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Patrick Murphy

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Buggin' Out: Urban Bug Farming for the Future

In many cultures eating insects is more than a delicacy – it’s a food staple. However, the use of bugs as a mainstream ingredient is a foreign idea in the developed world. As the human population continues to grow, we have to think about how to feed people. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has shown interest in using insects as an alternative food source. Due to their high concentration of the eight essential amino acids, vitamin B12, riboflavin, vitamin A, amazingly efficient converters that leave a much smaller environmental impact on the planet than cattle.

Once technologies are developed to produce insect-based food ingredients they can be incorporated into numerous food products. They would make great protein substitutes as any food additives to cereal, snack bars, or traditional meals. The high nutritional value, probiotic potential, and affordable price are just a few reasons why many Asian and Latin restaurants already offer insects on their menu.

Rethinking the urban farm and how to deal with the upcoming need to increase food supplies, Claire Lemarchand is planning a series of cricket farms to be placed throughout cities, that go beyond just growing bugs. Crickets are bred in cylindrical units surrounding a light source, to optimize yield, and are fed fresh food waste from the market and surrounding restaurants. While at night, the cricket farming units double as an urban lighting system.

Is urban bug farming a valid food source strategy? What other ideas could be implemented into our food supply networks? Or, could push the boundaries of urban farming and sustainable food sources to better prepare for future food demands?

Why Insects Should Be in Your Diet By Aaron T. Dossey

The Cricket Bigger Than Beef By Claire Lemarchand


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    Jun 4 2013: I think the largest problem with this is the cultural aspect. I’m pretty sure the last thing many people would want to eat are insects, especially in an American stapled diet. That being said, urban bug farming could be a valid food source given its nutritional capacity. Maybe if the insects did not come in the shape of an insect, individuals would be more open to the idea of a meat substitute.

    However, these methods are really avoiding the inevitable of over-population. Maybe instead of trying to feed a growing world, we should start looking into controlling growth before earth’s carrying capacity is reached. This way, technological expanse could keep hungry mouths fed while improving overall quality of life.

    As nice as this is, urban bug farming is just a band-aid to over arching problem of over-population. Unless this is addressed, food supply, our yet-to-be energy crisis, and environment are all at risk.
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      Jun 4 2013: I completely agree with you, this is a valid and interesting idea to feed a hungry world. But is this necessary for America or other westernized countries? I am not convinced it is or that it would even work. Insects have great indirect benefits for human with their ability to remove wastes, pests, to pollinate crops and much more. In the TED talk attached to this conversation, the speaker states we are already eating insects in almost every processed foods. That statement concerned me, not because insects are bad, but because if they are already there why are we going to promote their expansion. It's like you said, it will be very difficult to control the population of insect farming as we go. It could lend up in the same tragic manner that our traditional protein sources have degraded to (commercialize farming.)
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        Jun 4 2013: I think he makes the statement that bugs are already there because it proves a point that they're in our diet already and it's not causing any alarm, that's why the FDA allows such large amount of bugs in the food we already eat. I don't think we'll have to deal with some of those same problems with commercial farming due to how easy it is to grow bugs. They can be grown in such small area that land will not become an issue in the foreseeable future.
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          Jun 4 2013: very true I guess I just have a problem with processed foods in general so the insects aren't really the issue in that sense.
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          Jun 4 2013: But because insects are smaller and it would require lots of individuals for us to eat in order to meet our caloric/protein demands, don't you think (if this market took off) there would eventually be a lot of area used to "grow" insects? Creating yet another commercialized farming industry (such as poultry, beef, etc.) that could create the exploitation of land/insects for our selfish needs?
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          Jun 4 2013: John,
          There may be much concern over using insects as a new type of commercialized farming, but consider the impacts of using insects over something like beef. Beef does have about 7% more protein than giant water bugs or small grasshoppers, but something like a dried caterpillar has 1% more protein than beef. Also, insects provide much higher levels of nutrients such as about 30% of the fat and four times the iron as in beef.

