I have a feeling that United Nations field and agriculture organization; UNFAO have gone nuts. Maybe I am wrong and they are being very prudent and wise, but the latest advice from them, which I feel is bordering to being obnoxious and queasy, is definitely not for my palate and I am sure that millions of Indians, except for few tribesmen living in deep jungles, would agree and surely join with me.
A 200-page report, released at a news conference at the U.N. agency’s Rome headquarters says that we should eat grasshoppers, ants and other members of the insect world to fight hunger, boost nutrition and reduce pollution. The agency has given out in its report, a long list of reasons for this rather strange advice. The report says that Insects are everywhere and they reproduce quickly,, they leave a low environmental footprint. They provide high-quality protein and nutrients when compared with meat and fish and are “particularly important as a food supplement for undernourished children”. Insects are rich in copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, selenium and zinc, and also are a source of fiber.
Biologists carrying out research on nutritional value of edible insects, say that certain insects like beetles, ants, crickets and grasshoppers come close to lean red meat or broiled fish in terms of protein per gram. The report mentions that insects are extremely efficient in converting feed into edible meat. On an average, they can convert 2 kg of feed into 1 kg of insect mass. In comparison, cattle require 8 kg of feed to produce a kilo of meat.
UN agency adds that most insects are likely to produce fewer environmentally harmful greenhouse gases, and also feed on human and food waste, compost and animal slurry, with the products being used for agricultural feed. They mention in this report that at present 2 billion people worldwide are already supplementing their diets with insects, which are high in protein and minerals, and have environmental benefits. some caterpillars in southern Africa and weaver ant eggs in Southeast Asia are considered delicacies and command high prices. For people feeling queasy about consuming insects, agency says that they are already consuming bugs though inadvertently.
I wonder if FAO has given any thought to the environmental damage that would be caused if Billions of humans start consuming Trillions of insects. Insects are extremely important for pollination of flowers as well as for spreading of seeds through their excrement. They are also an important link in the animal food chain. If humans start consuming insects, what would their predators get? Perhaps FAO is thinking of building huge grasshopper or scorpion breeding farms. This also could create environmental difficulties as these insects would have to be provided with their own food again grown in astronomical quantities.
After reading this report, I remembered a cat; we had in our house. Along with milk and rice, which we fed to her, she would be always on watch out for insects and lizards freely roaming in the garden. But she was selective. She would never eat ants or white ants. FAO wants us to better my cat. It feels that we should not be selective but eat all kinds of insects. I somehow can not imagine myself, with my cat sitting my lap and both of us enjoying fresh beetles just picked up from garden.
Those feeling queasy need not read further, but agency’s “Edible Insect Program” is also examining the potential of arachnids, such as spiders and scorpions, although these are not, strictly speaking, insects. Just imagine going to a posh restaurant and ordering some fried grasshoppers and scorpions with some white ant rice!
I would prefer any day simple diet of lentils and rice with little salt and a piece of lemon. FAO’s healthy and nourishing menu cooked from insects is not my piece of cake. UN might want to take us all back, where we originated: the deep jungles of Africa and enjoy our insects with monkeys and apes. However, I am no game for it.
(First published in Akshardhool on 15 May 2013)