Should adventurous foodies consider replacing foie gras and sweetbreads with grasshoppers and maguey worms? That's what a new report from the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is recommending.
The study's authors concede that there is a "disgust factor" that prevents people around the world from eating bugs. But there are plenty of good reasons (okay, five) to put down that steak and shove a wriggling insect into your mouth:
1. They are good for you
The FAO estimates that there are between 1,000 and 1,900 edible insect species. As a result, espousing the nutritional benefits of insects as a whole is tricky, akin to saying all mammals are good for you even though braised rabbit and bacon obviously have entirely different nutritional qualities.
In general, however, the FAO says that insects are a "highly nutritious and healthy food source" chock-full of protein, vitamins, and fiber. Looking to score some omega-3s? Eating mealworms will give you the same amount of the healthy fats as eating fish.
2. They are better for the environment
Environmentalists on the Atkins Diet take notice: To produce the same amount of protein as crickets, cattle need 12 times the feed, while chicken and pigs require double the feed, according to the FAO. Less feed means less resources are needed to make your meal.
Insects also don't emit as much methane and ammonia as traditional livestock do. Another plus? They can be reared on "organic side-streams," which is a more palatable way of saying human and animal waste. We can't wait to see that on an insect-burger ad campaign.
3. You eat lobster, don't you?
Once, lobster and shrimp (which, like tarantulas and centipedes, are arthropods) were considered "poor-man's food" unfit for refined palates. Now the butter-poached Nova Scotia lobster at New York City's Michelin-starred Ai Fiori will cost you $40. The lesson here is that what we consider disgusting isn't always determined by our tongues. The FAO quotes naturalist Joseph Charles Bequaert:
What we eat is, after all, more a matter of custom and fashion than anything else… It can be attributed only to prejudice,
that civilized man of today shows such a decided aversion to including any six-legged creatures in his diet. [FAO]
4. They are good for economic development
Starting a cattle farm, especially in the developing world, can be costly. According to the FAO, raising insects is a great option for poor rural farmers without the money or know-how to raise traditional livestock. Insects take up little space, are easy to raise, and reproduce quickly for a fast return on an initial investment.
5. Plenty of people already eat them
The FAO estimates that insects are already eaten regularly by 2 billion people worldwide, especially in tropical countries where insects are big and plentiful, as well as in the more temperate climates of China, Japan, and Mexico. What is it going to take to make insects popular in the United States? We're looking at you, Andrew Zimmern.