Not all vegans refuse to eat honey, but many do. They see interfering with the lives of insects (in this case, bees) to be as problematic as eating other animals or animal products. (And just so there's no confusion, insects are animals. Those who work for animal rights and advocate for insects are correctly including them in their definitions.) So, many vegans are starting to question the heavily hyped — and seemingly growing — act of consuming insects as food.
Plenty of people (especially environmentalists) want to expand the number of people who eat bugs. The United Nations even recently called bugs the "food of the future." Those who keep an eye on the health of the planet have weighed an ever-increasing human population against the growing number of people in developing countries who eat meat (or who consume much more of it than they did previously). They've compared that information to how livestock practices overuse freshwater resources and fossil fuels and have concluded that replacing meat with insect protein needs to happen. After all, insects have a much (much) smaller environmental footprint and still provide plenty of protein.
In terms of energy-in, energy-out, it's a no-brainer: "They can make about 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of insect meat for every 2 kg of feed, while cows need 8 kg (17.6 pounds) of feed just to make 1 kg of beef," writes Russell McLendon here on MNN. In fact, insects of all types have a better feed-to-meat ratio than any warm-blooded animal — partially because they don't waste energy on heating their bodies. And insects definitely don't pollute groundwater and rivers with their waste like pigs and cows are notorious for doing.
But wait a minute. Even if insects are a more environmentally friendly food, what about the ethics behind producing, killing and eating them? After all, insects build monumental structures, have complex societies and, according to at least one Hollywood insect trainer, can definitely be trained.
Which brings us to the question: Do we really need to eat insects? Most people in developed countries get more protein than they need, and both vegan and vegetarian diets provide plenty. So why eat insects if we can get what we need from existing food sources?
Personally, I'm not sure. I make an effort not to kill insects, especially allowing spiders to live in my home because they end up eating the more annoying bugs, which seems like a great service. But I did eat chipolines in Mexico, and they were tasty. I guess I would rather see someone eat a cricket-patty than a hamburger, because it's certainly lower impact and healthier. (Bugs are higher in protein and lower in fat than meat.) But wouldn't it make more sense to convince people to eat as little meat as possible, instead of giving them yet another protein source? I wonder how much insect snacks could reduce meat consumption? To me, it seems like a food that people would add to their diets instead of subbing for meat.
Maybe we will reach a point where there will just be too many people to feed, and we'll legitimately need more protein from another source, but I can't guess that far into the future.
And for those who have read this far and are surprised that I haven't mentioned how "gross" eating bugs is — well, I don't think it's any more weird than eating a shrimp or a crab, which are the insects of the sea. It's all about what you're used to, and at least a couple billion people eat bugs and it's no big deal, so that's just cultural subjectivity (and pretty pointless to discuss).
But what about ethics? Is it OK to eat insects, but not meat? Do you have a different line for the lives of warm-blooded animals versus insects?
After thinking about it, I won't be eating insects again. Ethically, it doesn't work for me. I'm already a vegetarian. If I bother to take beetles outside, if I coexist with spiders, if I take pains not to tromp on the ant pathway that wends across the driveway, if I spend 20 minutes photographing bees on flowers, and butterflies alighting, if I like the songs that crickets send out into the world, then I guess I'm not going to go out of my way to eat them.
Related on MNN:
- 10 of the largest insects in the world
- Eating insects: Vegetarians and vegans weigh in
- Are you ready to eat at the bug buffet?