Posts Tagged ‘why eat bugs’

Why Eat Bugs #3: Humane Husbandry

July 14, 2014

Debeaking chickens so they can’t peck each other to death in their cannibalism-inducing close quarters. The “docking” (or dismemberment) of piglet tails to avoid insanely bored pigs from eating those tails off.  The feeding of cows to cows in the form of bovine-rendered protein disguised in their feed like a banal farm-version of the meat-pie scene in “Titus Andronicus.”

Industrial animal husbandry is a horror show.

And yet, however much I am disgusted by this horror show, the disgust is forgotten or compartmentalized or overwhelmed when I’m confronted with a plate of golden-fried chicken, the aroma of BBQ ribs, a medium-rare peppercorn-encrusted rib-eye. I can very much enjoy the delicious ends, however vaguely aware I am of the monstrous means.

Nonetheless, unease persists. I can’t bring myself to watch the industry footage in documentaries like PETA’s “Meet Your Meat.” In part, this avoidance is out of an anticipated annoyance of PETA’s expected shrill and self-righteous rhetoric (even if it’s delivered in the rich baritone of ).

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But it is also out of a refusal to confront the discomforting (and let’s face it, unnecessary) recognition of my own complicity in perpetuating institutionalized cruelty with my meat-heavy food choices.

Because with that recognition, my latent conscience will demand some action. And perhaps what keeps me in this passive denial is a sense that there are no viable alternatives.

Expensive and dubiously-labelled free-range options? Expensive perhaps as ethically-questionable pescatariansim? Bland and complicated veganism?

At my best, I practice moderation to mitigate the feelings of guilt. I go vegetarian once a week. Sometimes. I think. It’s been a few weeks. (Months.)

But what if chickens loved being crowded together? What if pigs naturally teemed in some wild pork pyramid? What if cows naturally and unproblematically feasted on each other?

Crickets, worms, ants, and many other edible insects prefer and thrive in these conditions. The despicable practices of commercial farming are humane when applied to insects. So these long-standing practices that have proven effectiveness in maximizing yields could be applied lovingly to insects without invoking the hypocritical outrage of folks like me.

Even better, many insects consume organic waste. So entomophagy can mitigate both my animal cruelty guilt along with my recycling guilt.

Tiny Farms even gives you the opportunity to practice you’re own ethical husbandry with their open-source farm kit. (I’m thinking about it…)

However, it still remains to be tasted how good of an alternative this is. I have not yet eaten a bug-only meal and am skeptical despite my fondness for the unconventional.

But I’m hoping there is more to bug-eating than just the superficial appeal of the bizarre. There are a lot of good reasons for eating bugs. (I have already considered feed-conversion rates and entomophagy’s carbon footprint. The humaneness of its production may also amplify the enjoyment. A lot goes into pleasure.

And I would be remiss in bringing up ethics without addressing the qualms of killing a living thing that feels pain. Genius David Foster Wallace’s perfect essay “Consider the Lobster” (that appeared in the 2004 issue of Gourmet as the most beautifully mispublished works in American journalism) tangled with the morality of boiling a creature alive for one’s pleasure.

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Maybe this requires its own blog post. For now, I can only admit my own perhaps flawed moral scale. I feel better about the consumption of a cow’s weight in crickets than putting one cow through the institutionalized terror of commercial beef production.

And speaking of lobster… if we can get over and actually charge a premium for the consumption of such a weird-looking gross bottom feeder (that eats whatever is on the ocean floor, like fish carcasses, droppings, filth, etc.), it may not be so much to get into a similarly-carapaced arthropod like the grasshopper that only eats grass in the open light of day. Seems like a pretty good alternative.

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Why Eat Bugs #2: Carbon Footprint

July 6, 2014

cicadas-&-silkworms-on-stic

In my continuing effort to persuade myself to get into eating bugs (or entomophagy…or “Prairie Shrimping”), it’s compelling consider the impact it would have on carbon footprints.

