The idea of eating insects might elicit a raised eyebrow or a flat-out “gross” from those accustomed to eating beef or chicken. But it’s actually a practice that’s been around for thousands of years.
Australian and African tribes snack on ants and beetle larvae, while fried locusts and beetles are enjoyed in Thailand. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that 2 billion people worldwide eat insects (also called entomophagy), and it’s easy to understand why.
Insects are healthy, nutrient-rich alternatives to protein staples like chicken, beef, and fish. When used as food, bugs have been found to emit considerably fewer greenhouse gases than most livestock. Insect harvesting is also low-tech and requires little capital. This makes it a viable business opportunity for those looking to become economically self-sufficient. These health, environmental, economic, and social benefits point to insects as a solution to food security and global hunger.
Here are a few of the experts dedicating their careers to promoting edible insects as a way to improve livelihoods, economies, and the environment — and who just might change skeptics’ minds.
Adam Session, who received his PhD in biochemistry and molecular biology from UC Berkeley, currently serves the Chief Scientist at Tiny Farms. “I was particularly drawn to the industry for its potential to help feed the world in an environmentally conscious fashion,” says Session.
Tiny Farms is an agricultural technology company focused on farming crickets for human consumption. Session tells us that crickets are an incredible source of protein, mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids, calcium, iron, and zinc. But Tiny Farms’ goal isn’t exclusively about human health. “We are also exploring the usage of insects as feed in farming and aquaculture,” says Sessions. “Feeding fishmeal to fish is not sustainable in fish farming and the protein insects provide could satisfy that need, overall improving the diet of animals improves their welfare and nutrition as well.”
According to her company bio, Virginia Emery’s life’s mission is to breed a bug that tastes like bacon. After receiving her PhD in entomology from UC Berkeley and spending years thinking about bugs, agriculture, and how to feed the human population, she founded the biotechnology company Beta Hatch.
Beta Hatch is focused on breeding better bugs, to put it simply. For example, the company grows mealworms for use as a high-protein and high-fat feed ingredient for chickens. Beta Hatch’s insects grow faster, larger, and more nutritious. So, as you work your way up the supply chain, both animals and humans eating those animals can derive more nutrition.
“Bugs truly rule the world, both in terms of biomass and the incredible diversity of what they can do for our planet,” says Emery. “Beta Hatch was born out of a passion for insects to fulfill their true potential in agriculture, and from a huge opportunity to help fill the gap in demand for nutritious protein-rich animal feed.”
Jeffrey K. Tomberlin
“I believe my interest in decomposition ecology is due to the influence of my grandmother who grew up during the Great Depression,” says Jeffrey K. Tomberlin, an associate professor at Texas A&M University. “She always talked about sustainability and its importance for managing resources.”
For the past 19 years, Tomberlin’s research has focused on developing ways to produce alternate protein sources for livestock, poultry, and aquaculture feed, specifically the black soldier fly. At Texas A&M, Tomberlin serves as the laboratory director and chief investigator of the FLIES Facility, focused on studying and promoting the black soldier fly as a sustainable system to produce protein.
Tomberlin and a group of close friends founded EVO Conversion Systems, which aims to protect the environment while producing protein with the black soldier fly. “Through EVO, individuals are trained to mass-produce the black soldier fly as well as partner with other companies that are a part of the EVO consortium,” says Tomberlin. “I believe the work we’re doing will protect the environment, create jobs, and save lives by providing food and feed for our growing human population.”