Food for the Future?

Recently the Natural History Museum in London sponsored the event, “Edible insects: food for the future? A tasting event with a difference.” The event was hosted by hunger expert, Meredith Alexander, the museum’s resident entomologist Stuart Hine and Chef Daniel Creedon.

The program consisted of an information session on insects as food and insects in food. Most people do not realize that food they commonly eat contains some insect parts. Most of these parts are tiny and go unnoticed. It is simply not possible to remove some insects from certain foods during processing, either commercially or with home cooking.

The information program was followed by dishes containing insects, including waxworm larvae, silkworm pupae, toasted weaver ants, fried crickets and chocolate ant wafers. Guests could ask questions of the hosts including, “Should I serve red wine or white wine with insects?”

North Americans and most Europeans will eat crustaceans and other marine arthropods but draw a line against eating insects. However, most cultures around the world consume insects as a routine part of their diet.

As the world population expands, production of meat to provide dietary protein will become increasingly problematic. Current research into rearing insects as food suggests that insects can produce more protein for less food input that common livestock such as pigs and cattle.

Mealworm Stir Fry Served at the Purdue BugBowl

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is a retired Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
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41 Responses to Food for the Future?

  1. Ying Huang says:

    Actually I’ve heard a word “Entomophagy” before. Its meaning is something like “the consumption of insects”. In my opinion, insects and spiders can both be served as food, which is not a piece of news because this phenomenon already exists in some cultures for thousands of years. Insects are abundant, cheaper and more nutritious especially in protein than other “normal food” such as chicken and cattle in our lives. They can also be delicious if cooked in right ways. Making food from insects may be a really popular, potential and economic pattern in the future food market. According to my knowledge, insects are widely served as food in South-eastern Asia. Even in my hometown Canton, China, insects are common in making wine and medicated liquor.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I think people should be more open-minded about eating insects. When you think about it, insects are fairly similar to crustaceans and marine arthropods. We do not have to eat the insects without cooking them either. I think that is a misconception of many people. They might think about the shows such as man v. wild, and survivor man, and we see them eating live insects. You can do that if you want, but i bet insects would be pretty good cooked. I also found it interesting that insects can produce more protein for less food input compared to the typical pig and cattle. This is interesting because that could possibly be a good food choice for people trying to lose weight. In an obese society such that we live in currently, any different options or ideas for weight loss is very beneficial. Reading about this post makes me more interested in tasting some cooked insects. If I ever get the opportunity to try some, I will be ready and open-minded.

  3. Cornell says:

    In my opinion people would eat insects to survive in the wilderness or in a situation where it was eat bugs or die. If you would eat them in extreme situations why not eat insects daily? Many people dont realize that a lot of the processed and fast foods we consume is much more worse than eating a bug. I quess I’ll consider eating bugs and eating healthier rather than eating fast food and slowly dying.

  4. Alonso Del Real says:

    I once eat a fried maggot before. It tasted like popcorn. However, I never again will eat an insect. I think it is weird that many cultures around the world eat insects as part of their daily diet. Even though many insects are actually nutritious, there is just something about them that makes me gag when I think about eating insects. I am just accustomed to eating “normal” food. But then again, we are all different. We all come form different backgrounds and customs. Healthy or not, I will never eat an insect again, but I have learned to respect those people who do eat them.

  5. S.S. says:

    I am not a huge fan of insects, especially when it comes to them being incorporated into a meal. I have tried a chocolate covered cricket before and once the chocolate was on it I honestly didn’t even realize I was eating a bug. However, it is not something I would like bring into my meals on a regular basis. As a whole our community is not one that accepts eating insects as “normal” but to many other cultures it is. I will be interested to see if more people are willing to try eating insects since they can offer more protein with less food intake. It seems like everyone is always on a diet and looking for ways to cut calories. Maybe this is going to be the new fad for a diet.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Although I find it weird, I also find it incredibly intriguing that insects contain more protein than livestock. It is not completely surprising that there are plant parts in our food, but that it not something that bothers me. I guess if nutrients are being added it’s just a positive addition to the normal food we eat today. I remember eating a fried grasshopper when I was younger for a class, and actually thinking it tasted okay. I also laughed at the comment above of an insect fad diet. I think that would be interesting!!