Not to poop in everyone’s 4th-of-July BBQ, but conventional animal protein production requires a huge energy expenditure, for…

  • growing a massive amount of feed,
  • transporting the feed and animals,
  • operating the feed mills, factory farms, slaughterhouses, and meat-processing plants,
  • keeping the meat refrigerated

Here are some comparisons to give context to the amount of fuel needed for your meat-orgy of a picnic…

  • It takes as much fuel drive a car 10 miles as it does to produce 1 half-pound beef patty.
  • It takes 1 gallon of fuel to produce 1 pound of grain-fed beef.
  • To provide the yearly average beef consumption of an American family of 4 requires over 260 gallons of fuel.
  • It takes 28 calories of fossil fuel energy to produce 1 calorie of meat protein.

[CONFESSION: I’m no carbon-abstaining saint (yet). I did buy 16lbs of shoulder meat this weekend for an epic ancho-flavored slow-roast. The amount of carbon dioxide this caused is equivalent to a drive from Madison, WI to Little Rock, AK… but this trip would in no way be equivalent in epicness to the resulting smoky-spicy tacos.]

The United Nations estimates that livestock-related emissions comprise about 14.5% of all manmade greenhouse gas output. That is a huge amount for an activity that doesn’t even register for many of us as a big energy consumer. (The top 2 are electricity at 32% and transportation at 28%.)

The world’s population is projected to grow almost 30% in the next 35 years, reaching 9 billion in 2050. If conventional animal protein continues to be relied upon, the already huge food-production emissions will continue to rise.

So about the footprint. A recent University of Oxford study determined how our eating choices impact our carbon footprint. Here’s a comparison of kilogram of carbon dioxide produced per diet-type…

  • Heavy Meat Eaters (“heavy” means 3.5oz a day…the average American eats 4oz): 7.19 kilograms of carbon dioxide
  • Medium Meat Eaters: 5.63
  • Low Meat Eaters: 4.67
  • Fish Eaters: 3.91
  • Vegetarians: 3.81
  • Vegans: 2.89(!)

To go vegan more than halves your carbon footprint. No need for public transportation or recycling to be an environmental good guy. Even just eating less meat can have a significant impact.

Although there are no numbers on the carbon footprint for a bug-only diet, because no one does this (yet… I think…), one can imagine it would be equivalent to the pescatarian/vegetarian numbers or lower. In insect-protein production, you do not have the extensive feed and processing needs of conventional animal protein.

So whenever I do confront my first insect meal, I can be consoled that I’m going from a carbon hoof-print to a teeny-tiny carbon ant-print. But will it taste as awesome as a 4-hour-roasted pulled-pork taco… eh…

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Why Eat Bugs #1: Feed-Conversion Rates

July 1, 2014

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I don’t eat bugs. Not in a significant self-aware way, at least. But there are many good reasons to. I want to list the reasons I find most compelling—mainly as an exercise of pre-emptive self-persuasion. So that when I am confronted with a bowl of crickets, I can use these reasons to help me to overcome my culturally-constructed food avoidance.

In other words, I will use reason to get over the gross-out.

By the way, there’s a word for bug-eating. It’s “entomophagy…” an ugly stuffy-sciency word that’s another barrier to overcome.

One big reason eat bugs involve feed conversion rates. It’s well known how unsustainable current animal protein production is. However, compare this to insect protein production.

For example, if you take 10lbs of feed, it gets you the following conventional animal protein:

chicken

5lbs of chicken

pig

3lbs of pork

cow

1lb of meat

However, if you take the same amount of feed—10lbs—and give it to crickets, you get…

cricket9lbs of cricket meat!

That’s so much protein!

Since bugs are cold- blooded, they are much more efficient at converting feed to meat than their warm-blooded counterparts…which have to waste energy keeping themselves warm. They also don’t have to grow things that aren’t edible, like bones and fur and beaks. You pretty much eat all of the the cricket.

From sustainability point-of-view, the advantages are clear. You get almost twice as much insect protein from the same amount of feed than you would from chicken. You get 9 times as much as you would from a cow.

With increasing population rates, this type of food source could be a reliable and efficient protein source. It’s already happening in Thailand. 

However, is this enough for entomophagy (or better… maybe call it “land-crabbing”?) to take off in the US? Although it’s a lot of crickets, they are still crickets.

Although, I haven’t (knowingly) eaten crickets yet (can’t wait!), the efficiency of their production is a good reason.

 

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