The Case For The Insect Diet

Slap bang in the middle of Naomi Klein’s startling book about the climate crisis, This Changes Everything, sits a clean break disguised as a threat. “I am convinced that climate change represents a historic opportunity,” Klein writes. “Yes, there will be things we will lose, whole industries that will disappear … [but] the thing about a crisis this big, this all-encompassing, is that it changes everything.”

For many, Klein’s use of the word ‘everything’ brings to mind the big stuff: the land we live on and the stability of our economy. She certainly does mean that – climate change has the ability to uproot communities and send the market fluttering about into tiny, hewn-up pieces – but she also means the minutiae of our daily lives. She means the clothes we wear, and what we teach our children, and, perhaps most pressingly of all, the food on our plate.

Because here’s the thing: our current agricultural model is unsustainable. Our meat-heavy diet not only leads to the enacting of untold ‘minor’ cruelties, but also helps tip the planet’s temperature towards the inhospitable levels predicted by even the most cool-headed of scientists.

For one thing, the beef industry’s expansion relies on deforestation. But more than that, the ever-expanding cattle population has sent the levels of climate-threatening methane gas soaring. Over the course of its lifetime, a single cow produces as much greenhouse gas as a car, and when one realises there are a staggering 1.4 billion of the creatures swamping the Earth, the threat begins to take shape. It would be funny if it weren’t so horrifying, but cow farts are killing us.

No More Beef: Embrace The Bugs

Yet despite these grim figures, there is a solution. Only, as with so many other issues that contribute to the growing threat of an ecological apocalypse, it currently seems hard to stomach. The answer relies not on eliminating meat, but rather shifting the source. Simply put, if we want to save the world, we should abandon the beef in our burgers and replace it with bugs.

Disgusting? Perhaps it seems that way for the moment. But shifting to an insect diet would have profound effects on the natural world, and on our production of carbon. Bugs have only a minimal negative impact on their habitat – if we moved our dietary focus onto crickets, say, gone would be the days of chopping down an area of forest the size of India every quarter-century in order to provide room for cattle – but more than that, insects represent a much more energy-effective food source than traditional options like beef or chicken.

The cricket - our next source of food - courtesy

If a cow is a banged-up old car, then a cricket is a bicycle; clean, cost-effective and efficient. While a mere ten per cent of a side of beef consumed gets turned into energy, 44 per cent of the matter ingested from a cockroach will become human body matter. Crickets are high in protein; silkworms are high in amino acids. And best of all, they breed fast, all of them: in a space of a month, a cricket can lay up to 1,500 eggs.

Herein lies the opportunity Klein speaks of; the way that a proper, all-encompassing revolution designed to halt the worst effects of climate change could become the gateway to a purer form of living. Not only would bug farming stave off the sudden collapse of humanity’s food, but it would feed more, and it would feed better. Truly global insect production wouldn’t only save the world, it would fundamentally make it a better place. All we need to do is make a minor change in order to help offset a much more permanent one.

[Cricket and insect food stall photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

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