Bugs for breakfast? Insects could be key for the future of food

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As the global population continues to grow, eating insects experts say, ‘I think everyone realizes that we need to change our diet.

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This story was produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.


St. Cuthbert’s Mission/Pakuri, Guyana – In clearing a small forest, Leyland Clunkian drives his ax into the rotting wood of a palm tree and pulls out a nimble Tacoma worm.

Tacoma, which Clunkian throws in plastic bowls, is a delicacy in this indigenous Arawak community of nearly 2,000 residents, which is located two hours by road from the rapidly developing city of Guyana’s capital, Georgetown.

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“They’re buttery, high in protein and can be cooked without the need for oil,” Clunkian, a 73-year-old retired Arawak chief and military veteran, told Al Jazeera. “It’s so versatile, so delicious—it’s good to lick a finger.”

Eaten raw, sliced ​​or sliced ​​and roasted like marshmallows over an open fire, such insects could help make food systems more sustainable around the world, Clunkian said. As they talked, a group of apprehensive visitors to the city tasted fried tacomas with onions.

Tacoma worms commonly eaten for special events in indigenous communities of Guyana [Rustom Seegopal/Al Jazeera]

with world population Assumption nine billion by 2050, and as climate-change emissions from livestock continue to rise, experts say diet must change to ensure a sustainable future – and insects may play more than a bite-sized role Huh.

Globally, the livestock industry is responsible for almost 15 percent According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), all human-caused carbon emissions.

Insects are about eight times better for the planet than beef when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, said Arnold van Huis, professor of tropical entomology at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. He has spent much of his professional life studying the role of insects in food systems.

“I think everyone feels that we need to change our diets,” Van Huis, a fan of spicy deep-fried locusts, told Al Jazeera. “I think it is safer to eat insects than chicken. Insects are taxonomically far ahead of humans than chickens or pigs.” He added that diseases carried by animals such as mad cows are generally inherent in insects. Are more dangerous to people than anything else.

Van Huis said that about 25 kilograms (55 pounds) of feed is needed to produce one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of beef, while one kilogram of protein-rich crickets requires 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of food. Insects are cold-blooded, so unlike cows, they do not expend energy on producing body heat. He said that animals also require the same amount of water as insects.

“About 80 percent of agricultural land in the world is already used for livestock,” he said. “We have to change.”

western hatred of bugs

In much of the Global South, eating insects is nothing new or exotic. Around two billion people around the world taste insects in their regular diet, of which about 1,900 Food species according to FAO.

Spicy scorpions are found as street food in some parts of China; fried termites in western Kenya; Curry Dragonflies in Indonesia; beetle larvae in parts of Cameroon; Pan-fried tarantulas or silkworms in Cambodia; and sauce-drenched mopane worms in rural Zimbabwe.

Harvesting Tacoma worms should be done carefully; Residents of Pakuri, an Arawak indigenous community in Guyana, said hitting a tree too hard or at the wrong angle could harm the softworms. [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera]

In Mexico, crunchy locusts are served with lime and chili – and of course the humble tequila worm to chase down a strong shot.

According to a 2003 study, in Niger, locusts collected in millet fields fetched higher prices in local markets than actual millet (PDF,

In Guyana’s indigenous communities such as Pakuri, the Tacoma worm is “not an everyday delicacy”, said Michael Patterson, an indigenous chef specializing in traditional foods, who runs a catering company in Georgetown.

Establishing a tree—cutting it down, making the right incisions, and waiting for insects to grow in rotting wood—takes several weeks, and it can’t be done very often without damaging the forest, he said.

Tacoma worms are usually prepared during cultural activities or festivals, Patterson told Al Jazeera. Their consumption, he said, “reverts back to the entire basic survival mode of man. Mankind began with the soil; it is back to those basic principles”.

For some consumers, however, eating insects isn’t just gross; It is part of a dark, humiliating future. The opening scene of the dystopian sci-fi film Blade Runner 2049 shows the main character entering a protein farm, where a worker in a hazmat suit grows insect larvae in a poisonous-looking vat of brown slime.

Indigenous chef Michael Patterson says traditional foods are slowly gaining a following in urban areas [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera]

Van Huis traces Western cultural aversion to the consumption of insects to environmental factors. Insects are larger, easier to harvest, and available throughout the year than smaller insects in much of the western world, which may not be accessible in winter.

Even in countries where insects have traditionally been eaten, changing dietary preferences mean that some middle-class consumers are now turning them away, van Huis said, because they are “poor men.” associated with the diet”.

worms for animal feed

For those who are not comfortable eating them straight, insects still have a role to play in addressing climate change and making agriculture more sustainable, said Renata Clark, a Barbados-based researcher at the FAO. She is working on a project to make it easier for small farmers to produce insects, primarily mealworms and black soldier flies, to feed to chickens and pigs.

“Using insects as a feed source is much less expensive for the environment than conventional feed,” Clark told Al Jazeera in a phone interview. “It’s also less likely to provoke the ‘yuck’ factor than those who consume it directly. Who knows; maybe it’s a way of thinking about insects differently?”

According to the recent FAO, about 17 percent of the world’s food is wasted report good, Clark said that using some of them as a food source for insects, which can then be fed to livestock, would be a win for local farmers and the environment.

Arawak indigenous chief Leyland Clunkian (retd) says harvesting Tacoma worms ain’t easy [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera]

He added that many countries in the Caribbean import 80 percent of their animal feed, and supply chain disruptions related to the COVID pandemic — along with recent price increases — have made insects more palatable as a source of animal feed. Yes, she said.

The local economy could also be strengthened by having local farmers grow insects instead of importing feed from “monopolistic” traders, she said.

Back in Pakuri, Leland Clunkian and the current chief, Timothy Andrews, hope that the Tacoma worm might one day be an export for their community—or at least a potential draw for tourists looking to try something new.

They are working on creating an ecotourism project where day-trippers from the capital or foreign tourists can go for a swim in the river, see the colorful birds, take a walk in the woods or try the Tacoma worm.

“I’ve heard that insects are becoming a delicacy in Southeast Asia,” Klenkian said. “So Tacoma has a good chance of having a worldwide flavor.”

About three centimeters (1.2 in) long and one centimeter (0.4 in) wide, Tacoma worms can be eaten raw, roasted or stir-fried. It’s common to eat these with some manioc bread or plain rice and a pinch of salt. [Rustom Seegopal/Al Jazeera]


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