Let Them Eat Bugs

"Let them eat cake!" is often attributed to Marie Antoinette, but a quick search reveals it was actually Rousseau who first penned the phrase in his tome 'Confessions.'  The circumstances were the same as the legend, however, as it was an imperious princess who extolled the virtues of cake (brioche) when bread was not available for the peasantry.  Let there be no confusion, then, that let them eat bugs was first heard on PodMed, in reaction to a paper Rick and I discuss by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, indeed advocating the consumption of insects to stem the tide of world hunger, both current and looming.

In a publication entitled "Edible insects: Future prospects for food and feed security," this UN committee lays out the argument for not just opportunistic gathering of native insects but actual farming of various species and deliberate utilization of them as a food source for people and animals.  The 200-plus page report begins with a sobering thought: by 2050 there will be about 9 billion humans resident on planet Earth, but to sustain this population food production will need to double. Clearly there is not enough arable land to achieve this, and with the additional complications of global warming and water shortages, the challenges are huge. Yet there is a vast, underutilized source of food right beside us in the form of insects.

Right now, about 2 billion people worldwide already consume insects as part of their normal diet. By far the most popular type is beetles, followed by caterpillars.  Together these two comprise almost half of all insects consumed.  They're followed by grasshoppers, crickets and locusts, then cicadas (East coast US residents, take notice!)  leafhoppers and the like.  A host of other insect groups make up the remainder. The practice of eating insects is called 'entomophagy' with obvious Latin roots for the nerds among us.

What are the health consequences of eating these creatures?  Turns out they're a lot more nutritious than you might think, offering a beneficial combination of fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals, and fats, including omega-3s, those darlings of the cardioprotective world.  One question I have is cooking the beasties:  I  really want to know if their insides become more solidified with cooking, much like shrimp, and then do you peel them before eating?  Any insect recipes our listeners/readers would like to share are most welcome and guaranteed to be posted!

How about cultivation of insects, or is it husbandry? Especially how about their potential for conveying disease to humans when they're grown in the bug equivalent of a feeding lot? Rick points out in the podcast that several types of insects are commercially grown today, such as honey bees and silk worms, and that large scale interest in such a project would no doubt accelerate development of techniques and tools for growing other types of bugs. With regard to their potential to transmit disease, right now such a likelihood is low, and is especially attractive when one considers how important both poultry and pigs are as reservoirs of human pathogens.  Finally, the report considers the 'ick' factor, and opines that communication can help.  We sincerely hope we can assist with that one, and Rick at least has committed to trying any insect dish offered to him.  Yum.

Other topics this week include a new therapy for hepatitis C in the New England Journal of Medicine, cash for health programs in developing countries in the Lancet, and long term outcomes from pelvic prolapse surgery in the Journal of the American Medical Association.  Until next week, y'all live well.

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Let Them Eat Bugs | jhublogs
May 20, 2013 at 12:07 pm

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