Here are the arguments in favor of bug eating:
- Relative to traditional meats (chicken, cow, pig, sheep), bugs require many fewer resources. (This and all future comparisons will be done on a per unit edible protein basis, rather than per unit animal weight)
- Bugs have more trace nutrients and less fat.
- We care less about bug suffering than chordate suffering. Possibly we don’t care at all.
Here are the arguments against bug eating:
- Bugs are gross.
Here is where 28 years of being unable to digest food becomes a super power. Most food and essentially all protein sources strike me as gross. So bugs aren’t that much worse than any other source, and I have a lot of practice overcoming disgust in order to eat.
My friend Brian held a bug eating night. He explains the rationale and practicalities pretty well, so I’ll restrict myself to talking about my personal experience, which can be summed up as “a million times better than I thought it would be.”
For background: I’m trying to train myself to eat meat. This quarter I’ve taken to cutting off slivers of salmon (for the omega-3s) and more recently duck (which is a wonderful combination of delicious when dead and malicious towards conspecifics while alive, which makes it feel a little more moral) and sauteing them until they’re charred through. When I say slivers, I mean slivers. I’ve been working on duck for a week and I eat at most two fingernail-clipping sized bits, prepared and eaten separately. For salmon I might do as much as 1/2 the volume of my pinky. I have small hands.
I pre-committed to eating at least one cricket, but that was all. The other bug was supposed to be waxworms, and waxworms are squishy. I don’t do squishy even when it’s not bugs. And I was going to be extremely proud of myself for just that one cricket. Eating a new anything is a big deal for me, and it takes time to adjust.
When the moment came I ate several (along with some HCl pills), and walked away, supremely satisfied in myself for trying a new thing and not freaking out about it. And then I started getting that itch to eat more, that means the thing in front of me has some trace nutrient I’m short on. So I did. And I asked for some to take home.
I got off easy on the waxworms because they were burnt so badly they ended up not serving them. But there were mealworms. Mealworms were served as taco fillings, but as it turns out I’d rather eat a bug than a taco (the variation in textures freaks me out). Mealworms were wetter and more fibrous, so you had to chew them more (although don’t skimp on chewing crickets, catching a leg in your throat feels gross). The had their own taste, which I didn’t care for at first but could probably grow to be okay with. I think I like it better than chicken (aka bad tofu) and beef, but not as much as duck or pork, and by pork I mean bacon.
At the end of the night I had a slight stomach ache. I’d brought HCl but no digestive enzymes, and my stomach was clearly struggling to keep up. But I get that with all new foods and any significant amount of protein, so I don’t hold it against the bugs.
Some of ease of eating was undoubtedly the environment. Brian, John, and their blogless roommates have a pre-existing tradition of communal meals that I love, and that makes eating easier. it was also supremely gratifying to have other people share my attitude that the food in front of us was gross but we were going to eat it anyway. Constantly being the only one that thinks that gets really lonely. I flinched a little bit when I went to eat the cricket leftovers this morning. But then I ate them, and it was fine. Definitely better than duck, and duck is delicious.
Honestly, the biggest down side is that for all that bugs take many fewer resources than chordate meat, they are currently much more expensive. One pound of edible cricket is ~$13/pound, which is as much as the grass fed free range humanely cuddled duck I get at the fancy grocery store. I could probably grow them at home at essentially no cost, since they can live on food waste I would otherwise toss, but I’m not yet committed enough to deal with the noise. But even at this price I plan on eating more bugs.