You could call it the campaign for real grub. Scientists want us to eat insects – for the sake of our health and that of the planet.
They say that scoffing spiders and gobbling grasshoppers – or entomophagy, to use its proper name – provides essential nutrients, keeps down pests and puts much less strain on the planet than eating conventional meat.
Researchers from Ohio State University have described insects as "micro-livestock", while the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) earlier this year held a special conference on their benefits.
"Insects are the most valuable, underused and delicious animals in the world," says David George Gordon, a Seattle-based naturalist and author. The West "is one the few cultures" that doesn't eat them, he adds. "Maybe we are the weirdos."
Scientists at the National Autonomous University of Mexico have catalogued 1,700 different species and found that bugs are bolted down in at least 113 countries worldwide.
A plate of maguey worms – larvae of a giant butterfly – sell for £12.50 in smart Mexican restaurants. Sago grubs wrapped in banana leaves are a delicacy in Papua New Guinea. Large leafcutter ants are popular in Colombia. And wasps with rice was a favourite dish of Japan's Emperor Hirohito.
When pesticides failed to control locusts in Thailand, the government urged its people to eat them, and distributed recipes. The plague stopped. Now villagers plant corn specifically to attract them, so that they can be caught and sold.
Cultivating insects requires preserving forests, not felling them for agricultural use, experts point out, adding that it is perverse to use pesticides to kill insects that are more nutritious than the crops they prey on.
Studies have shown that insects are full of protein and essential nutrients – and contain much less cholesterol, and much more unsaturated fat, than other kinds of meat.
Entomophagy's proponents acknowledge that Westerners will take some persuading to ingest insects – especially if, as the FAO's Patrick Durst puts it, "they have to look the bug in the eye". But they point out the ocean's equivalents – crab, shrimp and lobster – are luxuries, even though these creatures are scavengers.
By contrast, Professor Gene DeFoliart of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, insists the most-consumed insects are normally vegans, "clean-living in their choice of food and habitat".
Diners, it appears, should complain if they do not find a fly in their soup.
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