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UN to World: How About Eating More Insects?

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This waterbug, which is native to Thailand, was prepared by entomophagy advocate and educator Daniella Martin. She described this  edible insect as having a flavor redolent of banana and Jolly Rancher candies. (Sheraz Sadiq/KQED)

This waterbug, which is native to Thailand, was prepared by entomophagy advocate and educator Daniella Martin. She described this edible insect as having a flavor redolent of banana and Jolly Rancher candies. (Sheraz Sadiq/KQED)

Hey East Coast, the United Nations has a solution to your cicada situation: eat them. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization has a new report out this week about the benefits of eating insects. The authors point out that the global human population is growing, but space available for farming isn’t. Insects require less land and water than, say, cows or chickens, and compared to the over-fished oceans, they’re a relatively untapped resource. Plus, they’re a good source of protein. Lots of cultures already include bugs in their cooking. But will Americans ever eat meal worm tacos or cricket stir fry en masse?

“Convincing everyone to eat insects will be a challenge, but there are many ‘faceless’ and indirect ways of adding insect protein to our diet,” said Brian Fisher, curator of entomology for the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. “The obvious starting point is not fried grasshoppers for lunch, but using insects to feed farmed fish, chickens, pigs and cows. But soon, I am convinced instead of that prized meal of lobster, we will all soon be wishing to dine on tasty insects.”

And, really, how different is a crustacean from an insect?

The UN estimates that about two billion people already include insects in their diet. Sure, it’s less common here, but for the hungry and the intrepid, there’s chef and artist Monica Martinez’s Don Bugito, a popular San Francisco food truck (and KQED’s QUEST featured in a TV segment about eating insects). She serves things like blue corn tortilla tacos stuffed with wax moth larvae, and gave high marks to the report, in which she’s featured.

“Edible insects are not only a dietary solution for developing countries, they are also a great ecological and sustainable food resource for Western countries which lack diversity in their diets due to the abundance of processed foods,” Martinez said. “This new FAO publication is a great resource to begin understanding the power of a diverse diet.”

Don’t panic about a vast UN conspiracy to make us eat cockroaches. In a press release, Eva Muller, the director of the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Forest Economic Policy and Products Division, said that they are not saying that people need to start eating bugs.

“We are saying that insects are just one resource provided by forests, and insects are pretty much untapped for their potential for food, and especially for feed,” Muller explained.

So, you know, it’s food for thought. Bon apetit!

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About the Author ()

Molly Samuel joined KQED as an intern in 2007, and since then has worked here as a reporter, producer, director and blogger. Before becoming KQED Science’s Multimedia Producer, she was a producer for Climate Watch. Molly has also reported for NPR, KALW and High Country News, and has produced audio stories for The Encyclopedia of Life and the Oakland Museum of California. She was a fellow with the Middlebury Fellowships in Environmental Journalism and a journalist-in-residence at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center. Molly has a degree in Ancient Greek from Oberlin College and is a co-founder of the record label True Panther Sounds.