  7. Anonymous says:

    This is interesting. I would have never thought insects contained more protein than livestock. I also was not aware that insect parts were used in our food. I think it is important to be more open minded to eating different kinds of foods. As the article says, when the supply of meat begins to become a problem, where will we turn to get our protein? Insects might actually be a suitable option. They are probably a healthier choice than the food we normally eat.

  8. Kenny Zipparro says:

    Personally, I think the consumption of insects is absolutely insane. This is a personal opinion though. Many cultures around the world consume insects on a daily basis. So far, I haven’t heard of any problems occurring. It’s extremely interesting to know that eating insects may even be beneficial. Being a big weight lifter, I am always interested in new ways of supplementing protein into my diet. It’s just, the thought of eating waxworm larvae and silkworm pupae is absolutely disgusting. What is even more disgusting is the fact that there is most likely insect parts in the food that I eat on a regular basis. I never knew this fact till now and I wish that I never found it out. Oh well. Maybe, in the future, I will be brave enough to consume an insect. I am always game for trying new things.

  9. Cristina Mann says:

    I find it kind of gross that insect parts are in all of our foods that we consume, but at the same time I do not. Everyone has heard of people eating chocolate covered ants, but when one finds out that there are tiny insect legs in their raisins, they get freaked out. The difference between eating animals like pigs and cows compared to eating insects, is that people do not consume animals without cooking them, where as insects they may. I think just the thought of consuming insects grosses people out more than it should, probably because of the crunchiness and how dirty most insects appear to be. Personally, I choose not to consume insects as a supplement to protein in my diet, but maybe in the future eating insects will be a common thing.

    • Frank Loftus says:

      The difference between eating an insect and eating a crustacean is that insects are too small to separate the meat. When eating crab or lobster, people typically crack open the shell and only eat the white muscle tissue. With insects, most are so small that the whole animal must be consumed, along with all its waste, cuticle, and organs. The thought of eating every part of an arthropod is what disturbs me the most. I believe this is an evolutionarily beneficial behavior because it is not a good idea to eat the contents of an animal’s bowels. Many digestive fluids in the animal’s organs would also be harmful. We don’t like to eat insects because we would have to eat all the parts that our survival instinct tells us not to. I have eaten both ants and mealworms before, and both made me cringe. The thought of eating a grasshopper’s leg muscle does not make me cringe, although one would be hard pressed to survive on such a tiny meal.

  10. William Crowley says:

    Mealworm Stir-Fry does not sound too appetizing, although it is high in protein. Personally, I’d never touch insect food, mainly because insects seem dirty. However, those who can claim they’ve devoured an insect have my respect. It is interesting how insects are higher in protein than other highly consumed bodybuilding foods. Maybe, just maybe, will I consider an insect diet in the future– mainly to supplement the bulking I’ve been doing. In the meantime, I’ll stick to the protein enriched foods I’ve been eating at the dinner courts here at Purdue. But who knows, maybe in the far future we”ll see insects here in the dinner courts.

  11. Jim Slogar says:

    Personally, I’ve never seen anyone eat insects as food except on those survival shows you see on Discovery Channel, like Survival Man, where he eats insects only as a last resort when there isn’t any other food source around. From the sounds of it they are actually quite delectable, but I don’t don’t think I would be able hold it down just knowing I’d be eating bugs. I think it’s incredible that they are higher in protein than the traditional meat we’re use to eating, and I believe that maybe one day insect food will go mainstream in North America if we really do end up not being to feed our increasing population with livestock, but that day is a long way off.

