As climate changes and global food security deteriorate, entomophagy will become an essential practice. Crickets provide high nutritional content and have a low environmental impact, which makes them great allies in the fight against climate change.
The practice of entomophagy – humans eating insects for nutrition – has increased in popularity across the globe in recent years. Insect consumption is highest in tropical countries, where warmer climates help insects thrive, as well as in countries that face food scarcity.
In the Western world, insect consumption has always been intended for animal feed, though the trend is slowly picking up among humans, too. Currently, meat consumption is highest in the Western world and has increased from an average 62 kilograms (kg) per capita to 96kg per capita in just half a century. The increase in meat consumption rates has severe environmental impacts, adding to the pressure to find sustainable food alternatives.
Among all insects, interest has picked up particularly for crickets due to their high nutritional content, minimal environmental impact, and ability to provide food security.
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Crickets are rich in macronutrients (i.e., protein, fat, carbohydrates) and micronutrients (i.e., vitamins and minerals). Protein from crickets has been reported to be as high as 62 to 71 grams per 100 grams of dry weight versus animal livestock at 27 grams per 100 grams of dry weight.
In addition to the high protein content, crickets are also high in vitamins A, B, C, D, E, and K and minerals such as calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium, iron, zinc, manganese, and copper.
These macro- and micronutrients provide essential nourishment to humans.
Crickets have a low environmental impact due to the lower methane emission generation compared to cattle, small land footprint, and high food conversion rate. Compared to cattle, crickets produce 80% less methane, a potent greenhouse gas that has more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after it reaches the atmosphere.
Additionally, crickets and other insects eat organic waste, which helps reduce the overall amount of greenhouse emissions that would have occurred if the waste would have rotten naturally.
Cricket farms have a significantly smaller land footprint than animal livestock farms. For instance, a farm of 700 crickets can live in a 70-litre container compared to one cow that needs approximately one acre (0.4 hectares) to graze. If demand for cricket farms increased and demand for livestock grazelands decreased, there could be land opportunities to convert degraded grazelands into vegetated areas.
Crickets also have a high food conversion rate, meaning they need “six times less feed than cattle, four times less than sheep, and twice less than pigs and broiler chickens to produce the same amount of protein,” according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
In addition to their high conversion rate they also have a short lifespan and high reproduction rate. The lifespan of a cricket is 60 to 70 days, during which the insect transforms from egg to nymph and then adult. During this lifespan, one female cricket can produce anywhere between 200 to 1,500 eggs. The short lifespan and high production rate make these insects an ideal food source for maintaining global food security.
The Time Has Come
The small land footprint, high nutritional value, and quick lifecycle make this insect a desirable food source that can help combat growing global food insecurity. While it might take a while before people around the world, and especially in Western countries, start adding insects to their diet, the need to find more sustainable food sources has never been so urgent.
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