A Vanderbilt University professor argued that insects must compose a larger share of the world’s food supply.
In an opinion piece for Bloomberg, Amanda Little — who teaches investigative journalism and science writing at the prestigious university — lauded the European Union’s recent decision to approve insects for human consumption. According to Little, the move ought to be carried out across the globe:
The approval confers a kind of dignity to the lowly, protein-rich microbeasts that we foolishly dismiss as pests, and delivers a clear signal that the insect proteins industry is poised for significant growth. Above all, it paves the way for an alternative protein source that should play a critical role in feeding a hotter, more populous world.
Before this triggers your gag reflex, let’s be clear: For most consumers, the EU decision won’t translate to bugs in your burgers and mealworms in your macaroni. Yes, insects will play a far more integral role in human food systems going forward, but they won’t likely be a direct form of protein. Instead, they’re becoming an increasingly valuable indirect food source — a feedstock for poultry, farmed fish, pork and beef which are currently fattened on environmentally costly soy and corn feeds.
Though investors have poured billions into making insects a core food supply for livestock, Little added that American consumers have been hesitant to add the critters to their own diets:
Humans have been consuming edible insects — from crickets and grasshoppers to fire ants and termites — since before the dawn of civilization, and 80% of the world’s population throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America, continues to eat bugs today. But U.S. consumers have been slow on the uptake, even as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved insects for human consumption years ago. A niche market has emerged with snack foods such as Chirp Chips and Exo protein bars. And when the FDA approved insects for pet foods earlier this year, brands including Purina began sourcing bugs for their products.
However, Little emphasized the purported environmental benefits of insect consumption — especially with fly larvae:
The environmental benefits of insect proteins both for human and animal consumption are astounding. Black soldier fly larvae, in particular, hold promise: Known in the industry by the acronym BSFL, these infant bugs serve as high-quality chicken and fish feed and require 1,000 times less land per unit of protein produced compared to soy production, between 50 and 100 times less water, and zero agrochemical inputs.
Little cited an article from The Washington Post, which argued that the larvae hold promise for the human food market — for instance, through protein powders and ingredients for cookies, pasta, and chips. The article called Western consumers’ revulsion to insects “puzzling,” since crabs and lobsters are “really just giant sea bugs.”
Beyond the European Union’s recent approval of insect consumption and Little’s opinion piece, American institutions have been pushing alternative protein sources. In a bizarre social media post last month, the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis suggested that soy is a more economically efficient Thanksgiving meal option than turkey.
“A Thanksgiving dinner serving of poultry costs $1.42,” said a tweet discussing a Federal Reserve Economic Data blog post. “A soybean-based dinner serving with the same amount of calories costs 66 cents and provides almost twice as much protein.”
Conservatives on social media were by no means enthused by the central bank’s tweet.
“And for Christmas you can have earth worms and cockroaches,” said Republican United States Senate candidate J.D. Vance.
“Next year it’ll be bugs,” concurred commentator Mike Cernovich.
“Quantitative easing and soy for Thanksgiving,” added Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY). “Let’s save America from these people.”