Entomophagy is “the human consumption of insects and arachnids as food” according to Entomophagy.com. Now don’t get squeamish, but this may very well be the future for feeding the world. Did you know that there are an estimated 10 quintillion (10,000,000,000,000,000,000) insects (about 900,000 species) on the planet according to Smithsonian Information? That seems like a wonderfully massive untapped source of animal protein that would be valuable for feeding the world’s growing population. Even with today’s current food production technology, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to feed our exploding population. Producing the kind of protein that we need using animals like cows, chickens, and pigs is resource intensive and problematic, and many scientists believe that entomophagy will play an increasingly important role in keeping up with this task. In fact, countries in Central America, South America, Africa, Australia, and Asia have long since made insects an integral part of their diets. All that is left is for North America and Europe to join them. Did you know that we already consume trace amounts of insects in our food (the FDA states that “it is economically impractical to grow, harvest, or process raw products that are totally free of non-hazardous, naturally occurring, unavoidable defects” which includes insect parts)? Additionally, if we start to look at insects as the “shrimp” of the land (insects, shrimp, lobsters, and crab are all a part of a group or phylum called arthropods), maybe we can learn to get over our aversion and start including them as a part of our diets. (FYI – there are actually a few restaurants in the United States that serve insects, but they are obviously not commonplace).
Farm 432 (developed by Katharina Unger from Austria) is the type of device that we may see in the future to help rear these insects in order that people may farm their own insect food.
This video shows how the device works (from LivinStudio which was established by Katharina Unger). Because black soldier fly larvae have a high protein (42%) and fat (32%) content along with calcium, vitamins, amino acids and minerals, Ms. Unger focused on rearing these insects as food using Farm 432.
After 432 hours [18 days], 1 gram of black soldier fly eggs turn into 2.4 kilograms of larvae protein, larvae that self-harvest and fall clean and ready to eat into a harvest bucket. Black soldier fly adults don´t eat, therefore they don´t have any mouth parts and do not transmit any disease. The larvae can be fed on bio waste, therefore the production almost costs no water or CO2. Black soldier fly larvae are one of the most efficient protein converters in insects…
The device has a Metamorphosis Box located on the top (the colander-like cup) in which the soldier fly pupae (the stage before an insect becomes an adult) are placed until they “hatch” into adults. From there they fly out of the box and mate in the clear chamber. The female flies are then apparently attracted to a scent perhaps from a food source (according to the video) that encourages them to lay their eggs in the Egg Containers. Larvae hatch from the eggs and drop down into the lower part of the device where they feed and grow until the last larval stage where they migrate up the Migration Ramp…
…and can then be harvested from the removable cup (the Harvest Bucket). Out of each batch, you can harvest some of the larvae for food and place the others into the Metamorphosis Box where those larvae will pupate thus starting the process over again. “The volume is configured to breed about 500g of harvest per week. This makes about 2 meals.”
In the future, we may see this type of device in kitchens and in businesses rearing insects for food. Currently, Farm 432 is in its Beta version and is unavailable for purchase but will be headed for production soon (according to LivinStudio). It looks like it is being used or tested in China and Malasia according to Ms. Unger’s twitter posts.
It is important to note that not all insects are safe for eating. Brightly colored insects are often a sign of being poisonous. However, there are at least 2037 edible species according to a comprehensive survey of literature performed by Mr. Yde Jongema, taxonomist at the Department of Entomology of Wageningen University, the Netherlands.
There’s a lot of information available about entomophagy. If you are interested, the following links are just a handful: Countries That Eat Bugs (U.S. News & World Report), Eating Insects Isn’t as Eco-Friendly As People Say (Time), We’re Outnumbered (University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources), What’s stopping us from eating insects? (Scientific American blogs), Insects are Food: Entomophagy is the future, and Edible insects: Future prospects for food and feed security (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations).
With the huge economic impact from crop losses due to insects, isn’t it time we turned the tables on them and have them for dinner? 🙂