Entomophagy, for those of you haven’t heard of it (let’s face it, the vast majority of you), is the practice of eating insects. While not strictly accurate, the practice of eating arachnids is often included within the term as well. While the idea is a little alien, even disgusting, to many people, particularly in the Western World, it is commonplace in many other cultures.

A food stall in Thailand, stocked with assorted fried insects.

Some notable examples are the widespread practice of eating insects in much of Southeast Asia, the chapulines eaten in Mexico and the Mopane Worms acting as a food source throughout Southern Africa. But these are only some of the mildly better-known practices, and all in all entomophagy is practiced in 80% of the world’s countries. Only in Europe is it rare.

Some bowls of chapulines, a variety of grasshopper eaten in Mexico.

There are many advantages to farming insects, or ‘minilivestock’, a commonly-used term. In the present day, these advantages are gradually becoming better-known in some areas of the scientific community, but it will take time for real awareness to spread.

Some Chinese fried silkworms on a stick.

Efficiency

One of the most striking advantages of entomophagy is its sheer efficiency in terms of how much nutrition from plants is converted into meat. Growing worldwide population densities, increased urbanisation and the future loss of arable farmland to anthropogenic climate change all point towards a need to make an agricultural shift from the huge sprawl we currently operate, covering much of the Earth’s surface, to more centralised, compact operations, wherein the supply is closer to the demand. In other words, compact methods of food production situated in and around cities will be very advantageous. I’d be surprised if farming companies and entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia don’t capitalise on this soon, and set up large, industrial-scale, insect farming facilities near some larger cities, perhaps Phnom Penh or Bangkok. These will be able to provide cheap protein to the more poverty-stricken of the residents.

With the practice making money in one place, it shouldn’t take too long to spread, in similar forms, to other areas of the world where there isn’t a taboo against insect-eating, particularly East and South Asia, and Africa, shortly followed by parts of Latin America. It will take years to make its way into the Western World, where it may never really become a profitable industry. But fortunately for the corporations and co-operatives involved, Asian countries will have both larger economies and markets by this stage.

Environmentalist factions should be able to easily latch on to entomophagy, seeing as it has a much lower impact on the environment than farming of cattle, sheep or other vertebrate livestock, which are far less efficient.

People always find a way to get cheap meat it seems, and in the future this is likely to be a major source for this, although in the West the market will probably be dominated by in vitro meat, grown straight from animal cells in a lab.

Indigenous Cultivation

In many regions, the cultivation of insects is in the hands of minority indigenous groups, such as Amerindians in the Americas, and tribal groups in South and Southeast Asia. If these groups are able to capitalise on their skills in this area at the right time, probably with assistance from outside groups, they might well be able to establish a viable economic niche in supplying insects. They may specialise in more expensive insects, while mass produced cheaper insects are produced in huge industrial facilities.

Also, as many of these insects become endangered by habitat degradation, an economic use for them would encourage the conservation of the environment, which would help conserve both wildlife and the lifestyle of the indigenous peoples there.

Conclusion

The high efficiency of minilivestocking could make it a success both within cities for the purpose of keeping the huge populations of the present developing world well-fed, and within colonies such as Antarctic settlements, floating cities and eventually extraterrestrial habitats, where their high efficiency, relatively healthy nature and the small amount of space they take up will stand them in good stead. Perhaps the taboo against insect-eating prevalent in Western culture will decay in time, by necessity or through immigration from countries where culture allows entomophagy.

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