Could entomophagy end U.S. and African protein shortages?

Would we even want it to do so? A modest proposal, inspired by Jonathon Swift. 

Paul Driessen        

Nearly two centuries ago, amid a fungal infestation that destroyed Irish potato crops and brought famine, starvation, death, and the emigration of countless men, women and children, Gulliver’s Travels author Dr. Jonathon Swift offered “A Modest Proposal for preventing the children of poor people in Ireland from being a burden on their parents or country, and for making them beneficial to the publick.”

Dr. Swift suggested that children too young to work could be eaten in place of potatoes. As he explained, “a young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious, nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricasee, or a ragoust.” Surely, he said, this is preferable to aborting unborn or murdering newly born children.

Of course, his proposal was only in jest, a sly response to the callous disregard many of his countrymen displayed toward the Irish tragedy and the plight of poor families throughout the United Kingdom.

Today, despite enormous advances in seeds, fertilizers, irrigation, mechanized equipment, pest control and agricultural practices, famine still stalks dozens of countries, especially in Africa. Millions still live on the edge of starvation, all too often kept there by despicable government agencies, pressure groups and financiers that despise modern agriculture, promote “agro-ecology” and even oppose Golden Rice.

Africa’s poverty, malnutrition, despair and premature death have been made even worse this year by one of the worst plagues of desert locusts in memory. Swarms numbering in the billions descended on East Africa, which was completely unprepared to cope with them. The first swarms unleashed even larger second and third waves, with swarms larger than Manhattan.

The insatiable insects are devouring millions of square miles of crops, pasture lands, gardens and forests, creating massive food shortages that could cause hundreds of thousands of deaths from starvation.

Meanwhile, coronavirus outbreaks among workers forced meat packing plants to close. Wendy’s took burgers off the menu at many locations, and the fast food chain’s customers are again asking “where’s the beef?” – echoing the iconic television commercials from 35 years ago. Pork is also in short supply, even as American pork shipments to China quadrupled in recent months. Chicken too is scarce.

But now we may have a fortuitous alignment of the stars, a happy confluence of events, wherein a modest proposal for abundant food in the form of locusts could benefit the hungry “publicks” of two continents.

Up to now, we have had an unhappy confluence of sick ideologies: the belief that too many people are a cancer on the Earth, depleting fossil fuels that are destroying our climate and planet, and ignoring what former Obama science advisor John Holdren insisted was a vital need for modern societies to de-develop, de-industrialize, and dictate to still-poor countries how much they will be permitted to develop.

The ideologies have forced too many Africans to continue living primitive subsistence lifestyles or pack into impoverished cities that lack basic energy, water, roadway, communication, refrigeration, hospital, sanitation, and employment opportunities. The locust plagues could turn this awful situation around.

Enormous nets strung between two trucks or airplanes could harvest millions of locusts at a time. Thousands could be employed constructing and operating food processing facilities, hauling insects to them, running them through roasting ovens and freeze drying machines, packing and shipping the finished delicacies to hungry families around Africa and North America, and teaching people to savor them.

Thousands more jobs could be created managing the new export and import businesses. Commercial airliners sidelined by COVID would be rejuvenated. Millions of people could go almost overnight from hunger to enjoying what Popular Science magazine has described as delicious, nutritious food, rich in protein and all nine amino acids essential for human development.

The new meat substitutes would give entirely new meanings to “in-flight meals.”

There is yet another benefit. These activities and facilities would require reliable, affordable electricity, on a far larger scale than can possibly be provided by wind turbines and solar panels. They will require coal, gas, nuclear and hydroelectric power plants. However, environmentalist pressure groups, UN agencies, the World Bank and multilateral (anti)development banks have been telling Africans that wind and solar power must be their energy future. They and the EU clearly won’t finance those power plants.

But perhaps Chinese agencies and companies will finance and build them, as they have in many other countries – often under exploitative, extortionist loan arrangements, to be sure. The projects could also be incentivized by a desire to resurrect China’s tarnished reputation for having unleashed the Wuhan virus on unsuspecting nations. They might also secure special prices on locust products that would be right at home in China’s wet markets and on its television equivalent to “Bizarre Food” with Andrew Zimmern.