  12. Stephen Talbott says:

    The idea of insects as food interests me. It seems as if countries across the world consume them as food, with the United States being the lone exception. This leads me to question whether this plays any role in America’s issues with obesity. I wonder what the exact nutritional content and value of certain insects would be, and if they would provide any advantages that other foods do not offer. From speaking with my TA, I learned that they are often rich with protein, and don’t have the carbon footprint that processed meats have. I am curious to know if insect protein has any benefits that meant protein does not. Personally, in order for me to eat insects there would have to be great nutritional value that I could not find anywhere else. Unless this was the case, I do not think I could include insects into my diet.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Have you guys ever watched Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern? New episodes usually air on tuesday and wednesday nights on the travel channel. In a recently newer show, Andrew traveled to Japan and tasted a large variety of insects. He claimed that Americans are spoiled and dont appreciate the smaller things in life (insects as a food). I agree with Andrew; I believe insects are a great natural food resource in the world that many people ignore. It has been proven that insects contain great sources of protein, calcium, and iron. I have never eaten an insect, but I wouldn’t necessarily through the entire idea out the window.

  14. Haojing Zhu says:

    I can’t wait to try some insect food! It’s been nearly a year since I had some unusual food, scorpions, snakes and such. They are rarely seen and provided in restaurant, but they taste really good! I’m sure the insect food will be accepted by more and more people in future. Besides, it’s nice to know that the insect can not only being eaten without hurting human’s health, but even good for our body. Hope to see the day people having a bag of insect snacks during their break time.

  15. Anonymous says:

    It is interesting to me to find out what other things in the world other than the common foods are edible. It feels like a true green aproach to consumption. Insects could prove to be a valuable source of food for us in the future as they have been for many cultures in the past. I have never tried an insect, but it sounds like I am not far off since they are in most foods we consume.

  16. SBS says:

    I think its only right to turn to insects as food. They make up a massive quantity of the earths biomass. It just seems … fair to eat them. It is i will admit a little of a step. Society generally rears us to believe that insects are dirty disease carrying menaces, but many people I’ll wager have had chocolate covered ants before. As the article says, we already unwittingly consume insect parts on a daily basis in our foods. Why not just make the small jump to whole insects. If other countries can do it, why aren’t we open minded enough to do like wise?

  17. Anonymous says:

    Growing up In the Purdue, area it wasn’t a completely abstract thing to think of eating bugs, due to the infamous Bug Bowl held every year. Because of the bug bowl as a child, participating in the cricket spitting contest or just eating your favorite bug in chocolate was considered the norm. It was very interesting to see that in many cultures around the world, eating insects is also considered a norm. It’s nice to know that there are others like that out there.

  18. Anonymous says:

    I went to bug bowl last year and tried the mealworm stir fry and I think it was cricket brownies? I didn’t want to do it at first but I ended up trying it. It was actually pretty good. I think that a lot of people are close minded when it comes to insects. If people had to survive by themselves I think that most people would choose to eat insects.

  19. Trevor says:

    When looking at the demand for food and increasing lack there of, especially regarding traditional meats it makes sense to turn to insects as a source of food. They are numerous which is the biggest issue with our meat supply now, more people, but not more cattle, pigs, chicken, or other traditional sources of meat. If we’re open minded enough to eat seafood I don’t see why the line needs to be drawn at insects, especially with other parts of the world excluding North America and Europe ahead of the curve and routinely incorporating insects into their diets. I think in order for insects being used as a source of food in North America an event must take place that leaves little alternative to adding them to our diet or it somehow becomes less “taboo”. In general we simply are too conservative and closed minded to go as far as eating insects.

  20. Anonymous says:

    I have heard of this type of thing before. Actually, when I was in middle school, I came to 4-H Round Up at Purdue University where they had an interest session about Entomology. We learn about what entomologist did for a living and types of food that contained insects or insect parts, like ketchup for example. At the end of the “class” they had cook some mealworms that we could taste. I tried one, and at first it was really hard to swallow because in our culture eating insects is gross, but it actually wasn’t that bad if you didn’t think about what you were really eating.

