I was flicking through a British Airways Highlife magazine on a flight a few months ago and stumbled upon an article about eating insects as the future for cuisine. “People in the 80s used to think sushi and raw fish was totally gross, now it’s on every high street” one producer stated.

In the next few years eating insects is going to become totally normal.

But is it, really? And more importantly, should it?

In 2013 the U.N. released a report urging the world to start consuming more insects:

“It is widely accepted that by 2050 the world will host 9 billion people. To accommodate this number, current food production will need to almost double. To meet the food and nutrition challenges of tomorrow, what we eat and how we produce it needs to be re-evaluated…  We need to find new ways of growing food.”

I don’t think anyone can deny that with startling statistics like that, we need to think of better ways to feed ourselves and the arguments made for insects being a sustainable food source are many.

Compared with traditional sources of protein they require very little space to grow, produce a whole load less methane and pack an equal protein punch to their meaty counterparts: 100g of pork and 100g of crickets both contain 20% protein. 

However in a book published this year by the Nordic Food Lab entitled On Eating Insects: Essays, Stories and Recipes, writer Joshua Evans and his co-authors argue that insects’ universal sustainability is not always true.

Their argument is threefold:

  1. In some cases, wild-harvesting of insects may lead to overexploitation.
  2. Most commonly farmed insects are currently fed on cultivated grain, so this adds to the insects’ environmental footprint. Scaled up this means they aren’t more sustainable than conventional meat sources.
  3. Farmed insects require processing on an industrial scale like grinding and freeze-drying, all of which take energy.

Just like our hunger for quinoa leaving Peruvian farmers worse off, or our addiction to avocados causing deforestation, or even our desire for the freshest sashimi depleting the world’s fish stocks to irreparable levels, do we want a new food trend to cause more harm than good?

More research needs to be done, but the paper summarises:

“Overall, the realities of rearing insects on different substrates and on a large scale are yet to be fully understood, and may bring with them hidden or unforeseen environmental costs. The same certainly applies to the environmental costs of processing methods that tend to stay unmentioned in the marketing of insect products.”

It seems the two sides of this argument might reach the same conclusion as many other reports about our diets and a healthy lifestyle: everything in moderation.

Eating insects is perhaps something we should be considering more over the coming years as the world’s population booms.

But not to a point where it does more damage than we think it’s preventing.

Being mindful of the whole lifecycle of a product, just like that avocado you’re going to have on toast tomorrow, is key to seeing the bigger picture when it comes to these little critters.