Popular Science expresses deep concern that “raising cattle requires a lot of space and water, and more room for cattle means less [sic] trees, which in turn means a diminished natural capacity of the planet to process carbon dioxide.” Its writers clearly have no clue that modern non-organic farming with biotech crops enables fewer farmers to raise more crops, from less land, with less water and fewer pesticides, than any other farming methods in history – or that cattle typically graze on lands that have limited value for growing crops. They obviously have not read any of my reports and articles about the monumental impacts that wind, solar, battery and biofuel technologies have on farm, scenic and wildlife habitat lands.

Instead, PopSci cites a 2013 report by the ever-helpful UN Food and Agriculture Organization, which has worked for years with radical environmentalist groups to oppose modern farming, biotech and even hybrid seeds, synthetic insecticides and fertilizers, and even mechanized equipment like tractors. PopSci and the FAO extol the virtues of “entomophagy,” a fancy progressive term for eating bugs, not beef.

Indeed, they say, this could be “the answer humanity is looking for.” (If that’s the answer, it must have been a very foolish question.) The FAO report offers techniques for processing “edible insects” into tasty consumable products that can improve people’s diets and livelihoods, create thriving local businesses, and even promote “inclusion of women.” It has sections on overcoming the yuck factor and setting up industrial-scale processing operations. (I should have known the FAO would be ahead of me on that.)

The FAO study says bugs can have twice as much protein as beef and 1.5 times as much as fish and poultry. PopSci sings the praises of grasshoppers, locusts, crickets, ants and mealworms – whole or powdered – as snacks, desserts, guacamole or entire meals.

Mealworms have “an earthy flavor, similar to mushrooms or beets,” says Joseph Yoon, chef and founder of Brooklyn Bugs, a “catering company and education platform” in New York that serves an entire menu featuring insects. You can add them to brownies – or toss some salt on sautéed mealworms to get “protein-boosted potato chips.”

Since they are committed to saving the planet from fossil fuels, climate change, big corporations and modern technologies, people attending the next UN climate confab in November 2021 in Glasgow should expect to dine on an entire smorgasbord of tasty locusts and other bugs. Perhaps they can be paired with haggis, Scotland’s savory traditional pudding of bone broth, sheep heart, liver and lungs, onion, oatmeal, suet and spices, cooked together in the animal’s stomach.

Back here in the States, for the same reason, those delectable African locusts could figure prominently at the upcoming Democratic National convention in Wisconsin’s Brew City this August. They would pair very nicely with those pilsner beers that made Milwaukee famous.

Personally, though, I’ll stick with hearty beef, lamb, chicken, ribs – and really big bugs: shrimp, lobster, crabs and crawfish – served up at the Republican National Convention, accompanied by a good IPA.

Paul Driessen is senior policy analyst for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (www.CFACT.org) and author of books and articles on energy, environment, climate and human rights issues.

68 thoughts on “Could entomophagy end U.S. and African protein shortages?

  1. I’ll eat bugs when Hell freezes over – or I’m forced to by the unthinkable horror of the ideologies of people like Holdren being made policy.

    “…redistribution of wealth both within and among nations is absolutely essential, if a decent life is to be provided for every human being.”

    Translation: “Dekulakization v2.0 is the key to getting wealth out of the hands of those who’ve worked for it and into the hands of people vote the Right Way.”

    • Of course we are talking about the redistribution of the “wealth” of ordinary working folks, not Jeff Bezos, Jimmy Dimond or the ultra rich.

      Maybe if we took our economic foot off their necks and financed coal powered electricity there would be less need for “redistribution”.

      Funny how the liberal concern for “black lives” suddenly evaporates when it comes to CO2.

        • Not really. Many are convinced that India is “overpopulated,” despite the fact that its population density is in line with Israel, The Netherlands, and Belgium.

          • I didn’t know that, thank you. I guess it comes back to one of their other axioms then: four legs good, two legs bad.

