U.N: Eat insects, save the world
May 14th, 2013
10:00 AM ET
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Nicola Ruotolo is an intern in CNN's Rome bureau

Insects are the ideal food of the future, according to a new United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization report.

In "Edible insects: Future prospects for food and feed security," presented at a news conference in Rome on Monday, the group's etnomophagy experts shared compelling evidence suggesting that increased intake of insects would promote health, wealth and a cleaner environment for both rural and urban communities around the globe.

Consumption of insects like locusts, crickets or larvae is very common in parts of Asia, South America, Mexico and Africa, due in large part to their high nutritional value. Insects beat out both meat and fish in protein content and quality, and they're also rich in fiber and healthy micronutrients including copper, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, selenium and zinc.

Insects adapt so quickly to climate change, that there would be few barriers to gathering from the wild or farming at any altitude or latitude around the planet - making them a cheap and eco-friendly food source. They also have a very low risk of transmitting disease to humans, unlike farmed beef, pork and poultry.

Many people might find the thought of eating insects odd, or a novelty at best, but 2 billion people around the world consider them a delicacy or even a dietary staple. Crickets, bugs, larvae and other insects - over 200 farmed species - are part of an everyday Thai diet and found on supermarkets shelves in cookies, freeze-dried noodles, microwavable packets, frozen or even canned.

In Cambodia, deep-fried tarantula spiders are a traditional treat, and some native tribes in Australian regard honeypot ants as a sweet, delicious dessert. Mopane worms provide a key source of protein for millions of people in Southern Africa and in various parts of Mexico, chapulines (toasted, spiced grasshoppers) are commonly sold at markets and as a snack at sporting events.

I had never considered eating insects until hearing Dr. Yupa Hanboonsong, a professor in Entomology from Khon Kaen University in Thailand, speak passionately at the conference about the practice and its potential benefits for the world's food systems. According to Hanboonsong, the “yummiest” insect in all of Thailand is the bamboo caterpillar, especially when deep-fried with some herbs.

Interest piqued, after the conference I followed Dr. Arnold Van Huis, an entomology professor from the Wageningen University, back to his office at the FAO. There, he showed me various plastic boxes packed with insects that had been farmed in the Netherlands for human consumption.

Western cultural and psychological barriers were no match for my curiosity by this point, so I decided to taste one. Dr. Van Huis recommended going for the locust, so I took one, removed the wings and chewed it up. To my surprise I found it quite pleasant, with a crunchy texture and creamy, nutty flavor, not unlike a shrimp. It's a comparison that's been made before; Dutch entomologist Marcel Dicke thinks we should think of insects as the “shrimp of the land,” and a delicacy all eaters should prize.

It will probably take a while for insect dishes to pop up on European and American kitchen tables or in restaurants. But then again, several decades ago when sushi was introduced to Western cuisine, it took some time to prepare people's palates for eating raw fish. And once people realize that this unconventional meal might help save the planet, it might not bug them so much.

Previously:
The case for eating insects
Health department bugs out over grasshopper tacos
I scream, you scream, we all scream when there are cicadas in the ice cream



soundoff (258 Responses)
  1. Maria Manzo

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    June 22, 2014 at 12:07 am | Reply
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    June 21, 2014 at 11:58 pm | Reply
  3. JJ

    Gotta try cooking with cricket flour, making make some pizzas, found it here http://www.thefarmedinsectcompany.com/

    April 17, 2014 at 2:54 am | Reply
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  5. Keenan Farrin

    more at Voice of America (blog). Filed Under:

    July 8, 2013 at 4:02 am | Reply
  6. deacon

    tell you what: when the UN and all the self-righteous, know-it-all do gooder control freaks give up their catered parties and go exclusively with the all bug – n meat diet, then I'll take this seriously.

    until then, they can pucker up and kiss my fat a$$

    June 2, 2013 at 4:27 pm | Reply
  7. daniel

    If you think about it..it is not different than eating shrimps oysters & etc.. they are the same

    May 19, 2013 at 7:27 am | Reply
  8. Mr Vic

    I'll stick with my chicken, thank you very much.

