July 25th, 2013
05:00 PM ET
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5@5 is a food-related list from chefs, writers, political pundits, musicians, actors, and all manner of opinionated people from around the globe.

Editor's note: David George Gordon is the author of "The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook Revised." Follow him on Twitter @thebugchef.

A recent report from the United Nations-sponsored Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) states that bug eating could be an effective way to defeat global hunger and combat climate change.

The report got a mixed reception from the press. For the most part, they, like many North Americans, regard insects as dirty, disease-ridden and gross. Although the report’s key findings made perfect sense, many reporters balked at the thought of making meals out of crickets, ants or grasshoppers. [Editor's note: Not us.]

Some actually “dissed” the report. “The UN bullies want to make us eat a bug,” mocked Stephen Colbert, host of The Colbert Report.

"Well folks, you will never catch me eating bug, ” he proclaimed. “I don’t even eat gummy worms - I just use them to catch Swedish fish.”

However, if you read the 180-plus pages of the FAO report (something I suspect many people have yet to do), you will be treated to a host of compelling reasons for why we should forego conventional sources of meat, such as pigs, cattle and poultry, and start dining on insects, spiders and other so-called “mini-livestock.”

But let’s face it: I all said this 15 years ago, in the introductory chapter of my "Eat-a-Bug Cookbook: 33 Ways to Cook Grasshoppers, Ants, Water Bugs, Spiders, Centipedes, and Their Kin." I’ve restated the reasons for engaging in entomophagy (the technical term for bug-eating) and offered an additional batch of 9 recipes in my updated and expanded Eat-a-Bug Cookbook Revised.

Here then, in a nutshell, are what I consider the main reasons for saying, “Bug appétit!” and joining the ranks of the world’s bug-eating people - and estimated 1.9 billion men, women and children, according to the FAO report.

Five Good Reasons to Engage in Entomophagy: David George Gordon

david george gordon

1. Bugs are reliable sources of protein, vitamins and minerals
A grasshopper’s body is more than 20 percent protein, slightly less than the protein in lean ground beef (about 27 percent). But if you roast grasshoppers to remove water weight, their protein content jumps to around 60 percent, transforming it into super-steak.

Protein-rich bugs are also good sources of vitamins and minerals. Want to ward off osteoporosis? Then eat crickets, whose bodies are loaded with calcium. Looking for a good vitamin supplement? Try termites; they’re rich in iron. Better yet, get some silkworm caterpillars. A 100-gram serving of the small greenish-gray caterpillars provide 100 percent of the daily requirements for copper, zinc, iron, thiamin, and riboflavin.

2. Raising edible insects could reduce greenhouse gas emissions
Curbing emissions of methane and nitrous oxide - two chemical compounds known as greenhouse gases - is of vital importance to climate control. Believe it or not, 18 percent of all greenhouse gases come from the manure piles and flatulence of cows and pigs. That’s a greater percentage than what comes from all the cars, trucks, and motorcycles in the world.

Lightweight greenhouse gas molecules enter the earth’s upper atmosphere, forming a dense layer. Much like the glass panes in an old-fashioned greenhouse, this layer allows sunlight to penetrate but will not let any residual heat to escape.

Because of this so-called greenhouse effect, the earth is gradually warming, wreaking havoc on weather patterns, causing glaciers to melt, and, yes, creating drought conditions that could lead to food shortages in many parts of the world. By tending herds of grasshoppers instead of cattle, we could someday curb greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 60 percent.

3. Bug-farming is more food-efficient
Raising cows, pigs, and sheep is a tremendous waste of food and water resources. Alternatively, bug ranching is benign. It all comes down to what’s known as the efficiency of conversion of ingested food (or ECI) rating - a way of measuring the benefits that various animals obtain from their food.

Deriving an ECI rating means measuring the weight an animal gains after eating an established weight of food. Chickens, which produce 38 to 40 pounds of meat from 100 pounds of feed, will have ECI ratings of 38 or 40. Beef cattle and sheep produce shockingly low ECI values of 10 and 5.3 respectively. In other word, 90 percent of a steer’s diet and 95 percent of a sheep’s is wasted.

