Top | Sift

The alternative meat diet

(article, Culinate staff)

In the current issue of the New Yorker, Dana Goodyear explores the still-tentative Western effort to embrace bug-eating. Goodyear notes that some 80 percent of the planet happily dines on insects, but modern Europeans and North Americans generally curl up their lips in disgust at the prospect. 

As the Sift department has pointed out before, we should get over it already, as bugs are a much better protein source, in many ways, than traditional meat animals. Goodyear ticks off some of the pro-bug arguments:

bq. From an ecological perspective, insects have a lot to recommend them. They are renowned for their small "foodprint"; being cold-blooded, they are about four times as efficient at converting feed to meat as are cattle, which waste energy keeping themselves warm. Ounce for ounce, many have the same amount of protein as beef — fried grasshoppers have three times as much — and are rich in micronutrients like iron and zinc. Genetically, they are so distant from humans that there is little likelihood of diseases jumping species, as swine flu did. They are natural recyclers, capable of eating old cardboard, manure, and by-products from food manufacturing. And insect husbandry is humane: bugs like teeming, and thrive in filthy, crowded conditions.

Cons, apart from the ick factor? Harvesting and processing thousands of tiny critters is a labor-intensive process, making bugs pricey. And Goodyear suggests a reason why Westerners have traditionally shunned insects as food: "Unlike those found in the tropics, European bugs do not grow big enough to make good food, so there is no culinary tradition, and therefore no infrastructure, to support the practice."

Over at Food Republic, Eleanor West has more tips for the bugged out, while Southern California Public Radio has an interview with Goodyear.