Sunday, 27 November 2016

Eating Bugs to Save the World: Sustainable Protein

I ate a great big mouthful of bugs the other day but didn't know.  Until I realised what I'd done, I thought it was actually very delicious.

I suppose it really is not all that unusual for me to eat some bugs. Because I grow a lot of my own veggies, I'm sure I inadvertently eat a whole range of little critters (sorry critters).

This was different though. I was at a trendy Melbourne restaurant (quite out of my normal hang-out places these days). It was the main dinner of the Australian Urban Agriculture Forum. 

While we waited for our food the guests happily devoured the appetising-looking dukkah - dipping in the fragments of sourdough with olive oil. We all did it - we were hungry after an exciting and full program at the forum - everyone seemed to be enjoying this flavoursome snack. 

Bug Dukkah from The Social Project 

Then a young eco-chef and social entrepreneur, Ben McMenamin, stood up the front and asked the vast room of guests if we'd ever eaten bugs. I had eaten witchetty-grubs on a year eleven camp to central Australia back in the 1980s, so put my hand up (witchetty grub is a term used in Australia for the large, white, wood-eating larvae of several moths - toasted, they tasted a little like egg I thought). 

Witchetty grub. Photo: Sam Wiggington.
Anyway, Chef Ben, from the @socialfoodproject proceeded to tell everyone that if they'd just tasted the dukkah, they'd also eaten bugs. There was a collective gasp. Everyone leaned in closer and started poking at the plates of dukkah - and there, sure enough, you could see the mealworms, ants and crickets. 

Humans have been eating bugs for many thousands of years. They were for example an important part of the traditional diet of Australian aboriginals. It's a good fit too with paleo diets. Eating bugs is called entomophagy. 

Despite my initial reluctance to be a bug-eater, I  cannot help but be fascinated by this ancient practice and growing trend - bug protein. I see huge potential.  A diet based on bugs would be a cheap and easy way to replace protein from unsustainable monocultures such as soy,  and therefore significantly reduce our impact on local ecologies, planetary systems and communities.

Farming bugs does not take much space and could easily be done in urban areas on a tiny footprint, even stacked vertically. The food conversion efficiency of insect protein is about 20 times that of cattle protein. Entomophagy offers one possible solution to the global problem of food shortages, over-farming, and depletion of natural resources.

I had enjoyed it, but then my head got in the way.  I've grown up as a vegetarian and I am usually one of those people who are careful not to step on ant mounds, or squash a bug, or hurt a spider. I also apologise to butterflies when they whoosh onto my windscreen. (Sounds silly I know, but I can't help it).  

In addition to being very economical, edible bugs are also very nutritious - full of protein, micronutrients, vitamins, fatty acids - veritable superfoods. They contain more protein than most meats and fish, contain essential amino acids, and are packed with vitamins and minerals. Most are also very delicious! 

If you’re looking for a good place to start, crickets appear to be a popular choice - high in protein and calcium. They can be sautéed for savouries or dry roasted and made into a flour for biscuits, muffins and cakes. Popular choc-coated too. Each 20g serve of cricket provides 12g of digestible protein. A serve of crickets contains twice as much calcium as milk, twice as much iron than spinach and three times the potassium than bananas.

Fried crickets in Thailand.

Another good starting point is ants. There are approximately 2000 different kinds of edible ants. They can be roasted, toasted, stir-fried, baked, used in salads and sweets.

Apparently, pupae and larvae are the most commonly eaten insect forms around the world and these can be eaten with little or no processing - a huge advantage. 


  1. Do you already eat bugs? 
  2. Would you consider changing the source of your protein to bugs? 
  3. What's the best way you've tried eating them?

For more information about types of edible bugs here's a couple of sites to look at:



  1. Well done! Thanks a lot for sharing!

  2. I may have eaten bugs being an organic veggie grower (but I hope not).
    An interesting subject - looking forward to reading other comments.

  3. Wow certainly is a head thing !!..I fully understand the eco concept of eating bugs but the brain is just not going there...well done to those who can manage it. :-)

  4. That was very unethical of that chef to foist insects onto people without telling them what they were in advance. I would have been furious if anyone had pulled that stunt on me - and he wouldn't be doing it a second time.

  5. I just checked - and sure enough! You can buy cricket flour from amazon!

  6. I am afraid I would use a chicken as an intermediary between me and the bug

  7. I'm afraid I have to agree with ceridwen on this. I've eaten bugs and would again. However not giving people the choice is an unnecessary stunt, particularly in light of peoples allergies/food restrictions etc. It's a bit like PETA's recent stunt with serving dog milk. While their point may be completely valid, its unethical to serve something marketed as something else. Educate, there is no need for aggressive shock tactics.

  8. 2nd attempt at posting a response! I agree with ceridwen on this one. You were at a education forum, so educate and give people the choice about what they are eating. I've eaten bugs and I would again. But I get to choose what I eat. Using shock tactics like this is completely unethical and doesn't take anyone's food intolerances or preferences into account. It's like the publicity stunt that PETA are campaigning with at the moment, marketing a new type of milk that is revealed (after consumption) that it is dogs milk. Regardless of the validity of their point, it's an uneccessarily aggressive way to be heard, that violates the consumers right to choose. So, *yay* for bugs, and *boo* for cheap and tacky gimmicks like a surprise, post-consumption reveal.