What will you and your descendants eat in 2050? Will you enjoy a t-bone steak, a slice of swordfish, a chicken drumstick?
Not because you wouldn’t like to, but because that kind of food — animal flesh — will have become very rare. The developing world is clamoring for meat, but it doesn’t have the resources to enrich its diet with a fraction of the meat now consumed by the developed world. (You don’t have to go to Africa to see hunger. Fifteen percent of American households don’t have enough to eat.)
Even now, the earth doesn’t have enough freshwater or arable land to grow the crops necessary to feed its entire population of seven billion adequately. The additional two billion people projected by mid-century will remove more land from cultivation for housing and require a great deal more water.
The oceans, expansive as they are, won’t yield the same food they do currently. Overfishing is pushing large fish like swordfish and tuna to the edge of extinction. Climate change and the increasing acidification of the oceans is resulting in changed habitats on land and in the sea that are no longer hospitable to the same species. Fish, land animals, birds and plants are responding to the changes in temperature on land and in the sea by migrating away from the equator and towards the poles in both hemispheres. They will not find the conditions that allowed them to thrive in their native habitats.
What then will humans eat? Where will we find a source of protein? The answer has a large yuck factor:
Yes, insects. There are more than 1,900 edible species. According to a just-published U.N. FAO report, a quarter of the world eats insects, both cooked and raw. Grasshoppers are a delicacy in Uganda— they cost 40 percent more per pound than beef. Beetles and their larva, mealworms, are loaded with protein, healthy fats, fiber and minerals.
And that’s not all. The report demonstrates that insects are a very efficient protein. Crickets, for example, are 12 times more efficient than cattle: 10 pounds of feed produces six pounds of crickets of which 80 percent (4.8 lbs.) is edible. Cows, on the other hand, produce one pound of body weight for every 10 pounds of feed, and only 40 percent (0.40 lbs.) of that is edible. Moreover, the proportions of protein (about 20 percent) and fat (5 to 10 percent) to body weight in meat is about the same as those of insects.
Their efficiency extends to their impact on the environment: they produce much less greenhouse gases (methane, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide) and require much less land than livestock do for every pound of protein produced.
So get over it. Did you ever open a bag of flour that you’d kept too long and found little bugs feasting and living in it? You had to throw it away. But now, according to the National Geographic Magazine, you will soon be able to buy “bug flour”— flour made from grains and ground insects. Eat up, eat healthy and save the planet!