Insects on the menu
The global food industry puts a major strain on the environment for many reasons and as the world population grows, the need for sustainable solutions in the area grows with it. Edible insects may have a role to play.
With the global population increasing and the supply of agricultural land under threat — around a third of the world's arable land has been lost in the last 40 years — pressure is being put on the world's food supply. Then there is the strain meat production places on the environment. Many believe insects — such as the locust eaten here with an egg by a man in Tokyo — are a credible alternative.
Caterpillars in the Congo
Entomophagy is the name for the human use of insects as food. Humans have been eating insects since prehistoric times and today, most of the world's culinary cultures encorporate the eating of insects in some way. In the restaurant pictured here in the city of Kinshasa, DR Congo, a person is eating grilled caterpillars with olive oil. The food is cheap but provides a rich source of protein.
Making a meal of it
Despite its global ubiquity, there are many places, particularly in Europe and North America, where insect-eating is rare and treated with a certain reserve. However, there are signs that, prompted by the increasing promotion by environmentalists of insects as a sustainable food source, it is growing in popularity. In this image, Sydney chef Nowshad Alam Rasel displays a signature cricket dish.
Crawlies creeping on to menus
But what's so sustainable about farming bugs? Compared with livestock farming, insect farming requires much less land and water and its greenhouse gas emissions are much lower. Insects need very little feed, and can themselves be used as sustainable feed for animals and fish. Increasingly, they are being used in high-end cuisine — in this Bangkok restaurant, winged ants are eaten with fish.
An alternative to palm oil?
Biteback, an Indonesian start-up, has been promoting insects as a nutrient-rich, sustainable alternative to palm oil, the cultivation of which is criticized for its environmental impacts, particularly in Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries. The founders, pictured here making insect ramen, emphasize that insects are nutritious and have high fatty acids, protein and mineral content.
Global demand for meat is expected to increase by more than 75 percent by 2050. The amount of agricultural land and animal feed required for such production means the need for credible protein alternatives will intensify in the years ahead. Entomophagy enthusiasts point to insects' culinary flexibility — exemplifed in products such as the worm and cricket lollipops pictured here.
To eat bee, or not to eat bee
While insect-eating may well be a big part of the future of food, much development is needed in the sector. In trying to tantalize palates, unusual meals — such as this cake of roasted bees being eaten at a Berlin environmental fair — are being tried out. But given the pressure bee populations themselves are under worldwide, more practical insect-based meals may need to be dreamed up.