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Opinion | We must start eating away at Earth's food problem

Reis' Pieces

By Reis Thebault
On April 10, 2014

It is greater than the population of India, greater than China, greater than the entire continent of Africa. Twenty percent of the world's people are malnourished. That is approximately 1.4 billion people. That is a lot of people, a lot of humans who are not living with enough food. Several questions immediately arise from this statistic. Most important, perhaps, is asking what can be done? How can Earth, in an act of humanity, fix this? This question becomes all the more important as the world's population increases and it becomes more difficult to feed its people. The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) suggests a slimy, but nutritious solution: eating insects.

By 2050, it is widely believed the world's population will reach 9 billion. To accommodate that increase, according to the FAO, the world's current food production will need to double. And we already make so much. On top of this, it is becoming more difficult to procure food in traditional ways. First of all, land is scarce and to devote more of it to farming than already is, the FAO points out, is not a sustainable solution. Offshores, oceans are already overfished and implications of climate change and water shortages will only exacerbate the issue. For these reasons, the world must evaluate how it consumes food. We need to reduce the waste, maximize the nutrition and find new ways of feeding billions of people sustainably. As a culture, we need to start eating insects.

Now, to a large part of the world, this idea is not a new one. Edible insects have always been a part of human diets in Asia, Africa and Latin America. However, in the Western world, the reaction to consuming worms, grasshoppers and cicadas is one of visceral disgust. It is something people with access to an array of fast food burgers would only consider doing in times of near starvation. On the contrary, it is currently estimated that insects supplement the food intake of 2 billion people and are a staple in local diets and-get this-are consumed because of their taste, not out of a lack of any other food.

But in order to make any changes on a global scale, the West's attitude toward insect consumption has to change. If the West begins to value and recognize the benefits of insect consumption, not only could it bring nutritional benefits, but it would be ecologically valuable as well. Populations in the African countries of Malawi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia highly value the food status of caterpillars. Studies conducted by the University of Wisconsin show a correlation between the value of those insects and better forest management and protection in these countries. This, of course, is logical. A people would want to protect the land from which their food is coming.

The idea of insects as food, and not to mention feed for livestock and pets, is an extremely relevant one, but it is going to be a hard sell to Western consumers. However, Director of FAO's Forest Economics, Policy and Products Division Eva Muller believes it is feasible.

"Consumer disgust remains one of the largest barriers to the adoption of insects as viable sources of protein in many Western countries," Muller said. "Nevertheless, history has shown that dietary patterns can change quickly, particularly in the globalized world."

In some European countries, notably France, insects have begun to appear on menus in fancy restaurants. Muller compared it to the rise of sushi.

"I don't expect it to be something that happens very quickly, but if we remember that 20 years ago nobody in Europe would think of eating raw fish, and everybody now loves sushi, things can change, so even the cultures that are not used to eating insects may eventually develop a taste for them," she said.

A vast and relatively untapped potential exists in insect consumption. A changing attitude could eventually lead to a more sustainable, nutritious and universally beneficial diet. And, who knows? We might even enjoy it.


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