As of 2013, there were an estimated 7.125 BILLION people on the planet. In less than ten years, that number is expected to grow by another 1 billion. Naturally, having enough food for this many people will be a continual problem. There has been much discussion about how to tackle this problem. Some argue that we need to consume less meat because raising livestock requires too many resources that could otherwise be used to grow more fruits, vegetables and grains, which feed more people. Others argue that agriculture will not keep pace with growing demand without further intervention, such as the use of genetically modified organisms (“GMOs”).
Should We Consider Eating Bugs?
Then there are those that argue that entomophagy is the answer. Entomophagy (pronounced en-tuh-MOFF-a-gee) is the eating of insects. Throughout much of the world bugs are part of a normal diet. For example, people in Asia, Africa, Australia, Central and South America eat bugs. Walk the streets of Bangkok, Thailand and you will likely encounter this:
In Brazil, queen ants are a popular snack.
Since insects are a good source of protein and require fewer resources to harvest, insectivores argue that insects are an excellent substitute for animal protein. This argument has been embraced by many, including The United Nations. In fact, the U.N. released this report in 2013 about edible insects as the future of a sustainable food supply.
You are Already Eating Them Anyway
Now, I know what you are thinking: YUCK! And to be honest, I tend to agree. The idea of eating any kind of bug is an appetite suppressant for me. But in reality, you and I are likely ingesting insects on a daily basis with every meal.
It is nearly impossible to eliminate insects and other pests from the food supply. Here, in the United States, this fact is recognized by the Food and Drug Administration. According to their website, requiring that food be uncontaminated with insects (or rodents for that matter) is not only impractical but not feasible from an economic standpoint. As a result, the FDA has set guidelines (called “defect action levels”) for the food industry. These “defect action levels” are regulations on how much insect and rodent parts may be contained within specific types of food.
These guidelines are published online and can be found here.
The FDA list contains many foods that most people eat on a daily basis: fruits, vegetables, spices, and grains. For example, the defect action level for whole wheat flour is 75 or more insect fragments per 50 grams of flour (or 150 parts per 100 grams). If you’re not sure what 100 grams of flour looks like, here it is:
As you can see, 100 grams is about ¾ of a cup. So if you ate anything made with flour, chances are that it contained some amount of insect parts.
If you like beer, chances are the hops contained aphid parts. The FDA permits up to 2,500 aphids per 10 grams of hops. 10 grams of hops isn’t all that much. If you’re not sure what an aphid looks like, it is this:
And if you eat peanut butter, there could be up to “30 or more insect fragments” per 100 grams. (I find it interesting that the FDA regulation is “30 or more” for this, with apparently no limitation as to what “more” could be).
If we’re all eating insects, or parts thereof, on some level, it only seems logical to take this one step further and eat a meal with bugs as the featured entrée. Since part our mission at FoodNarc is to investigate food and provide reviews, we will be dining out at a restaurant in New York City that serves traditional Mexican dishes with insects on the menu. We’ll be chowing down on January 24, 2015, so stay tuned for our follow-up report!
More Images of Insects as Food