    May 17, 2013 at 6:09 pm | Reply
  9. Dr. Aaron T. Dossey

    Check out these related articles !

    https://www.facebook.com/notes/all-things-bugs/all-things-bugs-receives-grant-for-groundbreaking-global-health-and-development-/491731254233135

    http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/34172/title/Why-Insects-Should-Be-in-Your-Diet/

    May 16, 2013 at 11:37 am | Reply
  10. Martin Beran

    I found an awesome infographic on eating insects instead of meat – http://bit.ly/14zUtoV

    May 15, 2013 at 2:20 pm | Reply
  11. rc

    Eat insects? Sure, starving people will eat anything. But why is the UN recommending that people eat bugs when so much hunger around the world is due to political and economic issues, and not the amount of food that is produced?

    Even in the U.S. millions of people are going hungry. But 40% of all food ready for harvest in the U.S. never gets eaten. And worldwide, 1.3 billion tons of food, about 1/3 of total production, are lost or wasted every year.

    We have the resources to feed everyone, but we lack the social and political will to do so. As long as we feel isolated and disconnected from other people, it is easy to ignore their suffering. But as our world becomes more and more interconnected, and we become more interdependent, “their” problems will become “our” problems. So it is really in our own best interest to work together to create a world where everyone’s basic needs are met. But more than that, how can any of us just sit by and let children starve to death? No one should have to go hungry in a world where 1/3 of all food is wasted.

    May 15, 2013 at 1:25 pm | Reply
    • lidvel

      RC, You are a rarity of intellectualism Sir. Thank you for existing!

      May 15, 2013 at 6:13 pm | Reply
  12. Ann

    I would probably try grasshoppers if they were prepared by someone who knew what they were doing – I've seen them used as surprise ingredients on cooking shows. I can't imagine trying to catch and prepare them myself, though.

    I'd draw the line at tarantulas or spiders. I don't care if they cure cancer and make you look 17 again– keep them away from me!

    May 15, 2013 at 12:27 pm | Reply
  13. Bucktooth

    I'll start with chocolate covered ants.

    May 15, 2013 at 9:46 am | Reply
  14. Insect hugger

    It is perhaps time for the UN to downsize on its way to closing shop. Syria is burning, there are humans suffering in refugee camps, food less. and there priority is to announce that that humankind eat insects? Really?

    May 15, 2013 at 6:47 am | Reply
  15. The enlightened restauranteer

    Eat insects and save the world? Okay – as soon as I see them offered at the UN Cafeteria.

    May 15, 2013 at 3:35 am | Reply
    • ROCKWOOD

      Offered? No no no no.....let them have that be their only option. Let them have that be the only dish available during one of their dinners, etc.....No choice.....well.....except maybe fatback on a stick......

      May 15, 2013 at 9:37 am | Reply
    • Ann

      They could call them "Freedom Flies"

      May 15, 2013 at 12:08 pm | Reply
  16. ivansw

    Good gracious... First of all, Tarentulae and scorpions (as pictured) are NOT insects. Second, the intake if animal by animals (in this case intake of animal as food by Homo Sapiens) is NOT very efficient (don't get me wrong, I *DO* love meat).

    We happen to be well adapted to an omnivirous diet – and all in all, the overall food intake of the human population is probably 95% vegetarian (mainly rice, maize(corn), rye, wheat and tubers such as potatoes), meat being only a supplementary food supply (the same way that for plants – the main source of food is sunlight, CO2 and Water... fertilizers being the supplemental source).

    Bugs will NOT help (as a direct food source), and trying to domesticate bugs as direct food is at best doomed, or at worst very dangerous (cf : the bee problem and the almond fields in California).

    May 15, 2013 at 2:10 am | Reply
    • JGN

      I could not agree more. Insects, and other bugs, serve their own purposes in nature which has nothing at all to do with feeding us. They help break down fallen trees and mulch fallen leaves into useable dirt, pollenate flowers and trees, scavenge dead animals and break down their tissue, provide food for birds and small animal life...get real! If they are used for our food source I DO believe it would eventually lead to a very dangerous situation, or rather ANOTHER one in addition to overcrowding, overuse of water and other resources, and of course global weather change and mutating viruses.

