Last week I wrote about how I ate crickets for the first time during a recent trip to Mexico City, calling insects the “next protein source.” Of course people in many countries have been eating grubs, ants, crickets and more for centuries, but I was referring to insect-eating in the U.S., where it doesn’t happen very often, except as a dare or party trick.

But there are real reasons that eating insects could become more mainstream, and the best is environmental; since conventional meat production involves not only animal suffering but also prodigious amounts of water use (and pollution) and significant global warming gases produced per pound of meat, what if 50 percent of meat-eaters replaced a couple servings a week with insect protein? (Instead of a pork Tex-Mex dish, maybe grub enchiladas? Or how about subbing beef jerky with aChapul Bar?)

As a vegetarian for 20 years, I don’t think I’d make a habit out of eating insects; I get plenty of nutrition and energy (and yes, protein too) from a plant-based diet that incorporates some eggs and a minimal amount of dairy. But I love to try new things, as I did in Mexico, and I think that almost anything that reduces meat consumption — including eating insects — is a good thing, both for personal health and the health of our stressed ecosystems. As our population continues to boom (and developing nations get a taste for the Western lifestyle), already-unsustainable meat consumption is set to double over the next 20 to 30 years. If insect-eating could offset some of that (and the data supporting that idea looks very good), so much the better. (Robin Shreeves reported that “bug buffets” have sold out in the Netherlands, so this reality may be closer than we think.)

 

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