January 11, 2016
The arguments for eating bugs have been swarming midge-like around our heads for the better part of a decade. Yes, if you bake a mealworm and dust it in mesquite seasoning it’s got the taste of barbecued ribs and the mouthfeel of a Rice Krispie. Yes, the West’s entomophagic hang-ups can be traced back to a low supply of cold-weather bugs and high demand for cold-weather calories. Yes, the global population needs to find a new protein source that doesn’t cause devastating methane emissions or leech off corn subsidies. But, no, it’s not simply about choosing the buggy path. Crickets aren’t a food system’’s panacea. What they are, in a way, is a mascot for the bug husbandry industry, the emblem for insect producers looking to add to the the world’s chitinous biomass — for every 10 pounds of human flesh, the planet holds one ton of bugs — on the way to profit.
Bug husbandry is an ancient practice, but remains largely in its larval stage. Only a few of its disciplines — silk cultivation and beekeeping — are performed on industrial scales. In a 2013 report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations outlining the future of insect eating, experts described insect production as a sector in its infancy. You can find cricket flour, perhaps the fastest-growing insect product, in protein bars at cutting-edge Whole Foods. But in the U.S. writ large, the bug industry is so young the Department of Agriculture hasn’t yet defined specific insect-growing standards. Though the department can tell you all about mink livestock production, the only evidence you’ll find of insects in its statistical vault pertains to beeswax and honey. Everything else is just buzz.