The viability of crickets as an alternative food source to beef overconsumption

Essay, 2016
20 Pages


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Body

A. Biological Elements
i. Nutrition
ii. Health Risks
iii. Efficiency Comparison

B. Environmental Systems Elements
i. Emissions
ii. Ecological Footprint
iii. Impact on nearby Ecosystems

3. Conclusion and Evaluation

4. Bibliography


Among some of the leading current global issues is world hunger. Many attempts have been made at mitigating or even solving the problem, but progress has been slow. Recently, there has been increasing awareness about eating insects, known as entomophagy, to solve world hunger. In 2008, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations published a report discussing how insects could be the solution to achieve food and feed security. I found the report intriguing, noting that entomophagy now had considerable credibility with the United Nations having thoroughly examined the notion. With entomophagy, I noticed not only global applications with hunger and environmental issues, but also potential local applications in nutrition and economics. I narrowed down the enormous topic of entomophagy to two organisms: the cricket and the cow. I thus investigated the question: Through the lenses of biology and environmental systems, a re crickets viable as a solution to counteract the overconsumption of beef to prevent a potential global hunger epidemic?

With different avenues of research, I decided to separately study biology and environmental systems. I found the biological aspect most interesting, but I also recognized the importance of the environmental factor. Biological elements were examined in the first half of the investigation, with focus on nutrition, health risks and efficiency comparisons. Environmental systems elements were covered in the second half by looking at emissions, ecological footprint and impact on nearby ecosystems. Overall, there were noticeable benefits of introducing crickets into the global food industry as a substitute to beef. Not only could they rival beef in nutrition, but also were more efficient and posed little human health risk. In addition, the emissions and ecological footprint imposed by crickets were considerably lower than those of beef, with minimal potential impact on nearby ecosystems.


Research Question: Through the lenses of Biology and Environmental Systems, are crickets viable as a solution to counteract the overconsumption of beef in the face of a potential Global Hunger Epidemic?

The world population is ever growing, resulting in an ever increasing number of mouths to feed. With over 4000 square meters of arable land being lost per minute in the United States, the future vision of a world with sustainable food is becoming grim. (Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, 2010) The issue of world hunger has been ever increasing in notoriety over the past few decades, leaving researchers scrambling to discover a sustainable method to increase food production. Out of the Earth’s approximate population of 7 billion, an estimated 2 billion live primarily on a meat-based diet, while the rest live on a plant-based diet. (Pimentel & Pimentel, 2003, p. [Page 1]. One major argument against eating meat is that it is inefficient, since the meat industry takes potential food from the plant industry and uses more resources to essentially create food in the form of meat. Out of the different meat industries, beef production has been criticized as the most problematic, requiring 28 times more land than the average of all other groups of conventional livestock. (US National Library of Medicine, 2014) In addition, beef production requires approximately 2.5 times as many land resources as plant production, showing that a meat-based diet at our current rate of consumption is not sustainable (Eshel, Shepon, Makov, & Milob, 2014). With over 3 billion malnourished people in the world, and with more deaths caused by hunger every year than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined, an affordable, healthy and viable solution is needed, one that can provide the same nutritional benefits as meat. (World Food Programme, 2009) (Pimental & Wilson, 2014)

Two popular solutions to the potential global food crisis are genetically modified organisms and lab-grown meat, however, both have financial and health-related shortcomings. Certain individuals have heralded insects as the solution. At a low environmental and financial cost, and with high nutritional efficiency, insect cuisine is being considered by many people. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations recognizes the potential value of insects, and in 2008, published a report discussing how insects may be the solution to achieve food and feed security. (Forestry Department of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2013). This drew international attention and reinforced the concept that changes to our palate had to be made for the sustainability of Planet Earth. “The Economist”, a renowned newspaper, has also published numerous articles about the merits of using insects as food. (The Economist Newspaper Limited, 2014) Other groups debating about the consumption of insects include Maclean’s Magazine, National Geographic, and Encyclopedia Britannica. (Cuthbert, 2015; Mott, 2004; van Huis, 2014)

Insects may be the alternative food source that mankind requires. Entomophagy, or the practice of eating insects (arachnids, myriapods and gastropods), is already currently practiced in 80% of the world’s nations. (Carrington, 2010). However, with approximately one million different species of insects present today, only some can be eaten. (Smithsonian, 2004) Since entomophagy includes the consumption of not only insects, but arachnids such as spiders and scorpions, myriapods such as centipedes, and gastropods such as snails and slugs, over 2000 various species of these creepy crawlies are consumed by humans. (Holland, 2013) Crickets are one of the most commonly consumed species of insects around the world and are a staple diet of many cultures. They have been regarded as a high source of protein with a lower fat content and ecological footprint as compared to other conventional livestock. As such, many individuals have seen them as a viable solution to not only the current overconsumption of beef, but the looming global hunger epidemic. With the excessive demand for beef resulting in factory farming, many health, ethical and financial problems have arisen.