      • Perhaps COP meetings should serve them Exclusively at All Future Meetings and require their consumption by All attendees

      • A friend of mine, when doing Royal Marine training in the middle east somewhere, said they ate locust with honey and it was delicious.
        But why use nets to catch wild ones? Why not breed them in captivity?

      • The deep fried and salted ones grasshoppers I had tasted somewhat like a potato chip and chocolate covered ants were just crunchy choco flavored. All the fuss about this-and-that food is mostly cultural and psychological. After all most think nothing about cows (or goats milk) but mare’s, camels or other animal-No Way! Many would even become ill if tricked into drinking and thought was okay but then told afterward what they had drank (psychological). A cooking show even had Nutria which was described as tasting like rabbit, but wait! it’s a large rat so no way! But (certain) fish eggs, now that’s great, but not usually those from common fish such as bass. Now if it’s actually gamey flavored like some wild fowl or say possum, I’ll pass; but many don’t, I suspect because of adapted taste.

      • Agree. Snacked on crickets at a market in Thailand. Crunchy and quite tasty. No drama.

    • Paul Driessen, you should have left out the Jonathon Swift quote. I could not read past. Yuck.

    • Eat bugs? Isn’t that what the ecohippies and insectivorous nonhuman species want us to consume? Eat bugs instead of real food? Seriously, the people who want to eat bugs should be swarming to those places.

      This got my attention: Pork is also in short supply, even as American pork shipments to China quadrupled in recent months. Chicken too is scarce. – article

      Okay, does this mean that, despite the short supply, I should be stocking up on whatever I can pick up at Aldi and Wallymart? And should I get an extra 5.0 CFt freezer, while I”m at it? They don’t cost all that much and Wallymart does sell them.

      And to think I was about to make crepes with beef and mushrooms for supper tonight…. I just find it disturbing that I’m seeing the opposite of what the article says about the meat packing industry, but it appears to pertain to where you are more than anything else. I’m not having any issues buying good quality chicken, bacon, J’ville sausages, or beef of any kind, and at reasonable prices, NOT elevated from what they normally are.

      Just seems to be a disconnect here, that’s all. But I am NOT eating bugs, period.

    • I prefer my edible bugs to be very small. In fact, I eat bacteria excretions and drink yeast excretions. They go together quite well sometimes.

  2. There you go, Paul, we have gone full circle! Remember Mark Twain in the book “Roughing It”? Written in the late 1800’s, he mentions stopping in Wendover, Utah/Nevada and watching the Goshute Indians eating mormon crickets (they explode every few years like the locusts). Now, 150 years later, back to bugs? I’m with your meal selection, especially with the correct choice of special fruit juice to go with it. Stay sane and safe (don’t eat bugs!).

    • I’ve eaten several different insects and they taste great. Quite nutty when fried. Mostly it is just a cultural problem.

      Chinese …. – often under exploitative, extortionist loan arrangements, to be sure.

      Oh you mean like western banks did with Greece ? Major banks acted like loan sharks. IMF and EU finance ministers refused to write off ANY of the unmanageable greek debt. Greece had to sign away the revenue of all it national assets and its national sovereignty ( it cannot pass any finance law without external approval ) .

      Don’t try to reassure yourself by externalising the problem.

      Anyone working for a “systemic bank” gets immunity from prosecution in all jurisdictions, so long as they are doing the illegal business of the bank and not doing it for personal profit.

      • Any Country whose government puts itself in hoc to any other country is run by fools.
        Like depending on China for inexpensive drugs and or consumables. Often inexpensive is a euphemism for Cheap…more often than not you do get what you pay for.

    • “Personally, though, I’ll stick with hearty beef, lamb, chicken, ribs – and really big bugs: shrimp, lobster, crabs and crawfish”

      So the problem is that locusts are too small? I’m sure that could be fixed with a few decades of selective breeding. Or maybe some genetic engineering. What could possibly go wrong?

  3. I remember seeing a network newscast several years ago that was about the Cicada bloom that hit the Chicago area. In that newscast the entomologist being interviewed picked one off of a tree and munched it down. There’s no need to import bugs for food, we can grow our own.