Accurate ECI values for insects are difficult to obtain. However, the ratings we do have are certainly respectable: 19 to 31 for silkworm caterpillars, 16 to 37 for the pale western cutworm, and up to 44 for German cockroaches. In addition, few, if any, harmful effects are associated with the commercial rearing of these arthropods for food.

Some insects, including the mealworm, can grow to maturity without a single sip of water. These metabolically thrifty organisms get all the moisture they need from the few molecules of water in their otherwise bone-dry food.

4. We could reduce potentially dangerous pesticide use by commercial farmers and backyard gardeners
Still not ready to order bug burgers instead of Big Macs? Then consider that many of our common garden pests are edible. If everyone served rapacious critters like tomato hornworms and vine weevils for dinner, we’d have little need for most over-the-counter pesticide powders and sprays. On a global scale, this could make an incredible difference to the health of the environment and to ourselves.

Hand-harvesting pest insects can also support rural economies. In parts of Africa, the cash crop is not the fruit of the mopane tree but its pest - the caterpillar of the emperor moth caterpillars. In a good year, harvesters of these caterpillars (commonly known as mopane worms) may collect up to forty pounds of the fat moths-to-be. The caterpillars’ guts are squeezed out and their bodies briefly boiled in salted water and spread in the sun.

Two or three decades ago, the mopane worm biz was somewhat small and low-key, with the dried product packaged in small plastic Baggies or sold by the tin cupful at rural bus stops. Now though, several large South African firms have picked up the slack, marketing around 1.6 million kilos of these morsels annually. Neighboring Botswana nets an estimated $8 million per year and in Zimbabwe, there have even been reports of mopane poaching and stories of armed gangs robbing rural harvesters of their worms.

5. Bug-eating is sanctioned in the Bible.
It’s said that the Biblical backwoodsman, John the Baptist, sustained himself on a diet of locusts and honey. Today, many Middle Easterners capitalize on occasional locust swarms, drying, salting and stockpiling baskets these large, winged insects for later use in the kitchen.

In Leviticus, the book of the Bible where dietary laws are first addressed, it says that locusts are kosher - fit fare for most devout Jews. The rest of the insect kingdom is “an abomination to you,” according to the Good Book. Scholars theorize that locusts were included in the A-list because they are so readily distinguished from other insects, thus limiting the chances of mistakenly snacking on a species already listed as impure.

Eat a Bug Cover

Is there someone you'd like to see in the hot seat? Let us know in the comments below and if we agree, we'll do our best to chase 'em down.

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Eat insects, save the world says U.N.
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Mexico's insects may hold the key to battling hunger
The case for eating insects
Health department bugs out over grasshopper tacos
I scream, you scream, we all scream when there are cicadas in the ice cream

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Filed under: 5@5 • Insects • Sustainability • Think

soundoff (139 Responses)
  1. Jonathan C

    I saw your news report and I was very concerned about the risk of Cordyceps being to be passed onto a human hosts? And if so is there any medicine that can fight Cordyceps? I don’t imagine a scenario like the “the last of Us” I am just worried about the potential for a deadly fungus that destroy whole ant colonies being transferred to humans.

    October 5, 2013 at 12:52 am |
    • Jonathan C

      Sorry I put a question mark without a question. What I wanted to ask where what are the risks. I mean if you predict that more and more people will be consuming and farming insects what are the chances that some horrible micro orgasm adapts and switches over.

      October 5, 2013 at 1:23 am |
  2. Saber

    Eat Bugs? Nope! Use them for bait? Heck yeah! They catch big fish! See you can use bugs effectively! I have caught more bass and trout using Grasshoppers than I care to count! Bugs on a hook!

    August 8, 2013 at 7:46 am |
  3. Improve Your Life

    I like the helpful info you provide in your articles. I'll bookmark your blog and check again here regularly. I am quite sure I'll learn plenty of new stuff right here! Good luck for the next!
    Improve Your Life http://developyourlife.org

    July 31, 2013 at 7:09 am |
  4. PR

    ...or we COULD just switch to a whole-foods, plant-based diet and solve almost all our global problems related to food and climate...

    July 30, 2013 at 9:09 am |
  5. popseal

    I've eaten gross stuff in survival training. No longer..................

    July 29, 2013 at 9:49 pm |
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