Ed­i­ble in­sects as sus­tain­able al­ter­na­tives to live­stock prod­ucts

A par­a­digm shift from live­stock to in­sects will go a long way to limit the im­pacts of cli­mate change glob­ally. The less meat we con­sume, the lower the car­bon foot­print we pro­duce in­di­vid­u­ally.

Financial Nigeria Magazine - - Contents - MO­JISOLA KA­RIGIDI

Istill vividly re­mem­ber the ex­cite­ment that over­whelmed chil­dren in my neigh­bour­hood in the South-western part of Nige­ria when I was grow­ing up. A ma­jor rea­son for our ex­cite­ment back then was the fes­ti­val of winged ter­mites. The fes­ti­val took place in the evenings as young chil­dren co­a­lesced with our bowls of wa­ter at the base of a street lamp that was very close to our home. The fly­ing ter­mites, which are highly at­tracted to sources of light, would swarm around the lamp posts and we would be hap­pily ready to col­lect them into our wa­ter bowls.

Depend­ing on how much each per­son was able to gather in their bowls, we would go back to our homes and put the ter­mites in a dry pot or pan and roast them on a stove or on top of a kerosene lan­tern. Part of our ex­cite­ment also came about as we watched the in­sects get roasted in their own oil, thereby mak­ing a de­li­cious snack with or with­out a pinch of salt or other condi­ments.

When I moved to a big city in the North­ern part of the coun­try as an adult, I saw that chil­dren in that area, too, had their spe­cial in­sect del­i­ca­cies. Theirs were grasshop­pers. Street hawk­ers sold roasted grasshop­pers, mixed with a par­tic­u­lar kind of sweet, ground pep­per tied in small, trans­par­ent poly­bags. These were sold as snack to pupils as they went home af­ter clos­ing hours.

The two sce­nar­ios pre­sented above show that chil­dren gen­er­ally love to eat in­sects and the lit­tle ones are also will­ing to spend their pocket money to savour the crunchy taste of in­sects. Since chil­dren are par­tic­u­larly keen col­lec­tors of ed­i­ble in­sects, they can help solve the pro­tein needs of chil­dren, es­pe­cially those in poor com­mu­ni­ties. For chil­dren in cities, ed­i­ble in­sects can be a good re­place­ment for the junk food that ur­ban kids con­sume as snack.

To be sure, the con­sump­tion of tasty in­sects is re­ally not a lower-class affair. Last year, some col­leagues and I were served a plate of dried cater­pil­lars at an ex­pen­sive res­tau­rant in Jo­han­nes­burg. It was a spe­cial treat for the evening and I en­joyed the smoky taste and crunchy tex­ture. More so, there is noth­ing ex­cep­tion­ally weird about eat­ing in­sects. In fact, the United Na­tions Food and Agri­cul­tural Or­gan­i­sa­tion (FAO), in 2013, es­ti­mated that at least two bil­lion peo­ple around the world eat in­sects as part of their lo­cal diet. Many cul­tures cher­ish the flavour and unique tex­tures of in­sects. The Chi­nese seem to be ahead when it comes to feast­ing on in­sects; from ants, bugs to cock­roaches.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­search by FAO in part­ner­ship with Wa­genin­gen Univer­sity in the Nether­lands, there are over 1,900 species of ed­i­ble in­sects across the globe. These in­clude crick­ets, lo­custs, palm bee­tles, lar­vae of palm weevils, grasshop­pers, cater­pil­lars and ter­mites, which are com­monly eaten in dif­fer­ent parts of Africa.

Many times, they are eaten along with cas­sava meal or milled as condi­ments to en­hance flavour in food. Agave weevils and aphids, for ex­am­ple, are very pop­u­lar in Mex­ico. They are even canned for sale.

In terms of taste, ed­i­ble in­sects have fas­ci­nat­ing tastes. Some of them, like the lemon ants of the Ama­zon, taste like cit­rus, while some, like the leaf cut­ter ants, have a hue of ba­con taste. These are very pop­u­lar in Brazil and Columbia. Apart from the good taste, ed­i­ble in­sects are highly nu­tri­tious. They have high qual­ity pro­tein, vi­ta­mins and amino acids for hu­mans. Many of these in­sects are also high in cal­cium, zinc and Iron. Some in­sect species con­tain other mi­cronu­tri­ents like se­le­nium, mag­ne­sium, man­ganese and cop­per, which the body can­not pro­duce on its own but has to be taken in through diet. These nu­tri­ents are vi­tal for growth, brain de­vel­op­ment, im­mune func­tion and many other de­vel­op­men­tal func­tions that chil­dren need to be healthy.

We need to pay more at­ten­tion to ed­i­ble in­sects and al­low them form a part of our reg­u­lar meals be­cause, in some cases, in­sects score higher in nu­tri­ents than an­i­mal sources. For ex­am­ple, the iron con­tent of dry weight of beef is about 6 mg per 100 g, while lo­custs have iron con­tents vary­ing be­tween 8 mg and 20 mg per 100 g dry weight. This de­pends on the species of lo­cust and the kind of food it con­sumed. So, lo­custs can re­place beef to pre­vent iron de­fi­ciency in chil­dren, a sit­u­a­tion that can af­fect their de­vel­op­ment and lead to anaemia.