    • Locust have a face, so the residents of CHAZ will continue to starve. Good thing Domino’s still delivers vegetarian pizza.

      If you visit Central Mexico in the spring and a local takes you out to dinner, more than likely they will order Ant larvae for you to try for dessert. It tastes fine and you don’t have the crunchy legs.

    • I guess I’m not surprised to see you conflate accidental ingestion with purposeful consumption. There are maximum requirements for other contaminants in food, such as animal excreta (usually from mice) but that doesn’t mean we should be drinking glasses of mouse piss and eating horse shit burgers.

      Insects aren’t remotely as nutritionally dense as meat, crustaceans, or even beans, and require a great deal of processing to make them palatable to most populations – processing that adds scads of salt, sugar, fat and artificial flavourings.

      And before you think of it, don’t go conflating crustaceans with insects either. Crustaceans are nutritionally dense, meaty critters; insects aren’t, which is why they require that processing.

      • Hi Archer, – Bug eating cultures do not get into the “… great deal of processing …” which you elaborated. Westerners’ preferences that require catering to in order to profitably market insects are probably what you are thinking about with the “… scads of ….”

        As for nutritional density: edible insects are decidecdly nutritionally dense in the context of proportions of nutrients per dry matter of the insects. They are, however, small size livestock so in terms of numbers needed to compare with crustaceans (or ungulates) nutritional content that is where the disparity is. Of course some insects have a prodigious colony population characteristic & in those bugs that means their productivity per unit of area makes them a nutritionally valuable mass.

        That said, the economics of rearing insects for human food is blunted by the fact the insects require being fed & variations in feed stock result in some insect nutritional content variation. Last I checked it was cheaper to rear poultry in USA for edible protein than either mealworms or crickets in the USA for edible protein.

        • I’ll bet those bug-eating cultures are doing it out of necessity and not any kind of desire. I’ll bet they’d throw over those bugs if they had adequate access to real meat.

          • Actually Rhoda R many cultures relish eating certain insects; as evidenced by certain monetary premiums paid to obtain those for consumption. Possibly there is confusion among some in the west assuming that insects are a disproportionate high percentage of bug-eating cultures’ nutritional intake.

            If “… real meat …” refers to cow meat then I’d like to point out in many world climates that meat produced there is not as tasty as westerners are used to. Outside temperate zones the consumption of chicken meat is frequently culturally preferred in food dishes over cow meat.

          • I wonder how many editors or executives at PopSci and the FAO actually practice what they preach?

            I think we already know the answer to that question. It’s a number rather closer to zero than it is to one.

          • “I’ll bet those bug-eating cultures are doing it out of necessity and not any kind of desire. I’ll bet they’d throw over those bugs if they had adequate access to real meat.”

            Nope. Plenty of meat in Korea,
            Boiled silk worms are a tasty treat.

      • conflate?
        ‘I guess I’m not surprised to see you conflate accidental ingestion with purposeful consumption.”

        No, just pointing out that the aversion to bugs IS IN YOUR MIND.
        It’s cultural.

        you don’t need to try bugs, but understand you already eat them without knowing.
        so it’s not the taste you object to… it’s the IDEA of eating bugs.

        I used to object to eating raw meat, its delicious
        I used to object to raw fish, and live octopus, it’s delicious.
        I used to object to fermented milk.. haha, love that too.
        I used to object to eating organs, tried it.. love offal.

        there is a great video of some texans puking after eating boiled silk worms.

        all in their minds.

      • “Insects aren’t remotely as nutritionally dense as meat, crustaceans, or even beans, and require a great deal of processing to make them palatable to most populations – processing that adds scads of salt, sugar, fat and artificial flavourings.”

        wrong boiled silk worms require none of that.
        studies indicate that they also enhance the immune system and decrease inflammatory cytokines.

        https://everythingsilkworms.com.au/why-we-should-all-be-eating-silkworms/

        https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4241922/

        https://www.researchgate.net/publication/315775470_Uncovering_the_Molecular_Mechanism_of_Anti-Allergic_Activity_of_Silkworm_Pupa-Grown_Cordyceps_militaris_Fruit_Body

        https://www.researchgate.net/publication/233999366_Silk_fibroin_hydrolysate_exerts_an_anti-diabetic_effect_by_increasing_pancreatic_b_cell_mass_in_C57BLKsJ-dbdb_mice

  4. “Blah blah blah… served up at the Republican National Convention”. All we needed to know.

