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Let Them Eat Bugs!
Volume 15, Number 22: 30 May 2012

While perusing the scientific literature the other day, in search of articles to review on our website, I came across a paper by Joseph Lacey (2012) of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium. In it, he discusses how the concept of "just health," as articulated by Daniels (2008, 2009), can help to "justify action on climate change and guide climate policy within liberal-egalitarian societies," emphasizing that "health should be given the status of a primary good," and that "ideals of preventative health could fairly guide the main strategies open to climate policy, namely mitigation and adaptation," because such a noble "theory of global justice," as he continues, suggests that the nations of the earth must resolutely "strive for a global agreement on greenhouse gas reduction targets to make their mitigation strategies effective."

At that point, I drew a big "X" across the front page of the copy I had made of Lacey's paper, as a reminder to me to discard it after looking through copies of the many other unread papers piled upon my desktop. But the very next article I picked up to read completely changed my mind; for it espoused a most practical way of helping to reduce anthropogenic CO2 emissions and thereby draw closer to achieving Lacey's and Daniels' goal of planetary "just health."

This second paper, by Premalatha et al. (2011) - which was published in the journal Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews - has a two-part title, the first of which is "Energy-efficient food production to reduce global warming and ecodegradation," which concept is indeed a laudable goal. They note, for example, that "increasing pressure on land is making meat production from macro-livestock less sustainable than ever before," and that "to add to the diminishing pastures and broadening demand-supply gap of food grains are the shortages arising due to the diversion of some of the food crops for biofuel production," as well as the "increasing use of fodder for generating biomass energy," while the second part of the title of their paper reveals their proposed solution to the problem they describe, namely, "The use of edible insects."

Now I know that to many people this suggestion may seem whimsical, or even silly. But Premalatha et al. are dead serious, stating that their review brings out the irrationality of omitting "edible insects from the human diet given the generally higher quality of nutrition they contain as compared to food based on macro-livestock." In fact, they write that "the supreme irony is that all over the world monies worth billions of rupees are spent every year to save crops that contain no more than 14% of plant protein by killing another food source (insects) that may contain up to 75% of high quality animal protein." In addition, they note that Ramos-Elorduy and Pino (1990) calculated the energy values of 94 insect species typically used as food, finding that "of the 94 insect species analyzed, 50% had a higher caloric value than soybeans; 87% were superior to maize; 63% were superior to beef, and 70% were better than fish, lentils, and beans," with only nine of the species studied containing less than 30% protein. And as a huge added bonus, they report that "the production of insect protein takes much less land and energy than the more widely consumed forms of animal protein."

But are insects really eaten in any quantity in the real world? The four Indian researchers say that "as many as 1500-2000 species of insects and other invertebrates have been consumed by 3000 ethnic groups across 124 countries in Asia, Australia, Europe and America," citing the reports of MacEvilly (2000) and Ramos-Elorduy (2005, 2009a). Indeed, they indicate that the practice they call anthropoentomophagy (the use of insects as food by humans) is "an age-old phenomenon" for which there is considerable archaeological evidence which suggests that "mankind has evolved as an entomophagous species," as described by Sutton (1995), Vaiadez (2003) and Ramos-Elorduy (2009b). In Mexico, in fact, they report that some people even earn money by catching and eating grasshoppers, since the crop pest "is controlled by capture and use as food," which "enables hundreds of families to make a living from this activity," the annual profit of which "reaches almost $3000 dollars per family," with the amount of annual extracted biomass being close to 100 tons, as reported by Cerritos and Cano-Santana (2008).

In light of these and many earlier real-world observations, Gopi and Prasad (1983) proposed, nearly three decades ago, that the eating of insects by people "should be encouraged," and I would propose that all of the world's climate alarmists - who are so certain about the evils of anthropogenic CO2 emissions - should be the ones to show us the way in this regard.

Globe-trotting Al Gore, for example, could dine on wasps, bamboo caterpillars, crickets and locusts, which Premalatha et al. tell us "are sold as delicacies in the finest restaurants and food shops in Thailand." Or he may choose the very special rice-field grasshopper, which they say "is a luxury food item in Japan," as are canned hornets. And James Hansen: when in Mexico, he could feast on escamoles (the pupae of an ant species) and gusanos (butterfly larvae), which are sold there for half the price he would have to pay in Canada, where they go for almost two U.S. dollars per gram (that's over $900 per pound!).

And these meals should not be reserved for special occasions. No, they should be eaten in place of their current daily diet every day of their lives. For if these two global warming zealots are truly convinced of the validity of that of which they preach, they should be doing everything that they possibly can do in the way of demonstrating total commitment to their cause. Therefore, as I would suggest ...

Let them eat bugs!

Sherwood Idso

Cerritos, R. and Cano-Santana, Z. 2008. Harvesting grasshoppers Sphenarium purpurascens in Mexico for human consumption: a comparison with insecticidal control for managing pest outbreaks. Crop Protection 27: 473-480.

Daniels, N. 2008. Just Health: Meeting Health Needs Fairly. Cambridge University Press, New York, New York, USA.

Daniels, N. 2009. Just health: Replies and further thoughts. Journal of Medical Ethics 35: 36-41.

Gopi, B. and Prasad, B. 1983. Preliminary observations on the nutritional value of some edible insects of Manipur. Journal of Advances in Zoology 4: 55-61.

Lacey, J. 2012. Climate change and Norman Daniels' theory of just health: an essay on basic needs. Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 15: 3-14.

MacEvilly, C. 2000. Bugs in the system. Nutrition Bulletin 25: 267-268.

Premalatha, M., Abbasi, Tasneem, Abbasi Tabassum and Abbasi, S.A. 2011. Energy-efficient food production to reduce global warming and ecodegradation: The use of edible insects. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 15: 4357-4360.

Ramos-Elorduy, J. 2005. Insects a hopeful food. In: Paoletti, M. (Ed.). Ecological Implications of Minilivestock. Oxford IBH, New Hampshire, USA, p. 263-291.

Ramos-Elorduy, J. 2009a. The importance of edible insects in the nutrition and economy of people of the rural areas of Mexico. Ecology of Food and Nutrition 36: 347-366.

Ramos-Elorduy, J. 2009b. Anthropo-entomophagy: cultures, evolution and sustainability. Entomological Research 39: 271-288.

Ramos-Elorduy, J. and Pino, M.J.M. 1990. Caloric content of some edible insects of Mexico. Reviews of Society Qim Mexico 34: 55-61.

Sutton, M.Q. 1995. Archaeological aspects of insect use. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 2: 253-298.

Valadez, A.R. 2003. La domesticacion animal. Mexico City: UNAM, Instituto de Investigaciones Anthropologicas, Plaza y Vaides Editores.