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Geography in the News: Eating insects can be good for the planet – Europeans should eat more of them

Vicki Woolven

15th September 2022

Insects are a nutritious food source that can be produced more sustainably than conventional livestock. While eating insects is common in many world regions, in western cultures it is more likely met with disgust. How can we be encouraged to eat more of them?

As we look for more ways to increase food security and reduce the carbon footprint of our diet we need to start exploring less conventional food sources.

There are over 2,000 edible species of insects - they are high in fat, protein and nutrients such as amino acids - in fact their protein content is around 3 times that of beef. They are also high in minerals such as copper, iron and magnesium - which is why they are such an important staple of diets in many parts of the globe.

Insects are a much more efficient source of energy than cattle - they need between 5 and 10 times less feed to produce the same weight gain, and because they are cold blooded they don't need to heat or cool themselves, so lose less energy that way.

You can eat around 80% of most insects, compared to only 45% of a cow, and 55% of a chicken - therefore there is less wastage. Insects also reproduce much quicker, therefore you have a constant supply of food, using a fraction of the land, energy and water that livestock farming needs. To produce a kilogram of protein, mealworm larvae emit 14kg of CO₂eq, far less than the 500kg of CO₂eq emitted on average in beef production. To produce the same amount of protein, mealworm larvae cultivation uses 70 times less agricultural land than beef.

So, are we likely to start chowing down on insects in the near future?

The market for edible insects in Europe and America is growing - only 10% of Europeans stated they would be willing to eat insects instead of meat, however the edible insect market is expected to reach over $4.5 billion in the next five years.

But there needs to be a shift in attitudes to what is acceptable to eat - for years we refused to eat tomatoes in the UK as we thought they were poisonous! What we need is for insect consumption to become normalised amongst HIC - for people to embrace how easy they are to produce and how flexible they are to cook with (although as I type this I personally shudder at the thought of eating meal worms and crickets).

However it won't be just eating insects that will give us sustainable food security - we need a range of solutions - those solutions that we visit as part of the AQA GCSE spec when we look at Resource Management (well, for those of you teaching the food option, at least).

Read "Eating insects can be good for the planet – Europeans should eat more of them" (The Conversation)

You might also find this video useful, which looks at Entomos, the first company in Switzerland allowed to breed and sell edible insects as a more sustainable way to produce food.

Vicki Woolven

Vicki Woolven is Subject Lead for Key Stage 4 Humanities at tutor2u. Vicki previously worked as a Head of Geography and Sociology for many years, and has been a content writer, senior examiner and local authority Key Practitioner for Humanities.

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