    217 days and counting.

    And just so as you know, you (Muricans) are already eating insects, insect larvae and eggs. And rodent droppings, mould, dirt and grit, assorted filth… enjoy your wholesome, nourishing, Republican certified safe meal, citizens!

    https://www.fda.gov/food/ingredients-additives-gras-packaging-guidance-documents-regulatory-information/food-defect-levels-handbook

    • As much as you hate Republicans, those aren’t Republican rules. They’ve been in place for decades.
      Regardless, if you believe you know a way of processing grain without including any of that, feel free to put it forward.

    • You know nothing about agriculture, do you? When you’re harvesting grain by the square mile, it cannot possibly be a completely hygienic operation.

  5. In the past, I have seen video clips of African villagers harvesting locusts for food. Nothing new here.

  6. Don’t put down the bugs. I am sure they could be ground up and used as a protein supplement for beef, pork, and poultry production

    • Of course they could. But you can’t sit around waiting for a 100 year swarm. You can’t possibly sustainably (ugh!) harvest at volume from nature. So you’re left with farming insects, with all the same supposed problems as farming any other protein. It’s yet another green delusion.

  7. The Democrats little soirée in Milwaukee is going to be kept to a tepid affair. The Dems are claiming its b/c of COVID-19, but in reality they got to deal with keeping Senile Joe away from live microphones and their definite lack of enthusiasm for him.

  8. Swiftian, I suppose.

    Many (I don’t) already eat bugs, or their aquatic relatives…shrimp, lobster, crab, crayfish, langoustine. Other stuff from under rocks clams, oysters, mussels, the French – snails. Bon appétit!

    As for Africa’s protein shortage: McDonalds.

    ‘The FAO study says bugs can have twice as much protein as beef and 1.5 times as much as fish and poultry.’

    ‘Can’… I spy a weasel-word.

    Anyway. No they don’t not mass for mass. Exactly how many locusts would you have to eat to provide the same protein as 8oz (220g) of steak?

    Either insects would have to be farmed in prodigious quantities, or very soon they would be extinct and a tearful David Attenborough making films about them and their plight.

  9. and while swift joked
    the irish apparently did eat kids
    while there WAS food available but it was shipped to the uk
    irish lives didnt matter
    hmm
    funny they havent started their own..oh well they sort of did, didnt they.

    ps theres a cicada outbreak due this yr I gather in usa
    curious to see if aus also gets one, been a while.

  10. About the headline: What US protein shortage? There is none and there wasn’t any. And the shortages of some meat and poultry products were minor. Supermarkets my way have continued to always have meat and poultry, merely with less variety than usual. I have always been able to find not only meat and poultry, but also milk, cheese, eggs, fish, also canned fish and meat and poultry, and the usual vegetable sources of protein.

  11. Bugs, it’s what’s for breakfast! Buttered butterflies, savory cockroach salad with a sprinkling of sauteed spiders, grasshopper and cricket enchiladas, steamed maggot pudding topped with fully hydrated ticks in lieu of raisins. And don’t forget a side of worms!

    • I have my protest signs ready! “Insects Are People Too!” and “Stop The Senseless Slaughter Of Insects On Our Nations Highways!” /s

      I actually used those to spoof participate in an ‘animal rights’ protest at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, back in the 1980s! Good fun!

      • Time to boycott Liberty Mutual Insurance. LiMu Emu in the motorcycle sidecar snapping up bugs as Doug drives down the road.

  12. Just when I am about to have breakfast. The loonies are becoming loonier. For anyone who has lived without utilities, their ideas are something they would not want if imposed on them. I will take the modern world with it’s imagined sins any day before going to extreme hardship and poverty.

    Now I can eat in peach and moderate prosperity.

