Six Legs Good, Four Legs Bad!

-Not Orwell


From Orwell’s Animal Farm (1945) we are left with a potent message that any revolution that seeks to replace one system of dominance with another ultimately stands to recreate the very systems of oppression it struggles against.  All action is inherently risky and innovative action perhaps doubly so.  Compounding this hardship, the current economic climate is not one which rewards risky behaviors unless you are already Too Big To Fail. And yet, in many ways a risk even greater than the failure to act or cooptation of our efforts is that we reenact the very economic and ecological brutalities we seek to address.  


Unfortunately there aren’t any easy and fast answers for such large and problematic questions as the ice caps melting, the pacific garbage patch, deforestation, species extinction, illiteracy, gendered violence, homelessness, or genocide (to name but a few).  However, there is an interesting idea making the rounds on the front of hunger.  It’s name is entomophagy.  More commonly thought of as eating bugs, a logical case can be made for protein sourced from what are generally thought of a six legged pests here in the overdeveloped West.


The first thing you might find yourself asking is: Why would anyone want to eat bugs?  I mean, what – a burgers not good enough for you?  The problems with how and which meats we eat currently (full disclosure: I was raised a lacto-ovo vegetarian and still only eat poultry and seafood occasionally) are various.  On one side there are the questions of humane treatment: how are the animals bred? How are they raised? How are they killed?  For many the answers to these questions provided by factory farming[i] is sufficient to deter many from eating meat altogether.  For others there exist more compassionate answers such as free-range and grass-fed options or healthy options like hormone and nitrate-free meats.  But even here we are confronted with quantitative conundrums that quite simply name meat based diets as unsustainable.


With “the global livestock sector responsible for 18% of the world's greenhouse-gas emissions and grain prices reaching record highs, cheap, environmentally low-impact insects could be the food of the future--provided we can stomach them” [ii].  Of course the yuck factor is not the only possible disadvantage to eating our six-legged foes.  Many bugs also harbor many of the environmental toxins with which we have polluted our environment such as herbicides, lead and hydro cyanide[iii].  But the advantages are many.  A few take away points from Eating Bugs! by Alethia Price:


     1. Many species of insects are lower in fat, higher in protein, and have a better feed to meat ratio than beef, lamb, pork, or chicken.

     2. Insects are easy to raise. There is no manure forking. No hay bale lifting. No veterinary bills. You can raise them in an apartment without getting complaints.

     3. Most people do not mind butchering insects. The butchery of insects is very simple compared with that of cattle or poultry, and nowhere near as gory.

     4. Raising insects is environmentally friendly. They require minimal space per pound of protein produced, have a better feed to meat ratio than any other animal you can raise, and are very low on the food chain. They are healthy, tasty, and have been utilized for the entire history of mankind (after all, it is easier to catch a grub than a mammoth).

     5. Also, as far as I know, no animal rights activists object to the eating of insects. You don't need to destroy any wildlife habitat to eat insects, and you can incorporate insects and earthworms into a recycling program......vegetable waste in, yummy insect protein out.


From that wonderful repository of online knowledge that is Wikipedia, more specifics can be had:


Insects generally have a higher food conversion efficiency than more traditional meats

Insects reproduce at a faster rate than beef animals.

[T]he[ir] spatial usage and water requirements are only a fraction of that required to produce the same mass of food with cattle farming. [emphases added].”


The amount of grain the US raised simply to feed animals in 1997 was a staggering 50% - with the 40% of global production going to feed livestock 800 million people could be fed.[iv]  And while the jury may be out on whether the healthy alternative of soy negatively effects sperm and thyroid health, we can be certain that it is a driving factor behind deforestation in the Amazon.  Socialized costs and privatized profits carry a debt burden that we cannot sustain.  As we continue to live longer lives we need to shift the emphasis from one quantity to one of quality.  Are we paving a road with good intentions?  At what point does living a long life actually become dying a long death?  And, as Yossarian wondered in Catch-22, will we recognize that first cough, that first gasp, that almost inaudible sigh that marks the inevitable beginning of the inevitable end?  Will we pay it any attention? 


Food is a resource whose scarcity looms as surely as that of potable water or breathable air.  Of course insect meats are probably a ways off, although I’m sure that with enough marketing, artificial flavoring and preservatives we can make centralized production and distribution of bug-burgers the next big mechanized industry.  As with many of our current challenges the dilemma too often boils down to a question not of can we, but are we willing to?

[i] A good animated documentary on factory farming practices called the Meatrix can be found here.

[ii] Going green: Eating Bugs (2008. Bryon Walsh. Time Online).

[iv] “U.S. could feed 800 million people with grain that livestock eat, Cornell ecologist advises animal scientists

Future water and energy shortages predicted to change face of American agriculture.” Cornell University Science News.

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Sue Lebeck 

  Cool Block Platform Director

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