The phrase “eating bugs” probably conjures particularly unsavory episodes of “Fear Factor” or “Survivor” for most Americans. Yet insects and other creepy crawlies are a regular source of protein for some 2 billion of Earth’s inhabitants.
According to Undark, the online magazine of the Knight Science Journalism Fellowship Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, humans’ dietary habits are among the biggest contributors to global warming. The World Resources Institute estimates livestock farming is responsible for 14 to 18 percent of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.
Insects, on the other hand, are a food source that produce little carbon emissions. According to Undark, the bugs are cold-blooded and require less energy to maintain their internal body temperatures, which makes them efficient at converting food into protein. They cite crickets as an example, as they need just 1.7 kilograms of feed to produce 1 kilogram of “meat,” 80 percent of which is edible. Cattle, on the other hand, require 8 kilograms of feed to produce the same amount of meat, only 40 percent of which can be consumed.
But while the science may check out, will people actually eat them?
Undark cites an experiment conducted by Arnold Van Huis, a professor of tropical entomology at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, in 2013. He prepared two batches of meatballs — one made entirely from beef, the other half-beef, half-ground mealworms. Test subjects were then fed the meatballs, without being told which one was which.
Nine out of 10 test subjects preferred the meatball blend.
Meanwhile, a 2014 Belgian study surveyed 189 people after they tasted crickets and mealworms. Of the 26- to 45-year-olds in the experiment, 92 percent said they would eat them again.
But you needn’t look to adventurous diners in New York or San Francisco to see that insects are creeping up on menus. Those with strong ties to Maine are in the know, too.
Colby College graduates Peter Markoe and Elliot Mermel founded Coala Valley Farms in the San Fernando Valley about two years ago, where they farm crickets for human consumption.
On the menu are chocolate-covered crickets, cricket flour, cricket burgers and cricket jerky.
“We wanted to develop a sustainable source of protein, and crickets seemed like the perfect way to do so,” Markoe told Colby Magazine. “Over 2 billion people worldwide include insects in their diets, and we want Westerners to realize the nutritional and environmental benefits of doing so.”