  21. Anonymous says:

    I have also tried a insect before, a mealworm to be more exact. Although this is a interesting topic on the subject of how to eat a insect in terms of what to serve it with I don’t believe this will catch on in western cultures. Although with the problem of a growing population and less less meat available we might just have to turn to a insect solution.

  22. Monica says:

    Last year, I went to bugbowl and tried some of the interesting food. I was pleasantly surprised by the meal worm stir fry. I think it’s really cool that other countries incorporate bugs into their diet. If others countries can do it, why not America? If insects have more protein than pigs and cattle, we should be incorporating them into our diet. I would be perfectly willing to try something new that has insects in it!

  23. Mistye says:

    I grew up in Texas and I ate a lot of of crab, lobster, and crawfish. I think that eating insects would be very similar to eating crawfish because you can’t open them up and pick out the meat if they’re really small. The only way to get the meat is to suck out all the insides with it. I love trying new and interesting foods and I would be willing to eat a dish that has insects in it.

  24. YEAJI LEE says:


    This post reminded me that I’ve eaten meal worms for several times. It used to be a famous snack in my country. It tasted nutty and I kinda liked it. On the way to my grandma’s house, it was always there because the only place that we could find meal worms was on the highway. However, I think insects are not going to replace meat for people to intake protein, but I think insects can be great snack for people who value the new experiences and their health.

  25. Sidney Stelly says:

    As I was reading this I was thinking how disgusting it would be to eat insects. But then I remembered i was actually dared to eat a grilled ant before and I don’t think it tasted horrible really. There wasn’t a whole lot of taste because it was such a little insect. But even if insects did taste good, I don’t think I would ever want accept it and eat them for enjoyment. Especially if it was like a cockroach or cricket or something. I’ll stick to chicken and beef!

  26. Jizhou says:

    Traditionally, European and American culture does not include insects as a source of food. Common people may found it hard to accept insects in their diet due to their unfamiliarity with insects. Also, some people are afraid of insects in born. With the scientific research development, more and more evidence was found that proves insects are good choices for people’s diet. We should propagandize the benefits of eating insects. Also, people who make insects food should continue to improve the skills of cooking and make insects meal more delicious and looks more eatable.

  27. Katie says:

    I think that people are extremely against eating insects. I have never tried them and probably never will but I think the reason for that is because our society does not accept it. Other countries eat insects so it is obviously safe to do but since it is not a normal thing to do here people are against it. If it was acceptable here I know more people would consume insects and be open about it.

  28. Keegan says:

    When insects and food come to mind together, people are disgusted. In the blog, they mentioned that it’s nearly impossibly to remove all insect parts from processed foods, which I believe working in a kitchen myself. If you were stranded on an island and was starving for food, I bet you would make yourself eat some larvae or a big, fat June bug.

  29. David Qian says:

    Few years ago, i knew that people in someplace in china starts eaten insects, like cockroach, ants, i think its very nasty…but right now i realize that all the insects contains protein.May be i will try to eat such insects sometime in the future. I think if insects appear on our dishes, it is better to transfer it into other style, like powder or mix it inside the food, because i think its so ugly of the insects itself. All in all, i think insects it very good method to gain daily protein, people should try use it in daily meal.

  30. Craig Mansfield says:

    I just watched the movie “Castaway” and it definitely reminded me about this post. I personally can’t stomach the though of eating insects on a regular basis. The only way I would eat them is as a one time thing or if I absolutely had to like Tom Hanks did in the movie. I do understand where people in third world countries must eat them as a source of food. I’m sure I would eat insects too if I lived in Africa. Since I have the choice I definitely choose not to eat insects as a part of my regular diet.

