Insects as a Sustainable Food Source

  • We had some solid discussion going in the Veganism for the environment thread started by @Jacara which is really encouraging.

    The conversation started to move towards insects as a food source, which I think warrants its own conversation because it's so interesting and potentially impactful. I'm moving some of the posts from that thread here to get it kick started.

    What's your view on eating insects?

  • When thinking about veganism with regards to the environment one thing always comes to mind for me which is insects and molluscs.

    Animal rights vegans often have reasons for not eating honey, clams, or crickets, but insect food options generally do not have high emissions, and honeybee cultivation is actually critical for much of the vegan agricultural industry.

    Many mollusc species are also low/no emission and beneficial to the ocean ecosystem to farm en masse. Oysters act as natural toxin sponges of the ocean.

    What are y'alls thoughts about insect/mollusc agriculture?

    (Sorry for no citations. I'm just typing this quickly up on my phone and couldn't do the research, but everything I stated is true to my memory)

  • @Abraham-Miller I think they're a great idea. I already see cricket powder featured in big box grocery stores. The mental block seems to be a bigger barrier than anything logistical. If we can normalize consumption of insect food products then we've effectively opened up a new avenue for eating clean (from an emissions perspective).

    @Jacara maybe you can weigh in on the ethics part of eating insects though. Is that within the realm of what you'd consider? I can see both sides

  • @ericvanular @Abraham-Miller Cricket protein is actually a really interesting topic. I can't speak on behalf of the ethics behind it, as I am not vegan/vegetarian, but from an environmental point of view, they could be a viable solution to remedying the problems with the agricultural industry that @Jacara listed above!
    To the Western society, eating crickets can seem a little strange, but the reality is that for over 2 billion people worldwide insects are one of the main sources for protein.
    I found a relevant TedTalk discussing the benefits to cricket protein if anyone's interested in watching (skip to 1:35, the beginning is irrelevant)

    Here's a little summary about what it explains:

    1. Crickets are one of the most nutritionally dense foods in the world.
    • They contain over double the amount of protein as beef
    • More calcium that milk
    • And more Omegas/B12 vitamins than salmon
    1. They also require far less resources to grow than traditional livestock and are much more environmentally sustainable option. Comparing the same size serving of beef and crickets:
    • Crickets require 2000x less land space and water, grow 12 times faster than cows and produce 100 times less greenhouse gas.
    1. It's also a more ethical farming practice. Crickets generally don't even use all of the space given to them. Additionally, when crickets are ready for harvest, dry ice is introduced into their environment and they are put into a state of hibernation before being harvested.

  • I think we're going to see a huge increase in insect edibles moving forward. We recently wrote about the topics on Trends:, but TL;DR, they are actually more nutritious than most meat alternatives, production is becoming more optimal, and many people around the world already eat bugs. Search volume for terms like "cricket protein powder" are going up and larger conglomerates are investing in the space.

  • @Steph-Smith So awesome that you were just writing about this! Looks like a great article.

    A 25% compound annual growth rate for the edible insect market is really remarkable! Can't wait for the insect cookbooks to appear 🐛

    The optimization of production isn't even something I thought of. Insects as a food source seem a lot more versatile than what we have available currently. Is it primarily crickets/grasshoppers for now?

  • When considering insects as a food source, I think one of the most important questions that we need to ask is:

    What food was fed to the insects?

    I went to a local producer of cricket flour and protein powder and asked this question. Here's the surprising response I got.

    We don't use any pre- or post-consumer waste to feed the crickets for two reasons: we can't control the consistency of taste with a non-regular feed stock and our food regulations won't allow us to feed them waste to then feed to humans. The companies using crickets and other insects as feed stock for fish and poultry are having a lot of success using pre- and post-consumer waste to feed their crickets.

    Crickets aren't just producing food out of thin air -- only plants do that! And these crickets are being fed plants that are grown agriculturally. The feed is fertilized and transported, just like feed for other kinds of livestock.

    From an environmental and ecosystem perspective, it just doesn't make sense to me to be eating insects when plants and plant-based foods are already available to us.

    (Caveat: If insects were being fed pre or post-consumer food waste, that would be very energetically efficient. But that isn't what's happening, except in the case where insects are used as livestock feed, which is not particularly efficient to begin with.)

  • @nicwaller the caveat here is that insects as a food source are still an improvement on meat consumption. Compared to eating only plants maybe you're right but the majority of the planet eats a lot of meat

  • @Steph-Smith Looks like you're the author for that Trends article! I was wondering where the idea for it came from and where you started your research?

  • @Abraham-Miller The real question is whether people have access to insects in their local food markets. Have you had insects in any form previously and if so, where did you have it?

  • @Sam-Hughes Hey Sam! Yes, I work on the Trends team. That particular article was inspired by a small chain of events. Years ago, I remember a classmate of mine at uni founded a cricket protein startup. I think it went under and I never really heard more about insect edibles until a few weeks ago, when I saw a friend post a series of Instagram stories, where they were cooking insect meals (the meal kit mentioned in the article). This got me thinking...I wonder where things are now.

    Given the very clear focus of many companies "greenwashing" and others with a focus on health, I was even more interested when I realized that insect edibles were more health/environmentally friendly as well.

    Then I just went down a rabbit hole of reading a few dozen articles. 🙂

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