Monday, February 11, 2008

Yum

If you all haven't read it yet, please read this article from yesterday's New York Times Magazine. It's short enough that it won't take more than five minutes to read, and it's a potential life changer.

It's about eating bugs, and I am both thoroughly amused and genuinely curious.

Apparently insects are nutritious: they "compare favorably to traditional livestock in available protein and fatty acids." Apparently they're safe to eat: while they "carry an abundance of microbial flora, they do not regularly harbor human pathogens like salmonella and E. coli." And, apparently, they "meet the test of environmental sustainability: they create far more edible protein per pound of feed than cattle."

David Gracer, writing teacher by day, insect chef by night, and the hero of the story, puts it nice and succinctly: “Insects can feed the world. Cows and pigs are the S.U.V.’s; bugs are the bicycles.”

I appreciate the power of the metaphor: we need sustainable food production just as badly as we need sustainable transportation. And I'm totally open to the possibility that insects are part of the solution. But questions have started swarming around my head. Like gnats.

...

Where exactly will we raise the insects? Initially as secondary commodities on already existing farms? Flies on cattle ranches? Worms under tomatoes?

Will we need special spaces or enclosures? Or will the beehive model suffice?

How will we harvest them? Nets?

How are animal rights activists going to react? Will Peter Singer* weigh in?

What about our historical tendency toward factory farming? What would insect production run rampant look like? Waste management crises? Energy crises? Ecosystem interruptions? Plagues of feral locusts?

Yikes.

I wonder what E.O. Wilson will have to say.

...

I guess there's nothing wrong with a head swarming with ridiculous questions. As I said, I am thoroughly amused. If anyone has any answers, please let me know.

*Note: I first tuned in to the connection between food and sustainability in 2002 when I read an article by Michael Pollan about Peter Singer. In his book, Animal Liberation, Singer puts forth a surprising but persuasive philosophical argument hoping to convince us not to eat or otherwise oppress animals. Pollan gives Singer's argument a friendly but thorough critique (thorough for a magazine article anyway) and then justifiably complicates things by introducing a medium-scale, diversified, sustainable livestock production project, contrasting it with factory farming, and wondering if there's a way for people to be responsible omnivores. This article will take you significantly longer than five minutes to read, but I reckon it's still relevant more than five years later.

2 comments:

Prairie Dogg said...

I think for farming insects as food product to become a serious mainstream hit its got to be as processed food product and not the original article. There's just way too much cultural bias about eating bugs to make it happen in my opinion. Does that seem trite?

Jake de Grazia said...

I hear what you're saying on the processed food product thing. I actually envision farmed insects finding its way into pet food with the quickness.

As for the cultural bias, I'm guessing that it isn't as strong outside the US. I mean don't you reckon Chinese people would be pretty psyched to throw down on some gourmet insects? I think when you go back to BJ, you should go on a bug binge for chinabites.com.