Last week I wrote about how I ate crickets for the first time during a recent trip to Mexico City, calling insects the "next protein source." Of course people in many countries have been eating grubs, ants, crickets and more for centuries, but I was referring to insect-eating in the U.S., where it doesn't happen very often, except as a dare or party trick.
But there are real reasons that eating insects could become more mainstream, and the best is environmental; since conventional meat production involves not only animal suffering but also prodigious amounts of water use (and pollution) and significant global warming gases produced per pound of meat, what if 50 percent of meat-eaters replaced a couple servings a week with insect protein? (Instead of a pork Tex-Mex dish, maybe grub enchiladas? Or how about subbing beef jerky with a Chapul Bar?)
As a vegetarian for 20 years, I don't think I'd make a habit out of eating insects; I get plenty of nutrition and energy (and yes, protein too) from a plant-based diet that incorporates some eggs and a minimal amount of dairy. But I love to try new things, as I did in Mexico, and I think that almost anything that reduces meat consumption — including eating insects — is a good thing, both for personal health and the health of our stressed ecosystems. As our population continues to boom (and developing nations get a taste for the Western lifestyle), already-unsustainable meat consumption is set to double over the next 20 to 30 years. If insect-eating could offset some of that, so much the better. (Robin Shreeves reported that "bug buffets" have sold out in the Netherlands, so this reality may be closer than we think.)
But not all vegetarians or vegans feel the same way. I posed a question on the subject on my Facebook wall and asked friends and acquaintances to comment. Here's what they had to say:
Jill Fehrenbacher, the vegan editor-in-chief of Inhabitat.com, Ecouterre.com and Inhabitots.com wrote, "I wouldn't eat bugs, because bugs are animals too, and as a strict vegetarian I'm against eating animals." But, Jill said, for people who are already eating meat, it might make sense. "I would much rather see [meat eaters] eat insects than cows and this would be much better for the planet as well."
Stephanie Alice Rogers, a vegetarian freelance writer (she contributes to MNN.com), was also supportive of people eating insects instead of meat: "As a vegetarian I definitely wouldn't eat them myself - eyeballs and all that stuff, gross. But if other people can bring themselves to do it, great. For all the reasons you mentioned: They're plentiful, and don't create nearly as much of an environmental impact as livestock and seafood."
But not everyone thinks insect consumption is a good idea.
Michael Schwarz, founder and CEO of Treeline Treenut Cheese not only took issue with the idea in general, but figured the scale at which insects would need to be produced to satisfy human appetites on a larger scale would likely not be sustainable: "Why do people persist in looking for weird solutions to problems when simple solutions exist? Humans do well on plants. We don't need to eat bugs (nor meat, eggs, dairy or fish). If bugs end up being consumed in the West, we will certainly end up with hideous bug factories, just as we have hideous egg, milk, chicken, cow, pig and fish factories to satisfy human greed for unhealthy foods. Leave the bugs alone."