Every now and then well-respected international organizations make statements that when heard out of context leaves you scratching your head.
On Monday, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) published a press release that discussed the general importance of maintaining forests around the globe. Nothing new there.
Yet buried midway down the release it states that eating insects found in forests can be very nutritious and might help with the obesity crisis and world hunger because they are lean sources of protein.
Of course, to Westerners the idea of eating bugs is repulsive, yet more than 1,900 species of insects are eaten around the world, mainly in Africa and Asia. And when put in the context of global hunger and an obesity epidemic, eating insects doesn't seem so extreme.
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"In the West we have a cultural bias, and think that because insects come from developing countries, they cannot be good," scientist and report author Arnold van Huis from Wageningen University in the Netherlands tells Reuters.
Van Huis says barriers to enjoying dishes such as bee larvae yoghurt are psychological. In a blind test carried out by his team, nine out of 10 people preferred meatballs made from roughly half meat and half mealworms to those made from meat.
“Insects usually are not the main staple of people’s diets but they are a very important supplement to diets because they are rich in protein, fats, and also vitamins and minerals," says Eva Muller, a director at FAO. "Also, they are the main source of protein for many people who live in and around forests.”
Muller says restaurants in Europe are beginning to offer insect-based dishes, presenting them to diners as exotic delicacies.
As well, there is an entire international food festival devoted to eating insects called Pestival that took place in London last month.
FAO representatives will be discussing their research on insects at the International Conference on Forests for Food Security and Nutrition from May 13-15. The conference will feature the launch of the publication Edible Insects: Future prospects for feed and food security.
The publication includes a database of edible insects that are reported to be used in various countries. FAO believes there is growing interest in insects and that they can help address the food security needs of a growing global population.
“There’s a huge potential that has not been tapped yet because currently, two billion people in the world eat insects but most of these are just collected and there’s very little experience in insect farming,” says Muller.
The FAO has funded a three year insect farming project in Thailand that involves 150 farmers.
What are your thoughts on eating insects? If you consider it a lean source of protein, does that make it more appealing?