  31. Kaijie Sun says:

    When I read this post, I think people should get more widely diet culture in our future life, cause we live in an obese society now. People make a balance diet is very important to their healthy, and some ideas and methods can help people get better nutrition intake. Such like eating insects, they can produce more protein for less food, I think this is beneficial for people who was beset by obesity to loss weight. Actually, Insects are new kinds of food for people, but they really nutritive. So if I have a opportunity to taste them, it will be a good experience!

  32. Anonymous says:

    Different cultures have been eating insects as part of everyday life, and yet here we find it so taboo. I like to think that I am an opened-minded person and will usually try something once, but even I feel a little squeamish thinking about biting into an insect. Maybe I should start with something small and crunchy? We are also a society that is always jumping on the next bandwagon diet or health-food craze. With insects being pack full of protein, even more than livestock, I would think that more people would be interested in eating them. The idea of cultivating insects to eat is much more appealing than imagining being stranded in a jungle searching under logs for my next snack. If its served the right way I think I would definitely try it. Presentation is everything.

  33. Andrew Dittman says:

    It’s difficult to imagine a future in which consumption of insects in every day life is normal. If it were to happen I can say how i would feel about it, i suppose i would have to try eating insects first. Who knows maybe insects are quite tasty and this would be an inexpensive and plentiful food source.

  34. Joe Stark says:

    This is kind of a strange thing to think about that I haven’t before. Thinking about it now, however, there probably is a lot of insects still in common food that we eat. It is a hard thing to do to filter out every single bug out of the processed food we eat. I wouldn’t ever necessarily eat bugs as everyday food but I would definitely try certain ones if I went to different countries, and definitely if I was in a situation where thats all I had.

  35. Seul Gi Jang says:

    It might be surprising for most of people, but I remember I used to eat fried small grasshoppers when I was really young, and the taste was not that bad. When I had a trip to some Southeastern Asian countries, I tried various kinds of insect fries, and the taste was actually good as well. Insects as a future food seem like no surprise at all.

  36. iramsay says:

    It seems almost weird that, as humans, we haven’t considered the largest source of biomass on the planet as a food source. It would take some getting used to including insects as ingredients in foods, but as you pointed out in the article, a lot of processed foods already contain parts of insects, so maybe it would not take as much work to adjust as I think. I kind of wish the post had included what the attendees had thought of the food, but it was still a great blog post.

  37. HeidiM. says:

    With the world doubling in population by 2050 every aspect of food should be used. The addition of insect diet to America and other countries that are not used to the culture could help with the need for food. Although, I find it very hard for not only Americans, but even myself to be able to feel “ok” eating a worm.

  38. Alexander says:

    Seeing as the population of the Earth keeps growing and millions of people go hungry every day, I don’t see why insects haven’t yet been tapped as a reliable food source. If we could just get over the stigma of eating insects, then the food supply for everyone could be increased greatly. I do have one question though, which goes better with meal worms, white or red whine?

  39. Jeong Ho Lee says:

    Providing future nutrition with insects will be somewhat interesting ang actualy really help people with diet. When I traveled around Southeast Asia, in Thailand, I actually had a opportunity to eat bamboo warms. People in Thailand eat them as fried and these bamboo warms actually did not taste that bad for me. Also in Malaysia people eat cicada. Before cicada becomes an adult, when they are in molten stage, people in Malaysia seemed really enjoyed the molten stage of cicada.
    I also tried the cicada and it was very juicy and soft. I think it will be a great idea that if insects that are edible would be supplied as dietary or supplements to human beings.

  40. Kaitlyn Landis says:

    Growing up In the Purdue, area it wasn’t a completely abstract thing to think of eating bugs, due to the infamous Bug Bowl held every year. Because of the bug bowl as a child, participating in the cricket spitting contest or just eating your favorite bug in chocolate was considered the norm. It was very interesting to see that in many cultures around the world, eating insects is also considered a norm. It’s nice to know that there are others like that out there.

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