      May 15, 2013 at 10:44 am | Reply
  17. najania

    I have eaten fried locusts, flavored with sugared soy sauce. No bug taste, but I didn't like the way the legs stuck between the teeth.
    To make it as food, I feel bugs would have to be processed (mashed etc.) first. But the nutritional value and supply make the prospect attractive.

    May 14, 2013 at 11:04 pm | Reply
  18. J.BURGESS

    MAY 25TH MARCH AGAINST MONSANTO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! LOOK INTO IT AND CHECK YOUR AREA FOR MARCHES ITS WORLD WIDE BABY

    May 14, 2013 at 8:16 pm | Reply
  19. Mary

    I'd probably eat bugs if I couldn't tell by looking at it that it's a bug. I'm the same with seafood. Take the example given – I love sushi. I love seafood. But if I can see eyes (think un-shelled prawns) I can't eat it. Chicken, fine. It's cooked and there's no head. Pork, fine. But if it was roasted and the pig's head is on a platter a few places down the table from me I'd throw up.

    So yeah, grind up the bugs or process it like all the other millions of foods out there and I'd happily munch away.

    May 14, 2013 at 6:19 pm | Reply
  20. melkor

    if god wanted me to eat insects he would have made it look like steak...

    May 14, 2013 at 5:52 pm | Reply
    • 8yhuih87y8

      If god wanted you to comment, then he would you a brain so you could do it intelligently.

      May 14, 2013 at 8:46 pm | Reply
      • CW

        and God apparently made at least one person with thin skin.

        May 15, 2013 at 1:03 am | Reply
  21. Twinkie 'Da Kid

    It'll be just me and the Cockaroaches left to Rule the World after the Obama Implosion.......Mwahahahahaha!.

    May 14, 2013 at 5:43 pm | Reply
  22. halskf

    Insects are the food of the poor.

    May 14, 2013 at 5:28 pm | Reply
    • wasso

      Some people prefer boogers !

      May 15, 2013 at 2:28 am | Reply
  23. Milan

    Meanwhile in the West: We're throwing away 1/3 of the food and obesity is a huge problem.

    May 14, 2013 at 4:56 pm | Reply
  24. meg

    Id Rather be a vegetarian.

    May 14, 2013 at 4:42 pm | Reply
    • Paromita

      I would be too

      May 15, 2013 at 6:15 am | Reply
  25. Obi_donkenobi

    Never liked seafood much. Shrimp, crab, lobster are all of the family Arachnida, same as spiders and scorpions. I like to taunt my friends and family every now and then when they eat sea-harvested crustaceans with a little commercial ditty you might remember. Sing this to the commercial song for Chicken of the Sea Tuna: "Ask any lobster, you happen to see: What's the best lobster, Arachnid of the Sea!"

    May 14, 2013 at 4:40 pm | Reply
    • Belseth

      Lobster, shrimp, oysters and clams are all good if fresh and prepared right. A lot of this comes from not knowing what's in the food you already eat. Hotdogs, sausage and even hamburger are scary if you know what's actually in them. They even put ground glass in ketchup as a thickener.

      May 14, 2013 at 4:54 pm | Reply
      • Buck

        "They even put ground glass in ketchup as a thickener" That's odd, I don't see ground glass listed as an ingredient in my ketchup. Where did you acquire this information?

        May 14, 2013 at 5:02 pm | Reply
    • gadadhoon

      Lobsters and arachnids are related at the level of phylum – arthropoda. It's rather like us and, say, a large mouth bass.

      May 14, 2013 at 5:00 pm | Reply
  26. Pablo

    I ate a bad cockroach once and it made me sick.

    May 14, 2013 at 4:37 pm | Reply
  27. Pablo

    PETA is not going to like this.

    May 14, 2013 at 4:28 pm | Reply
    • cristina

      peta ain't got nothing to do with this! they should like it, if they are smart.

