TED Conversations

Patrick Murphy

This conversation is closed.

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


Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • thumb
    Jun 4 2013: While I don’t know that the consumption of insects is the solution to the food scarcity issues being faced around the world, they do seem like a valuable source of protein and nutrients that could be incorporated more regularly into our diet. Some 80% of the world’s population already eats insects as a regular part of their diet (PBS, 2012), so the shift towards this practice would really only be focused in the United States and European Union. One benefit to eating insects include that they are cold-blooded, making them more efficient at converting energy to protein without wasted heat. They also don’t use as much water, and are overall healthier than meat containing less saturated fat and twice the vitamin B-12. Brian Fisher, an entomologist from the California Academy of Sciences, explains that there is also almost zero chance of any disease that affects insects impacting humans after it’s cooked due to our evolutionary distance.

    When I first saw Lemarchand’s designs for the Cricket Bigger than Beef I had concerns regarding rearing insects for consumption in urban areas due to pollution. From what I could find it doesn’t seem to be that big of a concern. The biggest concern for consuming pollutants comes from eating higher up the food chain due to bioaccumulation. Another concern I had came from the United States heavy reliance on pesticides. Then I began to think of all the food that is already consumed in the United States that is covered in pesticides and wondered if there was a difference between eating an insect that had been exposed to pesticides and eating an apple that had been directly covered in pesticides?

    So, even if eating insects isn’t the solution to the global hunger crisis it seems that it could be a beneficial new supplement for diets in the developed world. The edible-insect movement can already be seen occurring in the U.S. in the form of a San Francisco food cart called Don Bugito that serves insect dishes such as wax moth larvae tacos.
    • thumb
      Jun 4 2013: That's an interesting point, about the level of pesticide consumption when eating an insect vs an apple. I haven't been able to find any research on the topic, but given the specificity of most pesticides (which usually target the insects nervous system or cuticle) I imagine they tend to build up in target insects more than their host plants. If the pesticide is meant to bind to a region of the insects nervous system, it would probably only be an unlucky coincidence that it bound and held onto apple skin or some other unintended region.

      Ideally we would be able to keep bug farms and pesticide treated crops far from each other.
    • thumb
      Jun 4 2013: I'm glad you bring up the point of how the pesticides affect our diet. I'm sure some research could find some correlation between how much they pick up based on how much pesticide is used, but i couldn't find any. However, this has been a large issue with other cultures resulting in them ending their entomophagy. This could end up not being a problem but I think we need to look extensively at the ecosystem where insects are raised. Thanks to the large diversity in bugs I'm sure some species will be more suitable for growth in urban environments than others, but that could be very hard to determine.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.