  13. This time it will be a mandated famine and paradigm shift. Simon says jump, Simon says eat bugs, Simon says…whatever else the committee decides is best for you or them.

  14. They better be….non-GMO, no artificial flavors, gluten free, no artificial colors, no cholesterol, and no MSG before the bugs can be marked up in price from the wholesaler and distributor. Imported bugs will probably have more cache especially if sold with Canadian cannabis. Of course there will have to be a fuel surcharge added because of the extra high fuel taxes on delivery and a carbon tax for good measure.

  15. Nearly two centuries ago, amid a fungal infestation that destroyed Irish potato crops and brought famine, starvation, death, and the emigration of countless men, women and children, Gulliver’s Travels author Dr. Jonathon Swift offered “A Modest Proposal for preventing the children of poor people in Ireland from being a burden on their parents or country, and for making them beneficial to the publick.”

    Swift lived from 1667 – 1745. The Irish potato famine was mid 19c.

    Swift’s ‘Modest Proposal’ was aimed at the conditions of life in Ireland in his own day. It was published in 1729, anonymously. Over one hundred years before the famine.

    Swift has sailed into his rest;
    Savage indignation there
    Cannot lacerate his Breast.
    Imitate him if you dare,
    World-Besotted Traveler; he
    Served human liberty.

  16. In addition to directly eating insects, harvesting them for conversion to feed for livestock (pigs, chickens, etc.) or processing into protein powder to add to vegetable dishes might be a reasonable option. It would prevent this protein rich resource from going to waste.

  17. As a generalisation – democracies don’t have famines.
    Australia is a country of droughts and flooding rains. But the the droughts and floods don’t occur everywhere. The other parts of the country can always provide assistance.
    In places like Ethiopia there have also been droughts in localised areas, which lead to famine and death because other areas wouldn’t help.

  18. Crickets and spicy grilled silkworms. Crickets, silkworms, and grasshoppers are sold at 1,500 riels (US $ 0.35) per box, while other insects (giant water bugs, tarantulas, etc.) can be sold at 1,500 riels for each piece. The dish for the poor has become the iconic dish of Cambodian cuisine.

  19. I’m 55. I transitioned to a plant based diet in 2013. I can attest that it’s not true that humans need to ingest large quantities of animal protein to be healthy. I’ve never had lower levels of triglycerides or cholesterol in my blood. Lowest resting heart rate of 40. Lowest blood pressure, 119 over 69. Never had more energy. Most people think I look 40. I feel great and have the body and energy of a 20 year old. I can run almost as fast as I could at 20. And all of this without any meat, dairy or fish since 2013. In fact if you do the research you’ll find that the diets of Africans and many other less Westernized groups are actually superior to that of most Westerners where we now suffer from obesity rates greater than 50% of our populations with a tremendous personal cost due to lifestyle diseases like heart disease and cancer. I’ll take the rice, tubers and veggies over dying of heart disease before I hit 60.

    Although I do agree that facing starvation, it would be better to have a dense energy source than none at all. Sad that these impoverished people are kept down by their governments and do-gooder Progressives from the West that want to oppress them for the sake of a Potemkin energy free documentary.

    • You are exactly right, all the evidence shows that plant based diet is vastly more healthy. I myself eat pesco-vegan (small amounts of fish for omega-3 and cobalamin) very low-fat and feel and look outstanding. Not a single health problem with 48 and stronger than I was with 20…

  20. Mr Dreissen: Jonathan Swift died in 1745, just 100 years before the great “potato” famine which began in 1845 and continued until the early 1850s, when dryer weather lessened the prevalence of the fungus Phytophthora infestans.
    By then at least a million poor Irish people had starved to death, and another million or more had emigrated.
    Swift had observed that vast numbers of Irish were paupers, had been robbed of everything except their lots of children. So why not fatten up the children and let the English eat them?

    It’s known as satire. And Dean Swift let them have it!

  21. There is absolutely no need in animal protein at all. We already consume too much protein.

  22. I was an assistant with an entomology summer camp last year.
    One of the things that I had the chance to try were “Cricket Chips” made from cricket flour.
    I was pleasantly surprised. They were great.

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