Being a Chinese Canadian, I have been exposed to two extremely different cultures. South- Eastern Asia widely accepts insect consumption, as it can be seen as a part of daily lifestyle. In western society, however, insects are primarily seen as disease-ridden pests. I was fascinated and drawn towards the immense dissimilarity between cultures on the notion of insects. Part of me felt revulsion at the possibility of eating a “bug”, yet another part thought “Why not?” I first learned of the notion of entomophagy in Grade 6, when I watched a documentary on families who relied on beetles as their only source of protein. Over the years, the subject of entomophagy continually appeared, whether in news outlets, online advertisements or by word of mouth. My interest gradually grew, as I realized the immense potential behind entomophagy in helping the world. I knew there were many different viewpoints on the subject, but I also knew that the consumption of insects might just be the solution to the problems of our world, whether they be climate change, global warming, animal rights, finance or nutrition. Though I myself have never eaten an insect, I could not resist examining the potential behind entomophagy. I also knew that I was not the only one looking at the potential of consuming insects. I knew that there are businesses all over the world looking to make a profit on the sale of insects. What I did not know was that the western world is also expanding its entomophagy industry. The United Kingdom has the Edible Bug Shop and Crunchy Critters, the United States has All Things Bugs and Six Foods, and in Campbellford, Ontario, Canada, a mere 3 hours drive away from where I live, Entomo Farms is attempting to bring entomophagy to Canada. (Day, 2015) (Martin, 2010) I knew that there were countless different avenues of research that I could pursue. Due to there being thousands of edible insect species, I decided to focus on the benefits of the cricket alone, and compare it to one of the most commonly consumed meats: beef.

This paper will examine the extent to which farming commercial crickets for consumption could replace beef, in terms of biology and environmental systems. Biological elements will compare the nutritional, physiological and logistical aspects of crickets with cows. Environmental system elements on the other hand will compare the emissions, regulation and ecological footprints associated with crickets and cows.


(A)Biological Elements


Skeptics of entomophagy usually question nutrition first. They question if insects can rival the nutrients obtained from meat. However, perhaps humans are consuming too much of some nutrients, and not enough of others. Americans consume one sixth of the world’s meat while composing less than 5% of the world’s population; this excessive meat consumption leads to Americans receiving about 30 percent more protein each day than the total daily recommended value of protein. (Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine, National Academies, 2014). Beef is one of the most consumed meats in the world, and thus changing diets may prove to be difficult (The Economist Online, 2012). Though crickets may not contain as much protein per 100 grams as beef, there are many other nutrients as well as a significantly lower fat intake. The issue with examining the nutritional values of different insects is that there are many variables that need to be taken into account. The region and diet of an insect will heavily influence its nutrition content, and the method used to prepare and process food is also a factor affecting nutritional composition. Interestingly enough, insects which undergo a metamorphic stage will differ in nutrition before and after metamorphosis (Forestry Department of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2013, p. 67). One issue in comparing beef with cricket is that nutritional data on beef has a very large range due to the many different parts of a cow. In contrast to the cricket, which is almost totally consumed, a large portion of a cow is thrown away. Thus, a direct comparison in nutrients may be skewed depending on the composition of beef.

A comparison of average protein content was done by the FAO, finding that raw adult field crickets in Thailand had 8-25 g of protein content per 100g of fresh weight whereas raw beef ranged from 19-26 g per 100g (FAO of the UN, 2013, p. 69). The large range can be attributed primarily to the diet of Thailand crickets. For instance, it was found that certain insects fed with bran had almost twice the amount of protein than those fed on maize (FAO of the UN, p. 70). Other organizations also did research, such as the Molecular Nutrition and Food Research journal (Rumpold & Schlüter, 2013, pp. 802-823). As can be seen in Figure 1, the nutritional values of 200-calorie servings of crickets and beef among other foods were compared with one another. Interestingly enough, the journal found that crickets had more protein at 31g as compared to the 22.4g of protein in 90% lean beef. In addition, there was less fat with 8.1g in crickets as compared to 11.2g in beef, as well as 45 times more Omega-3 in crickets than beef. One may mention that since fiber is indigestible, and the cricket has 7.2g as compared to the cow's 0g, the cricket is inefficient. However, fiber has many benefits including including improving blood sugar control and heart health as well as reducing stroke risk (Mercola, 2013). The journal clearly showsthat crickets have more nutrients per calorie, which supports the benefits of entomophagy.


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The viability of crickets as an alternative food source to beef overconsumption
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Through the lenses of biology and environmental systems, are crickets viable as a solution to counteract the overconsumption of beef to prevent a potential global hunger epidemic? A case study regarding crickets as an alternative food source within Canada.
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Anthony Li (Author), 2016, The viability of crickets as an alternative food source to beef overconsumption, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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