Can Insects Replace Meat?
Yes, I know – I can hear a collective “Yuk!” from our readers but although consuming insects (known as ‘entomophagy’) is rather taboo in Western societies it’s pretty common for humans to eat both insects and their larvae in other parts of the world, particularly in Asia. Worldwide, over 2,000 different species are eaten by over 3,000 ethnic groups in 128 countries. But can insects replace meat as a staple part of the human diet in Western cultures?
Concerned at how mass livestock production has impacted on the environment, researchers at Tufts University in the United States have found that although there has historically been substantial resistance to the idea of increasing insect consumption due to practical difficulties inherent in producing sufficient quantities, there may be a way around the problem. A combination of insects grown in a lab that are genetically modified (this may be a problem for some countries) and fed on plant material could deliver a high yield, nutritional food that is environmentally friendly.
These insects would be farmed for maximum nutrition and flavour, though it’s still unclear as to how the latter is to be achieved. The basic idea is that the insects would be modified in such a way so as to maximise fat and muscle development but even the report’s author acknowledges that nobody yet knows how they will taste.
This may be a laudable goal as there is overwhelming evidence that livestock farming is harming environments worldwide – and it’s set to grow. I wrote an article on the production of lemna recently that mentions this. However, breaking cultural taboos will be a bigger obstacle, I think. Most people in the West are repulsed by insects generally, seeing them as disease carriers, and it’s going to be a long, hard road to convince them otherwise.