      June 1, 2013 at 7:48 am | Reply
  28. ronjam

    Let the U.N. ambassadors and staff eat bugs for one year, and let's see what their health is like at the end. We're right BEHIND you U.N.

    May 14, 2013 at 4:24 pm | Reply
  29. Yummy

    I'll pass on the bug eating, I don't care how many countries find them tasty. I don't eat clams or snails either. With so many fruits and vegetables to eat and some meat why would I? You can't expect people who have never eaten bugs to start eating them now, sure some can but most people are set in their ways based on their life as a child, same reason why religion is so strong in some people, get them while they are young and they are hooked.

    May 14, 2013 at 4:19 pm | Reply
  30. hughes

    Here's a question for you all. If you had to choose which would you eat, rat meat or locusts?

    May 14, 2013 at 3:57 pm | Reply
    • Caricature

      May I choose the surf & turf? Grilled rat filet with topped with sauted locust?

      May 14, 2013 at 4:04 pm | Reply
      • Buck

        And with this comment and the fact I had to skip lunch today, I now find myself strangely compelled to try both rat meat and locusts....

        May 14, 2013 at 4:10 pm | Reply
    • Philip

      Thanks, but I had an apple on the train...

      May 14, 2013 at 4:53 pm | Reply
    • Richard Hode

      No big deal. I eat raw meat (96% lean) a couple of times a week. A little salt and pepper, and it's fit for a king. By the way, they serve it in restaurants in France and is called steak tartare. As for eating insects, I'll leave that to the Third World. There are some advantages to living in a civilized country, otherwise <à quoi bon être prince – what good is it being prince?. Let the U.N. bureaucrats eat bugs.

      May 14, 2013 at 6:34 pm | Reply
      • Buck

        Steak tartare is actually served all over the world although it was probably served in French restaurants first.

        May 14, 2013 at 6:39 pm | Reply
        • Bucktooth

          A French Neanderthal that is, one who couldn't make a fire.

          May 15, 2013 at 9:41 am |
    • Richard Hode

      Bad eyes. I thought you wrote raw meat, not rat. But I'd rather eat rat than bugs.

      May 14, 2013 at 6:36 pm | Reply
  31. pragmatic

    Many a person starving has eaten bugs and lived. Andrew Zimmern regularly eats them, he hasn't lost any weight. The survival shows on TV always show them eating bugs. Years ago they were pushing worm burgers, but I haven't seen them in a while. Maybe if someone markets them properly as a delicacy, like fish eggs (caviar) has been, it could take off. Presentation is everything! It's all in your head I guess. I'd probably have trouble on the crunchy legs and heads I think. So I'd likely be more of a larvae lover 'cuz they look more like shelled shrimp or crawfish.

    May 14, 2013 at 3:56 pm | Reply
  32. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Me love Obama! Him give me and me 15 kids free place to stay and no deport! Me also have free healthcare and free phone and no ever have to work! Obama America good!

    May 14, 2013 at 3:48 pm | Reply
    • Sonia

      As an American from a Dominican father I find that offensive and FAR from being an actual- or even factual- testimony.

      May 14, 2013 at 3:57 pm | Reply
      • Dominican mama 4 Obama

        You reap rewards of Obama Black Welfare America too? You, Me and me 15 kids should celebrate together! Me buy the food and booze with me EBT card. Whats you number? Me call you on me obamaphone and setup party...

        May 14, 2013 at 4:04 pm | Reply
        • Da Blue

          You're a retard...

          May 14, 2013 at 5:19 pm |
        • Bucktooth

          Put this in your tea cup and chug it:
          The majority of welfare recipients are white, Republican, jobless because the factory was shut down and moved to China, and don't live in a city.

          May 15, 2013 at 9:44 am |
        • Buck

          @Bucktooth
          You aren't even close to the truth. Last year, out of ALL welfare recipients, approximately 40% were white while 40% were black.

          May 15, 2013 at 10:03 am |
    • nice try

      not clever or funny.

