Edible versus Fit to eat – Are insects the answer to global food security?

Unused piggy bank with cobweb and spiderFor fans of ‘Charlotte’s Web’, imagine if Wilbur (the pig) had instead watched Charlotte (the spider) being taken away to be slaughtered and eaten?

Would animal welfare groups such as PETA and the RSPCA have objected and fought for spiders’ rights and better living conditions for spiders and other arthropods?

I have been thinking about this a lot lately as a huge huntsman spider has taken up residence in my bedroom.

The other night I was pondering how attractive his fat torso would be to a bird – and then I started to wonder how hungry I would have to be before I might even consider making a meal of him.

IMG_2451This is not as crazy as it sounds – and you don’t have to be stranded in the wild for weeks like Bear Grylls or Survivor Man to consider it seriously.

Not long ago I watched a TV program called ‘Can Eating Insects Save The World?’ that argued that critters such as tarantula spiders, grasshoppers, red ants and their eggs may be the solution to world hunger and global food security.

And Australia’s ‘Bush Tucker Man’ claims that insects may be vital to our survival if Australian communities or our defence force were cut off from normal supply lines. Mind you, this revelation would not come as a surprise to indigenous Australians who have feasted on insects for over 40,000 years. (See my recent post about witchetty grubs and bogong moths.)

Insect_food_stallApparently there are around 2000 edible insect species worldwide and insects form part of the traditional diets of two billion people (nearly 30% of the world’s population).

The most commonly eaten insects are beetles (31% of the total insects consumed), caterpillars (18%) and bees, wasps and ants (14%). Other commonly eaten insects include grasshoppers, locusts, crickets and cicadas (and less so, termites, dragonflies and flies).

(Check out the deep fried locusts, bamboo-worms, moth chrysalis, crickets, scorpions, diving beetles and giant water beetles being sold at this food stall in Bangkok.)

It’s one thing to read UN reports on food security and to watch food presenters in Mexico eating fried grasshoppers with their guacamole and tortillas and Luke Nguyen eating live coconut palm grubs in South East Asia – but will visitors to western restaurants be convinced about the virtues of an insect rich diet?

This is something that Kylie Kwong (featured in my recent post about edible Australian plants) is testing at her restaurant ‘Billy Kwong’ in Sydney where she now offers insect-based dishes, such as stir-fried crickets and mealworm cakes.

(Check out the menu and amazing photos from a bush tucker banquet held as part of last year’s Good Food Month celebrations – here).

The insects that Kwong serves are bred by Sydney edible insect expert, Skye Blackburn. The bugs are fed fresh organic vegetables and grains, purged for several days before being humanely harvested, and frozen so they do not feel any pain. (Skye also supplies bugs pre-roasted and ready to eat via her Edible Bug Shop website.)

(Kwong has kindly shared her recipe for Stir Fried Home Crickets with Black Bean & Chilli  in case you want to try it – or file it somewhere safe in preparation for our next locust plague.)

My rational mind can appreciate the value of this food source that is rich in protein, fatty acids and other nutrients.

My background in sustainability forces me to acknowledge the efficient feed conversion rate (insects can generate ten times as much edible protein compared to beef when fed the same amount of grain), the environmental benefits and low carbon footprint of their high intensity farming methods, and the opportunity to reduce animal suffering (e.g. due to live animal exports and battery hens) – as well as the relatively low cost.

But I still find it hard to stop myself from feeling squeamish. My spider is safe for the time being.

Who would have believed that the words we chanted when I was young might one day come true?

‘Bite their heads off
Rip their guts out
Throw their skins away
Nobody knows how well I live
On worms [beetles, spiders. crickets & other insects] three times a day!’

*****************

Sources:

Image credits:

  • Unused piggy bank with cobweb and spider © Petercoupe | Dreamstime.com 
  • Spider on wall – Pip Marks
  • Insects food stall in Bangkok, Thailand – Takoradee via Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)


Categories: Biodiversity, Health & Wellbeing

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

5 replies

  1. Can’t say I’ve ever eaten insects, not knowingly anyway. My son found a spider in an egg & bacon McMuffin once. And they didn’t charge him extra for it

  2. I can’t believe I almost missed this post! I’m always interested in spiders, though not to eat. I guess that another reason for bug consumption is this: if we started eating bugs we’ll save on exterminator fees.

    • I like to think so in some cases- but we also risk disrupting the balance. E.g. If I eat my big spider (the apex species in this case), then the smaller spiders and other bugs may multiply unchecked (unless I eat them as well??!!)

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