Crickets

While many cultures, particularly in the developing world, rely on insects to make up a large part of their diets, the very thought can incite a nose-up-turning reaction from Westerners—bug eating is ratings boost fodder for gross-out reality show television, not dinner at a five star restaurant. But, the European Union aims to change that with a push towards entomophagy, the scientific name for eating insects.

Since raising livestock takes a tremendous toll on resources, the environment and continually poses serious widespread bacterial contamination risks along with ethical dilemmas, then bugs, it seems, are the antidote—a low impact and highly nutritious source of food that’s proving to be such a promising alternative to meat products that the UK Food Standards Agency will receive £2.65 million ($4.2 million) from the European Commission to begin promoting insects as part of a healthy diet.

The monies will be distributed to the research institutes that can provide the most effective platform for promoting insect protein as a reliable, healthy and tasty source of food. Holland’s Wageningen University Professor Marcel Dicke, who is one of the researchers applying for the grant, told the Sunday Times that it will probably start with ground up insects in burgers and sauces, and “by 2020 you will be buying insects in supermarkets.”

Unlike animals raised for food, many insect species prefer the dense over-crowding common on factory farms. And ounce for ounce, the nutrition profiles are similar—if not better than meat—with one study finding grasshoppers offering almost as much protein as lean ground beef, but with a third less fat. Insects would not require the intense amounts of antibiotics or growth hormones regularly fed to livestock and could even be raised live in restaurants rather than processed and transported around the globe.

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image: Derek Beres