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Is Eating Insects a Solution to World Hunger?

This topic is raised, from time to time, in developed world news stories: using insects as a source of food. The most recent version of this story cites the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) May 2013 report on the subject. The report bug-dinnersuggests that raising insects for food might be part of the solution to world hunger. New publication: Edible insects – Future prospects for food and feed security.

To the authors of this type of study and commentary, I say: “You first.” If you think that eating insects is delicious and nutritious, why don’t you incorporate insects into your own diet? As for the claim that insects may be part of the solution to world hunger, this implies that insects would become a staple food, a major source of one or more macronutrients. The quantity of insects that would need to be consumed each month would be substantial. Why don’t you eat a few pounds of insects a month? Then tell me it’s a solution to world hunger.

And if you think that “insects are particularly important as a food supplement for undernourished children”, why don’t you feed your own children insects, as part of their regular diet? You hypocrites! You would be alarmed and angered if you found out that a school or a daycare program were feeding your own children insects. But you don’t have any qualms about suggesting that the undernourished children of the world, those afflicted by severe poverty, eat insects — instead of types of food that your own children consume.

In the developed world, in every city and almost every town, anyone can walk into any supermarket, and choose from thousands of different foods. A vast array of food choices, at reasonable prices, are available year-round. Yet there are no insects for sale as food. People do not consider insects to be food.

Yes, there are a number of cultures in the world in which some insects have been consumed as food. But these people generally turn to eating insects only out of necessity. When they are able to obtain better food, they do so. When their incomes rise, and they can choose which foods to eat, they tend to adopt a Western type diet (for better or worse). People who have ample money to buy food, of whatever kind they wish, do not choose to buy insects.

Moreover, the possible solutions to world hunger are many (15 suggested solution in my forthcoming book). And these solutions are all relatively simple and easy, compared to the complex and difficult problem of hunger. For example, the amount of land need to end world hunger, assuming two crops per year on that land, typical yields found in developed nations, and a judicious choice of crops, is only 30 million ha. This represent a small increase in the total amount of land use for agriculture worldwide. In fact, with only the land currently used in agriculture, but a better choice of crops and agricultural practices, there would be enough additional food to end world hunger.

So then, why turn to eating insects to address hunger? There is no good reason that the poorest persons in the world should be told to eat insects, while the rest of us feast on a vast array of food choices. Almost 70% of the adult U.S. population is overweight or obese. There are between 1.5 and 2.0 billion overfed persons in the world. The populations of the Western nations, and the more affluent members of developing nations as well, eat excessive amounts of meat, poultry, fish, dairy, and refined foods — to the harm of their own health. And then some persons in that society have the gall to say that the undernourished children of the world should eat insects. How sick is that?!

In the Bible parable, the rich man “feasted splendidly every day,” while Lazarus “lay at his gate, covered with sores, wanting to be filled with the crumbs which were falling from the wealthy man’s table.” (Luke 16:20-21). We are that rich man. And it is one offense to ignore the hungry of the world, who would be willing to eat our crumbs and leftovers. But it is a still greater offense to say to the hungry: “You can’t have even our crumbs, why don’t you go find some insects to eat!”

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