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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 5 2013: The visual appeal is definitely the biggest hurdle I see in getting bug eating onto the mainstream market. There are ways to get around this, if you have solid justification behind why bug eating is clearly better than other meats, but I'm not sure there is a strong enough argument here.

    Let's break down the nutritional facts for a second. The average cricket weighs 0.6 ounces. If we convert to grams, it would take about 7 crickets to have 100 grams (the average serving size for a piece of meat). Most people could probably stomach 7 crickets, so luckily the issue is not that you have to consume unreasonable quantities in order to gain any nutritional value. However, in 100 grams of crickets there is only 6.7 grams of protein and an impressive 562 calories (according to Bay Area Bug Eating Society). Compared to the same amount of chicken, which has 21 grams of protein, roughly the same amount of fat, and only 172 calories, the nutritional value here is not in the bugs' favor. Crickets do out rank chicken in terms of other nutrients like iron, but so do plenty of vegetables. There are other insects like caterpillars and large spiders that offer better protein levels, though these insects are even less appetizing in my opinion.

    For some areas of the world that don't have access to meats or are restricted by religious and cultural beliefs, insects are a fine source of nutrition. But, I don't think we all need to jump on the bandwagon just yet and go bananas for bugs. A push to more sustainable agricultural practices will solve many of our current woes, including overproduction. Slowing down the food production process I think will lead to less overproduction and less waste. In terms of food demands, we have more than enough food in the world to support its entire population. So why are so many people still starving worldwide? There is a huge problem in how food is distributed and who is allowed access to food.
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      Jon Cox

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      Jun 5 2013: Great post! It is easy to get caught up in a new idea that appears to be just the ticket. Eating insects is not going to solve anything on its own, but it is possibly part of a solution. From what I can tell, if a portion of the typical western consumption of beef was replaced by an equivalent protein intake from insects, there would be some positive environmental impacts. Will eating bugs fix the food problems of the world? Nope, but there is lots of evidence suggesting that integrating insect protein into diets of developed nations is at least a small step in the right direction.
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        Jun 5 2013: John! you are exactly right, and I think that's a constant controversy when talking about food scarcity. We are looking for the short cut, easiest way to manipulate the environment for our benefit. This is an inconceivable method for solving something as complex as food production. As we learn from ecology and biodiversity, it is a combination of innumerable factors that creates a healthy ecosystem and it can be done on farms as well. Miguel Medialdea from Veta la Palma in Spain has managed to create the perfect farming environment where there are no negatives from the farming. Not too mention the outstanding benefits that result from his fish farm; actually purifying the water, bringing more diversity into the ecosystem, and the magic part, he doesn't even feed his fish. 100% unfed fish are raised in this natural sustainable farm. These kind of practices are what we really need more than the single save all food solution that everyone keeps desperately searching for.
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      Jun 5 2013: I'm so surprised that 100 grams of crickets has so many calories in it. Are there any other insects that have a smaller caloric value closer to chicken? I think, besides it being insects, that this could make people hesitant to eating them, especially since obesity is so prevalent nowadays and eating healthy and exercising is such a fad right now. I think maybe in developing nations where famine is more common this could be a good option. Insects are found everywhere, so growing them would not be too hard.

      I think we have to switch to a more plant-based diet. Insects are a good idea for getting some protein and other nutrients, but I do not think that it will replace cattle. Instead, it will probably just become another option on a menu as it becomes more acceptable, at least in developed nations.
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        Jun 5 2013: I got those stats from this website: http://www.planetscott.com/babes/nutrition.asp
        I cannot attest to the accuracy of the source, but, not knowing anything about bug nutrition, I can only assume these are good estimates. I found another source that doesn't list calories, but fat and protein levels in bugs and different types of meat. The trend there was the same: about the same amount of fat (except in beef and pork) but double the amount of protein. My initial thought when researching was that, because crickets are so small, you would have to eat a ton of them to reach the same amount of traditional meat and that would be a big turn off. Eating one cricket is fine, but 30 or 40? No thanks! Fortunately, and a surprise to me, it looks like that is not the case.

        Switching to a plant-based diet would be ideal, and better for overall health. I don't think we need to eliminate meat from the diet altogether, just be more conscious of where it comes from and how it is made. My family and I make a personal choice to buy meat and dairy products only from free range, grass fed cows farmed locally. Same goes for chicken (cage-free eggs, vegetarian feed). It is healthier to eat, more humane for the animals, and supports local, sustainable agriculture. It is more expensive, but worth it our opinion. If we incentivize this type of farming, feedlots will go away and it will become cheaper for everyone to have organic food. If you can stomach it, I highly recommend to you all the film Food, Inc. It highlights all the problems of conventional agriculture and its impact on human and animal health. It's funny how something as natural as raising a cow in a field of grass and not pumping it full of hormones and antibiotics is now such a foreign and stigmatized concept in the food industry.

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