Expanding Diversity in Agriculture — Pass the Chocolate Covered Crickets

In case you haven’t heard, the 2013 winners of the Hult Prize (a $1M prize to help entrepreneurs start a proposed business) is a group of students from McGill, who have addressed this year’s theme, “The Global Food Crisis,” with, you guessed it, crickets!

Aspire Food Group aims to grow, prepare and sell edible insects. Currently, their main product is a fortified flour, which mixes wheat, cassava or corn flour with the wholesome goodness of ground crickets. Aspire’s other products include roasted pepper and lime cricket chips, health supplements and cricket/grain meal for chickens (poultry that is, not those of you who refuse to try insects).

Well, since I wrote an article on eating horse meat (and over 61% of our voters said they would too, by the way), then subsequently tried beef tongue, ox tail, shark, raw salmon, crocodile and cuttlefish cooked in squid ink in Australia, it may come as no shock to you that I’ve eaten a pile of insects. In fact, so have you! The average human unintentionally consumes around one pound of insects per year (I looked for places to try insects in Saskatoon, but I may have to buy David Gordon’s, Eat-a-bug Cookbook).

Entomophagy, or the act of eating insects, is practiced intentionally by around 2 billion people worldwide, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, in the paper, Edible Insects: Future Prospects for Food and Food Security. And, with over 1,900 insect species documented as edible, it’s hard to believe that number isn’t higher.

Would you consider eating bugs? Or, perhaps even more interesting: would you farm the little critters?

I wouldn’t mind trying a little from column A(phid) and a little from column B(eetle). You see, insects are very efficient feed-users, have a low environmental footprint and, although nutrient value is highly dependent on the species and its life stage (can even vary between instars!), insects tend to be a very good source of protein. There are also plenty of other uses for insects, including sericulture (silk farming), animal feed, medicinal purposes, dye production, biological control strategies and…oh, honey, of course.

That’s right, insect rearing isn’t new, but aside from the Apis genus, it’s not terribly popular.

Perhaps one of the most pressing challenges in consuming or producing insects (besides having to pick tibia out of your teeth) is that the average citizen seems wildly opposed to the thought, making marketing a challenge… then again, who doesn’t love a little creative advertising to get people talking?

But does agriculture really need another competitive protein-source?

Yes.

Every conference I’ve been to in the last decade has cautioned that we will need to feed 9 billion by 2050. People are stressed. How can we produce enough? How can we improve distribution? Why not embrace diversity in our production system? Insects are small and easy to rear. They would also cost little to transport. They’d be a good “livestock” for anyone, urban or rural.

Sure, further work has to be done in determining the rules and regulations of insect growth, manufacturing and consumption — and perhaps particularly as it relates to non-native species — but I don’t think insect farming is an impossibility. In fact, I think it’s on its way. And why would we dismiss insects as an alternative foodsource? To truly “feed the world,” we must not only be open to change, but also to diversity.

So, pass the chocolate covered crickets.

Photo Courtesy of Crystal Jorgenson, University of Manitoba

 

Debra Murphy

Debra Murphy is a Field Editor based out of central Alberta, where she never misses a moment to capture with her camera the real beauty of agriculture. Follow her on Twitter

@RealAg_Debra

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