Not another story about superbugs?



Personally, I may not be too affected by a food shortage by 2050 for a couple of reasons.  I could be dead, or at the least very old and only consuming a light fuel of gruel.

Currently, I’m in a state of abundance.  Each day I eat my way through thousands of kilojules to maintain my obesity.  A famine might upset that calorie loaded apple-cart and eating something gross, like an insect suddenly becomes, well, not too bad and perhaps, necessary.  The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) are taking our initiation into eating bugs seriously.  In a 182 page report it agrees that the humble bumble could be the solution to the Worlds’ impending famine.

Apparently more than 2 billion people consume a range of 1,900 different insects.  Then there’s the rest of us, who, according to Australian researcher, Alan Yen,[2] are eating them inadvertently, because a few of them in our food is OK.  It’s been approved.  We consume them in our chocolate, our pasta, our flour and, of course, frozen broccoli.(Gorman 2009)

Insects gnaw through our dwindling food supplies consuming nearly a quarter of the Worlds’ crops and to offset their ravenous appetites we poison millions of them, and in turn our planet and ourselves everyday.  So why not murder them another way?

As a horticulturalist I have a love/hate relationship with the “pest”.  I was forever inventing ways to kill the ones that I didn’t need, but at the same time I was annihilating the beneficial ones.

Then one day I plucked a large, brown, grasshopper off of one of my plants.  The colour of brown should have alerted me to its true identity—locust.  I could barely look at it, let alone hold it long enough to eat it.   On this day, Mr Straight Wings went back to gnawing on my crop.

All of these thoughts snowballed and became an experiment — entomophagy.  Humans eating insects.  It ticks so many boxes.  The Worlds’ obesity problems. Optimum nutrition and even supply, initially anyway, is not a problem.

I headed off to my local pet shop across the road from McDonalds and for the cost of a Big Mac and fries I got myself a growing, living, feast of some dozen or so Acheta domesticus — (house) crickets.

Globally, the most commonly consumed insects are beetles, caterpillars and bees, wasps and ants. Then come grasshoppers, locusts and crickets, cicadas, leafhoppers, planthoppers, scale insects and true bugs, termites, dragonflies, flies and others.

The house cricket is also reared and eaten in Thailand, where as of 2012, there were about 20,000 cricket farmers.  The Thais prefer it to other species because of its soft body.   Additionally, the short-tail cricket (Brachytrupes portentosus), which has a large body and large head, is also popular. It was noticed that 60 percent of cricket breeders in the northeast were women.

Only two species of cricket are farmed.  Other species, such as Tarbinskiellus portentosus, cannot be farmed due to their long life cycles. In the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Cambodia: sellers are now saying that customers prefer farmed crickets because they taste better[3]

I took my house crickets home and put them into their BPA free mansion.  As well as their little milk carton holes they had wood chips to hide under.   I fed them carrot.  They also had remnants of the food they come with, which according to the manufacturer is a secret.  They seemed happy.  They chirped, loudly and beautifully day and night looking for love.

My plan was to breed them, and eat them.  After all it was also a study in immersion journalism but I needed help.  I had no idea what I was doing.  Could I slaughter them?  How do you slaughter an insect? Do they bleed?  Would you need a certified slaughter house? Or  would you just pop it in your mouth and swallow like indie peoples do?

As the days go by my crickets get plumper and more like pets.  I post photos of them on Facebook and while I don’t quite get to the stage of naming them.  I’m using adjectives on them like cute and awww.

Fortunately for them I leave for a two month trip and their captor allows them to escape to greener pastures.  He says they were eating each other.  Uh duh thats what happen when you don’t feed them.  I already know I couldn’t have killed them.   I’m one of those people who used to buy my meat in a supermarket and bury my head in the sand about how it got there.   No animal suffered to feed me.   Until my conversion.  A grower I may be but not an executionist.

Does that mean we would have to have little killing factories for the insects?  Can you imagine later when vegans get pissed about the insects we are killing and go to the factories to film their exploits.  You can imagine the headlines, Crickets living in filthy crowded conditions.

Katharina Unger a design student from Austria says she wanted to tackle the issue of unsustainable and unethical meat production.  She says meat production is a disaster of ethics, a disaster for our planet and considering the amounts of antibiotics used it is often a disaster for our health too.  

She began her research at a pet shop buying up grasshoppers, crickets, mealworms and superworms.   She started to experiment with the processing.  She readied her kitchen and utensils and began killing, dissecting, cooking, frying, mixing and eating them.

“I wanted to try to understand what made people disgusted by eating insects. 

“I felt particularly disgusted by touching the animals.

“I knew the only way people would grow insects at home was without having to touch them.

The result became a home and breeding station for black soldier flies. (Hermetia illucens) After 432 hours, the farm delivers (from 1 gram of black soldier fly eggs) 2.4 kilogram of larvae protein, larvae that self-harvest and fall clean and ready to eat into a bucket.

Black soldier flies themselves do not eat, they just drink. They accumulate enough protein in the larval stadium to live up to 8 days for the sole purpose of replicating.

Unlike normal houseflies they usually do not sit on food and they do not sting or bite either. They also fly very slowly so in case one should escape it is easy to catch them. and Lepsis.

Black soldier flies can be used commercially to solve a number of environmental sewage problems such as reducing manure mass, moisture content and offensive odours.  They also provide high-value feedstuff for cattle, pig, poultry and fish (Newton et al., 2005).

The adult black soldier fly is not attracted to human habitats or foods and for that reason is not considered a nuisance and interestingly the high crude fat content of black soldier flies can be converted to biodiesel: 1 000 larvae growing on 1 kg of cattle manure, pig manure and chicken manure produce 36 g, 58 g and 91 g, respectively, of biodiesel (Li et al., 2011).

Finally the little critters are nutritious .  For example, the composition of unsaturated omega-3 and six fatty acids in mealworms is comparable with that in fish (and higher than in cattle and pigs), and the protein, vitamin and mineral content of mealworms is similar to that in fish and meat. 

So what’s standing in the way of a bigger audience than the 2 billion or so people currently snacking on bugs?  According to the FAO report there are challenges.  They include documentation on the nutritional values of insects, the environmental impacts of harvesting and farming and clarification of the socio-economic benefits that insect gathering and farming can offer in particular for the food security of the poorest of society.

And, disgust.  Yes according to the report we westerners find the thoughts of eating insects disgusting.  Its the crawling I think.  The thought of crawling insects. Imagine.  Its cringeworthy.  Am I disgusted?  Well, let’s see…..

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