Ed­i­ble in­sects are also rich in good fat and oil. Some have polyun­sat­u­rated fatty acids and are choles­terol-free. They are not only ben­e­fi­cial in chil­dren but can also help pre­vent heart dis­eases in adults. Also, in­sects are light in calo­ries. There­fore, con­sum­ing them along­side veg­eta­bles and fruits could help re­duce the chances of be­ing obese.

In­sect con­sump­tion is not only good for us. It is good for the en­vi­ron­ment as well. Our overde­pen­dence on live­stock and its prod­ucts as food sources will ex­ac­er­bate the ef­fects of cli­mate change through the re­lease of more green­house gases (GHGs) into the at­mos­phere. Cat­tle, sheep, goats, pigs and chick­ens con­trib­ute as much as six bil­lion tonnes of GHGs such as car­bon diox­ide, meth­ane and ni­trous ox­ide to the at­mos­phere ev­ery year. A re­port by FAO states that agri­cul­ture is re­spon­si­ble for 18 per cent of the GHGs re­leased world­wide. These GHGs are re­spon­si­ble for trap­ping heat in the at­mos­phere, thereby keep­ing the earth’s cli­mate warm.

The live­stock sec­tor alone ac­counts for be­tween 14.5 per cent and 18 per cent of hu­man-in­duced GHG emis­sions. A cow is es­ti­mated to, on over­age, re­lease be­tween 70 and 120 kg of meth­ane each year. Mean­while, based on the 2016 data of 998.6 mil­lion cat­tle glob­ally, cat­tle alone con­trib­uted 69.9 bil­lion kg of meth­ane in that year. Sci­en­tists say the neg­a­tive im­pact of meth­ane on the cli­mate is 23 times higher than the ef­fect of car­bon diox­ide.

For us to con­trol emis­sions from live­stock as much as pos­si­ble, we have to re­duce our con­sump­tion of meat and meat prod­ucts, which will di­rectly re­duce their pro­duc­tion. A par­a­digm shift from live­stock to in­sects will go a long way to limit the im­pacts of cli­mate change glob­ally. The less meat we con­sume, the lower the car­bon foot­print we pro­duce in­di­vid­u­ally. The in­fer­ence be­ing that the more in­sects we con­sume, the bet­ter for us. For in­stance, meal­worms pro­duce only be­tween 1 and 10 mg of green­house gases per kilo­gramme of GHGs pro­duced by pigs.

There are other ben­e­fits of ad­just­ing our taste buds to wel­come more ed­i­ble in­sects. One of them is the cheaper rates at which in­sects can be pro­duced com­pared to beef. For ex­am­ple, in­sects use 2 kg of feed to pro­duce 1 kg of in­sect meat. How­ever, to pro­duce the same 1 kg of beef, a cow must be fed with about 8 kg of feed.

More so, in­sects have a high feed con­ver­sion rate. Their abil­ity to con­vert the food they eat into pro­tein is much faster than in larger an­i­mals. Crick­ets, for ex­am­ple, can pro­duce the same amount of pro­tein as cat­tle when fed six times lesser than the lat­ter. They also need four times less food than sheep and two times less food than broil­ers to pro­duce same amount of pro­tein, ac­cord­ing to FAO.

Un­for­tu­nately, over the years, we have lost track of the nu­mer­ous ben­e­fits of ed­i­ble in­sects that should have en­cour­aged us to ex­ploit the world of in­sects around us. We have lim­ited our­selves to an­i­mal proteins and dairy prod­ucts and we have been con­tribut­ing to the plagues of the cli­mate around us ig­no­rantly. Eat­ing much less meat and dairy prod­ucts will ef­fec­tively re­duce our neg­a­tive im­pacts on the en­vi­ron­ment. Pop­u­lar­iz­ing in­sect con­sump­tion will also help to tackle pro­tein de­fi­cien­cies in chil­dren in poor com­mu­ni­ties and limit the con­sump­tion of junk foods by chil­dren in big cities.

We must take ad­van­tage of the nu­mer­ous nutri­tional ben­e­fits of ed­i­ble in­sects, pro­duce them in large amounts, depend­ing on re­gional pref­er­ences, and process them into ac­cept­able forms for the gen­eral pub­lic. I am look­ing for­ward to the ex­cite­ment of do­ing some hunt­ing of winged ter­mites with my kids some­day. More kids to­day can be a part of the ex­cite­ment if we do not al­low this in­ter­est­ing as­pect of child­hood to be for­got­ten.

We need to pay more at­ten­tion to ed­i­ble in­sects and al­low them form a part of our reg­u­lar meals be­cause, in some cases, in­sects score higher in nu­tri­ents than an­i­mal sources.

Fried crick­ets

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