      May 14, 2013 at 4:26 pm | Reply
      • Dominican mama 4 Obama

        Me no funny, me love Obama Black Welfare America!!! ME LOVE IT!!! Free everything and me NEVER have to work!!! YIPPEEEEE!

        May 14, 2013 at 4:48 pm | Reply
  33. HenryMiller

    More and more, the UN is showing how divorced it is from the West.

    May 14, 2013 at 3:46 pm | Reply
  34. Ed

    See this web site for a list of toxins and venoms found in various insects. If you are worried about a little BHT or Calcium Sodium EDTA added to your food to prevent spoilage, wait until you get a load of what you get from bugs.

    http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev.en.08.010163.000245

    May 14, 2013 at 3:44 pm | Reply
    • Caricature

      Seriously... this is your contribution? Shall we stop eating carrots because of poison ivy?

      They should stop calling this the comment section and rename it "Post Your Own Hyperbolic Statement" section.

      May 14, 2013 at 3:56 pm | Reply
      • Hyperbolic Statements R Us

        But if it saves, just one life, and let's not forget, it is for the children!

        May 14, 2013 at 4:51 pm | Reply
  35. Randy

    But, there is no food shortage. I can get all the food I want within a block of where I am right now. Anything I want to eat is available in any quantity I want. I just have to pay for it. So maybe what they mean is there is a money shortage to pay for the food? I think my household throws more food away then we eat. Selfish American? Maybe but I work, I pay for it. I see no reason to eat insects.

    May 14, 2013 at 3:40 pm | Reply
    • JGN

      You're really a bit foggy on your concepts here. You actually think Americans WORK harder than the rest of the world and so they deserve to THROW AWAY food? You must have a very twisted view of reality. The reality is that Americans overall have shorter work hours and better working conditions than much of the world and we are so wasteful we could be a guide book on what to avoid if one wanted to help save the planet. Which obviously does not trouble your sleep at all.

      May 15, 2013 at 10:52 am | Reply
  36. Ed

    Whoa! PETA isn't going to be happy about a recommendation to eat BUGS! They're animals, just like the cute little puppies and seals they like to put in their ads, and that's a no-no.

    May 14, 2013 at 3:34 pm | Reply
    • why?

      But by eating small insects they are saving larger animals Peta loves this

      May 14, 2013 at 3:45 pm | Reply
      • Pablo

        Oh, so PETA discriminates according to size?

        May 14, 2013 at 4:31 pm | Reply
  37. Willie Scott

    Eel Eater: Are you not eating?
    Willie: I had bugs for lunch.

    From "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom"

    May 14, 2013 at 3:18 pm | Reply
    • Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

      Don't forget the eyeball soup

      May 14, 2013 at 5:20 pm | Reply
  38. Razel P. Dazle

    Now hotels with bed bugs will charging extra for the "in-room dining".

    May 14, 2013 at 3:15 pm | Reply
  39. Kevin

    Too bad the countries with the highest food consumption per capita are also those that are most opposed to the idea of eating bugs

    May 14, 2013 at 3:03 pm | Reply
  40. duane st.pete FL

    UN stinks.....they should kick them out of the USA....its a joke

    May 14, 2013 at 2:52 pm | Reply
    • Jorge Rodriguez

      Perhaps the United Stated should be kicked out of the UN

      May 14, 2013 at 3:34 pm | Reply
      • PlutoIsn'tAPlanet

        The US pumps more money into the UN than any other country.

        May 14, 2013 at 5:33 pm | Reply
      • Harin

        I agree. The UN should kick the US out. It would save us billions of dollars and untold frustration.

        May 15, 2013 at 11:03 am | Reply
  41. pugh7755

    "crunchy texture and creamy, nutty flavor, not unlike a shrimp"? I don't know what shrimp they have been eating, but my shrimp is neither creamy nor nutty flavor...or crunchy for that matter.

    May 14, 2013 at 2:33 pm | Reply
    • hughes

      The creamy part is what scares me.

      May 14, 2013 at 3:52 pm | Reply
    • Pablo

      They are crunchy is you don't peel them, especially the tails.

      May 14, 2013 at 4:32 pm | Reply
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