Buggin’ Out: Why Eating Insects Isn’t As Weird As It Sounds

You know that urban legend that says each of us accidentally swallows eight spiders a year? Yeah, that’s not accurate. At all. In fact, the number of spiders inadvertently ingested annually is more like zero.

But how would you feel about intentionally chowing down on a few dozen crickets, a handful of termites, or hundreds of ants the next time you felt a bit peckish? Entomophagy, or the human practice of eating insects, is already common in myriad countries around the globe, and the practice is gaining momentum — if not popularity, per se — in the United States.

Putting aside the ick factor, there are a number of good reasons to eat bugs. But before we get to those, a cautionary note: not all insects make a good meal. Most brightly colored or hairy insects are to be avoided, and a general rule, if an insect can hurt you — by stinging, biting, and/or spreading a disease — you shouldn’t eat it, sweet as the irony (and vengeance) might be were you to feast on thousands of mosquitoes. (In the meantime, you could just wear this clothing to lessen the annoyance they cause you.)

eating bugs crickets
John D. Buffington/Getty Images

Edible Insects Are Rich in Nutrients

Many insects are rich in protein and lower in fat than beef, pork, or other traditional meats. Many bugs are also packed with calcium, iron, and zinc, and they are lower in carbohydrates than most protein sources. Add in some healthy minerals and a good dose of fiber, and you have to admit that bugs are a great food source, nutritionally speaking.

Insect Consumption Is Eco-Friendly

Grazing animals take up about 60 percent of the world’s agricultural land and are huge emitters of methane, a greenhouse gas. In growing a cow, pig, or sheep into a viable source of protein, we waste a vast quantity of potential calories in the feed these animals consume. On top of that, land used for grazers can’t be used for other foods or left as forest producing more oxygen and reducing atmospheric CO2 levels. Simply put, raising livestock is bad for the planet (if you don’t believe us, there are plenty of documentaries about it). Insects, on the other hand, require little space and few resources to quickly spawn multiple generations of nutrient-rich food, and they don’t emit appreciable greenhouse gasses, either.

Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP/Getty Images (left); Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images (right)

You Won’t Feel Bad About Killing a Bug

Even the kindest soul among us has probably squashed a bug or two in his or her day and probably didn’t lose much sleep over it. While natural in the grand scheme of things, human consumption of meat is still difficult to reconcile for many omnivores; cows and chickens can actually be pretty cute, after all. But roaches or mealworms? Not so much. It’s also safe to assume that cricket won’t process pain at the time of its death nor will his widow pace the railed roofwalk atop the home she once shared with Jiminy waiting in vain for the day he chirps his way home.

You’re Already Eating Insects, Anyway

Think about it: What’s a staple part of a free range chicken’s diet? Bugs. So when you eat eggs or a chicken sandwich, you’re eating repurposed insects. What do you bait the hook with when you fish? Grazing cows consume huge quantities of crickets, grasshoppers, aphids, and more. And while you don’t eat eight spiders a year, you surely accidentally swallow gnats, ants, and other small bugs all the time. And you’re OK, aren’t you? Yes, you are. You and the approximately 2 billion people worldwide who already use bugs as a dietary staple.

eating bugs bees dessert
Honey and almond cake with roasted male bees in Berlin. Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Not Quite Ready to Sink Your Teeth In?

If you’re sold on the ecological and nutritional benefits of insects as food but you’re just not ready to start scarfing bugs yourself, how would you feel about your dog enjoying tasty, healthy, bug-based treats? Several companies have already moved into the insect-based pet treat sector, and they just might be the perfect bridge between you and the bugs, because we guarantee Fido is going to scarf them down with nary a thought. When you are ready, you can start with cricket bars.

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