19 November 2014

Don't let the yuckiness bug you

Lara J writes:*

By 2050, the world’s population is expected to rise to 9 billion, and there are fears that this will lead to an increase in world hunger and food shortages. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that food production will need to increase by 70% if we want to feed the growing population. Seeing as it isn’t ethically viable to somehow put a halt to this population growth or get rid of half of the world’s existing population, our best call is to find a way to use the world’s resources in a more sustainable manner… perhaps by eating bugs.

Entomophagy (i.e. the practice of eating edible insects) has many benefits (pdf) for the environment and people’s health: they have a better feed-to-meat ratio than conventional meat sources, emit less greenhouse gases, take up less space to raise, require little water, and contain high levels of protein, good fats, iron, calcium, and zinc. Overall, farming insects as miniature livestock is a smarter, more efficient and ultimately environmentally safer means of sustaining a healthy and convenient food supply.

More than 2 billion people worldwide supplement their daily diets with insects, so why can’t we do it too? The main obstacle to the consumption of insects in the Western world is the "yuck factor" involved in it; people are not used to seeing animal food sources in their entirety, and insects are generally seen as creepy crawlers that are dirty and unappetizing.

Nevertheless, the Dutch supermarket chain Jumbo has decided to add bugs onto its shelves from January 2015 onwards, in an attempt to gradually incorporate it into the Western diet. Their "Buggy burgers" and "Buggy Balls" (article in Dutch) will consist of only 6-10% bug parts, and may thus be the solution to our problem; gradually start introducing small amounts of bug produce into our diets to get over the yuck barrier. After all, disgust, like culture, is passed down from generation to generation, and it is never too late to start making a change. We did it with sushi, so why can’t we do it with bugs?

Bottom Line: We don’t need to start eating crickets for lunch every day, but a gradual change in attitudes towards incorporating bugs into our diets can lead to a significant reduction in the threat of food shortage the world is expected to face in the future.

* Please comment on these posts from my environmental economics students, to help them with unclear analysis, other perspectives, data sources, etc.


  1. Well said - a gentle nudge in the right direction. I admittedly will probably not try eating insects anytime soon, maybe never, but if we can catch people early in life, maybe upcoming generations will be less averse to it.

  2. Great and creative topic Lara! It's brilliant that Jumbo in the Netherlands is trying to push bugs to the markets. But, I had two questions - are there any legal barriers or other constraints in Europe for bug eating, apart from people's preferences and 'yuck barriers'? And second, is there a chance that the meat-producers (or other food producers) would try and obstruct the bug-industry, as it would constitute an alternative for their products?

  3. Interesting article, Lara! I believe there are not many disadvantages to eating insects, or incorporating them more into our current diet. However, there might be obstacles created in the minds of potential consumers by the meat industry. Two factors play a major role in such a marketing process: In many cultures consuming insects is associated with disgust, as well as (perceived) fear/risk around the effects of eating insects. Disgust and fear provide useful tools create a subconscious, protective mechanisms that prevents many of us from consuming insects. The different attitudes of what is considered an eatable food might even start with non-insects, but begin with discussions on horsemeat. Despite the acceptance of meat in western culture, by providing certificates on the origins of meat and documents such as slaughtering permits, the meat industry overcomes many feelings of disgust and fear or risk, whilst increasing the perceived burden of eating insects, whose industry lacks such documentation. Ironically, many people would probably not want to know the `meat-realities´ of what they (thought they) were eating. Thus, establishing insects into the food market might be more of a marketing and psychology question to make it appeal to a wider range of consumers. Would it be possible for the insect-food industry to create documentation on their origin and health and advertise via media? Maybe this could help to make eating insect fashionable (celebrities eating such products) to overcome the subconscious, protective mechanisms mentioned above.


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