          Concerning the spacing and overhead issues of growing insects we need only to look at the amount of water it takes to supply beef over crickets. It takes about 870 gallons of fresh, clean water to produce 1/3 lb of beef, whereas 1/4 lb or crickets only requires a moist paper towel at the bottom of their growing tank each week. This is because insects are much more efficient than cattle at using the water found in the feed. Also, insects are ectotherms. On average an ectotherm requires only 10% of that for an endotherm like a mammal of the same size. This means less feed and less water.

          Another important thing is to consider the effects of using ground insects as a grain flour replacement or filler. In Australia this is actually becoming more polpular not only as a novelty thing but as a common part of many people's diets.

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        Jun 4 2013: Ashley- I can understand why processed foods might sound gross, but its a plausible way to introduce them into our diet.

        John-I can see the worry of commercializing the bugs in ways similar to what has been done to beef poultry, etc., but while i agree it is an exploitation of the bugs and the land they are grown in, it may not be as detrimental to the growth of these bugs. They don't need to genetically modify most insects since they convert feed so well and can be grown in spaces similar to how the zebrafish were at the research center. These advantages should help with bug production and keep it from requiring too many modifications.
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          Jun 4 2013: I think we may want to relate this to how we colonized bees. And how the Honey Bee has been overbred because of its "byproduct" in which we have exploited and modified. Insects and Bees are vital to our ecosystem and I could see a scenario similar to the "vanishing of the bees" happen with other organisms that are crucial to our biodiversity. This of course would come with the capitalization on something like "insect meat" Not that I disagree with eating insects. But the commercialization, like anything......could spiral out of control. MUTANT BUGS! J/k
          Interesting idea though.
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          Jun 4 2013: Colin,
          With the breeding of animals we often have to either introduce a number of individuals from a wild population or from other captive population to keep genetic diversity among colonies higher. A higher level of genetic diversity leads to a greater chance of survival for that colony when a disease or virus hits it. Bee colonies are much different than a population of something like crickets. Crickets do not often live in groups and those groups aren't as organized as bee colonies. Also, all crickets can mate whereas only the males and the queen can mate in a bee colony leaving cricket populations to be much more diverse genetically.
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      Jun 4 2013: Alexander, I learned quite a bit about the food scarcity issues that many in our world are facing today in my international relations class this term. Yes, the population is growing, but it cannot be an excuse that the developed world uses to defend their horrific consumptive practices. An individual in the developed world consumes almost 30 times that of an individual in the developing world. We need to recognize the difference between absolute scarcity, insufficient resources no matter how equitably distributed, and socially-generated scarcity, insufficient resources for some and not others. In my opinion the scarcity issues we are facing today are almost completely socially-generated. This is why I think it is dangerous to rely on technology when our current agricultural practices, many that stemmed from the development of new technologies, will solve these issues. Not exactly related to eating bugs but an important point to keep in mind when discussing agriculture.
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      Jun 4 2013: I think you're right that insects would be more successful as a food source if they didn't look like insects. One way I can imagine doing this is through the production of bugs into "protein powder." Millions of Americans already use protein supplements as a way to get needed nutrients or even "bulk-up." I feel like if some sort of powdered supplement made of insects was marketed in the right way it could definitely be successful! Cricket protein bars already exist, like others mentioned, and I think with the right marketing bug supplements could become popular.
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        Jun 5 2013: i have to say, my big thing regarding using insects as a food source is as you said it, they look like insects. I think creating a sort of protein powder is an excellent idea in order to incorporate them into our diet. I realize that bugs are extremely nutritious, and that their benefits to the world are enormous, but they are still in my head bugs. Im sure im not the only one thinking this. I wonder if there are other ways that we can be eating the "bugs" without eating them? if maybe there could be like a dressing, or a seasoning, and again the protein powder. What do people thing? What other ideas are there out there that could be used for the bugs so they dont look like they are eating bugs?

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