5 Reasons Eating Bugs Could Save The World, According To Seattle's Own 'Bug Chef'

Jul 22, 2014

Seattle author David George Gordon would be more than happy to share his recipe for his three bee salad or cricket nymph risotto. Try the deep-fried tarantula, the bloomin’ onion of arachnids.

Gordon is known as “the bug chef,” and has written one of the more comprehensive cookbooks showcasing bugs and their kin. He is also a true believer in insects as a food source for an ever-hungrier planet, as laid out in a lengthy U.N. report last year.

He recently stopped by KPLU’s studios to chat with Tom Paulson of Humanosphere.org, which covers global health and development. With the global population on track to reach nine billion by 2050, Gordon laid out some of the reasons he believes eating bugs* can help save the world.

Sheesh kabobs!
Sheesh kabobs!
Credit Chugrad McAndrews of Seattle / "The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook," published by Ten Speed Press.

1. Insects Save On Food And Water

Large animals eat a lot; a Dutch study cited by the United Nations finds you need 25 pounds of feed to produce one pound of beef. Pork takes nearly 10 pounds.

But crickets? More like one or two. Raising cattle “doesn’t pencil out as efficient,” said Gordon. “You could probably float a small village in Indonesia” with what it takes to produce just a pound or two of meat.

And don’t get him started on water. It takes something like 2,600 gallons of water, according to the U.N. report, to produce one pound of beef. Edible bugs would almost surely take much, much less.

2. They're Not As Gassy

Cows are gassy. Deal with it. Cow farts and cow poop produce as much as 3 kilograms of greenhouse gases for every kilogram of weight they put on, according to the U.N. report (pigs and chickens are lesser offenders). That adds up fast, making up almost half of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions (which, in turn, amounts to 10 percent of the United States’ overall carbon footprint).

Most bugs, by contrast, produce almost none of the methane and ammonia that billow so freely from cows’ rumps. Mealworms, says the U.N., have almost a negligible carbon footprint. They could be a boon to poor farmers.

3. Rearing Bugs Doesn’t Take Much Land

“You could have little neighborhood collectives. It wouldn’t take much more than, like, a garage space," Gordon said. That could be a serious benefit for smallholder farmers in developing countries, where land, water and capital are scarce.

In Thailand, said Gordon, there are people who deliver cricket starter kits to villages, allow them to raise the bugs, and then return to buy the bounty. But there’s no reason this “microfarming” shouldn’t take off at home, said Gordon. “It could be right down the block from you,” he said.

How about some fried green tomato hornworms?
How about some fried green tomato hornworms?
Credit Chugrad McAndrews of Seattle / "The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook," published by Ten Speed Press.

4. They’re Highly Nutritious

Crickets are high in calcium, said Gordon. Termites? Rich in iron. Grasshoppers? About as much protein (by weight, dried) as beef. Bugs are really pretty good for you. The U.N. report notes that bugs have high proportions of omega-3 fatty acids, comparable to those in fish (and much better than beef or pork).

And most bugs are good protein sources. Scorpions, for instance, have lots of edible muscle tissue. “I like their tails and claws,” said Gordon. “There’s the equivalent of crabmeat in there.” Just take out the stinger first, folks.

5. They’re Delicious

That's according to Gordon. (It’s not like he’s alone on that; about 80 percent the world’s cultures already eat bugs. We’re the weird ones for being grossed out by it).

Gordon enjoys the nutty flavor of many a bug, but said his favorite just may be the waxworm — little white caterpillars hatched from a moth who lays its eggs in bees’ honeycomb.

“Here’s an animal that’s been eating wax and honey for its entire young life. So what’s not to like about that?” Gordon said. Bake them on a cookie sheet, he said, and they come out tasting much like pistachios. Or just sample one of Gordon's white chocolate and waxworm cookies (the recipe’s in his Eat-A-Bug Cookbook).

“If I did the blindfold test and gave you one, you definitely would ask for another one," he said. 

* Yes, it's true: not all insects are bugs (bugs are distinguished by their sucking mouth parts), and things like spiders and scorpions are neither insects nor bugs. But we're sticking with the colloquial uses here, taking our cues from Gordon and the UN.