Forum: Are Insects the Food of the Future?

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Mullins: now we brought you a food related story earlier this week and it sparked a pretty good conversation online. Just in case you missed it here's a clip now from that story it's by reporter john Otis.

John Otis: The roasted ants are served like peanuts, they have an earthy nutty taste and the texture of day old popcorn.

Mullins: The story was about eating ants, the so called big butt ants; they're a delicacy in Columbia. Listener Amy Melonbacher Mackulan [sp] wrote on our Facebook page, tongue in cheek -we think anyway- 'everything tastes good deep fried'. Listener David Russell wroth 'no thanks I prefer my eight or ten ounce medium well USDA steak'. Well you might not like the idea of eating insects but Arnold van Huis suggests that you change your mind. Van Huis is an insect expert and entomologist Wageningen university in the Netherlands and he's on a mission to promote insects as food. Arnold van house make your case why should we eat bugs?

Van Huis: Well first of all because they're delicious, but there are a lot of other reasons why we should eat insects. The problem with conventional livestock is that it is already using about 70% or all agricultural land in the world and rural population in growing to about nine billion in 2050 and also per head of the population people are eating more meat. So the prediction is that let's say beef will in 10-20 years be far too expensive for people to buy. So we need alternatives for our protein and insects are a very good alternative. They emit less greenhouse gasses, they use less water so the ecological footprint of insects is much less.

Mullins: How about in terms of nutrition? Are they more nutritious then the protein you might get from eating say, cattle or pigs?

Van Huis: I wouldn't say more nutritious; but they are certainly similar to, let's say, the protein sources that we know: like fish, chicken, pork, or beef. So it's absolutely similar but it depends on the species your talking about, because we have about 1,800 different species.

Mullins: Which are the most nutritious insects?

Van Huis: Well caterpillars are very very nutritious but if we talk about the species that we can rear in western countries I would say crickets, locust species and the meal worms.

Mullins: And meal worms?

Van Huis: Yeah, meal worms that are larvae of storage beetles.

Mullins: You aren't just trying to promote insect eating in developed countries you're worried that people who are in developing countries who already eat insects may be giving up those practices, how come?

Van Huis: Well it depends a little bit, in countries like Laos and Thailand you don't see it, you see that people are proud of eating insects but in countries like Africa it may be different, that they want to westernize and if you westernize you don't eat insects.

Mullins: Yeah so you've had a hard time in fact getting some people who you've been researching yourself to even admit they eat insects.

Van Huis: Well I have been interviewing a lot of people in Africa about this, and they often don't want to talk about it. Unless I, you know, show real interest- of course they talk. There's a misconception that people in western countries think that people eat insects because they're hungry or something like that. It's just delicious.

Mullins: And the most savory insect that you've had?

Van Huis: I've eaten locusts, and different species of insects which were excellently prepared and really tasty.

Mullins: How were they prepared, the locusts that were so delicious?

Van Huis: I did not ask, that was one of my mistakes; but anyway, they were kind of peppery, and crunchy, but I really like those a lot.

Mullins: that's good and I want to thank you Arnold Van Huis; I'm sure our listeners are going to have more questions and thoughts on the subject and they will have a chance to share them directly with you. You are our guest as you know for the next couple of weeks in our online science forum so we look forward to continuing this discussion and sharing recipes on our website Arnold thank you very much.

Van Huis: Thank you.

Mullins: Arnold Van Huis is an entomologist at wageingen university in the Netherlands. If you'd like to join the conversation with him, go to our science website that's and while your there you can also check out John Otis's story about eating big butt ants in Columbia.