects as an option, either. I'm talking all the other stuff is off the menu.

    Oh, it won't be happening? You mean we proles get to eat insects while the UN gets Seared Beef Filet with Onion Soup Boule, Asparagus, and Bearnaise Sauce or Roasted Veal Medallions with N.Y. Pretzel Crumbs, Bockwurst, and Mustard Sauce? Yeah, that's pretty much what I thought. Fuck you, UN.

  • by Curunir_wolf ( 588405 ) on Monday May 13, 2013 @11:50AM (#43710865) Homepage Journal

    Here on the East Coast we're about be inundated with the 17-year cicadas (Brood II). Everybody eats cicadas, even squirrels and your pets. Looking forward to seeing some good cicada recipes when the things get plentiful.

  • by HighOrbit ( 631451 ) on Monday May 13, 2013 @12:36PM (#43711301)
    Please don't consume bugs directly. Use ground-up bugmeal for animal feed instead of fishmeal. I've actually thought about this for some time. Tons & Tons of anchovies and sardines are caught every day to the point that the overfishing is stressing the food chain in the oceans because there are fewer prey fish for the bigger fish (like tuna) to eat(especially off the coast of Peru which is the biggest achovy fishery) . Almost all of the anchovies (like high 90s%) and a significant amount of the sardines are ground into fishmeal for use as animal/aquaculture feed. Why not replace that with bugs for similiar protein content in the feed? This would allow the fisheries to recover which in turn will bring up the population of the fish we actually consume directly (tuna, mackerel, etc).

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