One of the great challenges of the 21st century is following a diet that provides us with the many nutrients we need for health, but that is also affordable and sustainable. Home bug farms may help to provide people with exactly these benefits.
A government report published in 2011 defined sustainability as:
“A system or state where the needs of the present and local population can be met without diminishing the ability of future generations or populations in other locations to meet their needs and without causing harm to the environment and natural assets.” (1)
Defining a ‘sustainable diet’ is therefore a complex issue, because are there really any diets that don’t, in some way or other, cause “harm to the environment and natural assets”? A vegan diet has the lowest carbon footprint, when compared to vegetarians and meat lovers (2). But the diet still carries a carbon footprint that impacts the environment.
But perhaps the focus should be on underscoring the most sustainable diets, or highly sustainable diets (at least relative to others) – those which don’t use up a significant amount of precious resources, or which contribute to dangerous levels of greenhouse gas emissions.
Veganism is becoming increasingly popular as a sustainable diet. And the American Dietetic Association said in a statement:
“appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.” (3)
A vegan diet can also be affordable if planned correctly, since some of the cheapest foods are vegan, such as rice, beans, legumes and certain fruits and vegetables.
But there could be other highly sustainable diets? And although vegans (or people in general) might be averse to the idea, including insects as a source of dietary protein may indeed promote sustainability. Home bug farms could provide the answer we need to the harmful environmental effects of agriculture.
Home bug farms
Image credit: Livin Studio
University of Applied Arts Vienna graduate Katharina Unger has built a domestic insect-breeding machine called Farm 432 (4,5). Using just a few food scraps you can convert 1 gram of black soldier fly eggs into 2.4 kilograms of larvae protein. Unger presents some arguments as to why everyone should grow insect larvae at home. She said:
“Black soldier flies themselves do not eat, they just drink. And they do not transmit any disease to humans. It’s about a potential new Western culture of insect eating and breeding. It’s about making people aware that there is a great variety of food on our planet that we rarely consider.”
Unger also designed the Edible Insect Desktop Hive (6). It raises mealworms (beetle larva), a food that has the protein content of beef, but without all of the environmental repercussions (7).
Unger, who is founder of Livin Farms (8), the company making the product, says:
“Livestock is a key factor for climate change. A large percentage of our diseases originate in animal production houses. Growing your own means knowing exactly what you eat.”
Insects as part of sustainable nutrition
One of the key components of sustainable nutrition is following a diet that doesn’t use up a significant amount of the planet’s resources. So while a beef burger might require 74 square feet of land (mostly for growing cattle feed), Unger’s domestic insect hive is tiny.
Currently, edible insects are expensive, with the current wholesale prices for freeze-dried Dutch mealworms, crickets and locusts at around £40, £90 and £160 a kg respectively (9). This means that steak is cheaper than the cheapest bugs. Nick Cooper, founder of company Crunchy Critters, says that:
“Farming crickets here consumes a lot of energy to keep them warm, and that has an environmental cost.”
However, this relates to crickets, which might not be the most sustainable kind of insect to farm. Matt Anderson, who co-founded Edible Bug Farm, has opted for mealworms (like Unger) because they can be raised at lower temperatures than crickets.
But if you want to eat insects in an affordable way, then home bug farms may allow you to do exactly that, since something like the Home Bug Farm is promoted as being an easy and affordable way to farm insects at home (10). And the sustainability advantages of home bug farms should be emphasised. Unger says:
“A pig cannot easily be raised on your balcony, insects can. With their benefits, insects are one part of the solution to make currently inefficient industrial-scale production of meat obsolete.”
Moreover, Unger’s hive can grow enough food to supply several meals a week, or around 200 and 500 grams of mealworms a week. Kitchen-style gadgets that people are using to grow vegetables do not match this kind of efficiency.
Unger believes one of the main obstacles to overcome is the ‘yuck factor’. But she thinks bugs just need some rebranding. After all, other foods have overcome bad reputations in the past, including potatoes, sushi and tofu. So there will need to be a cultural shift if people are to accept insects as a healthy and sustainable part of nutrition.
About the author: Sam Woolfe @samwoolfe
I’m currently a Writer at The Canary, covering issues relating to the food industry, drugs, health, well-being and nutrition. I’m also a Blogger for Inspiring Interns, where I offer careers advice for graduates. If you have a story you want me to cover, drop me a message on Twitter (@samwoolfe). You can also check out my travel blog (samreflectsontravel.com) and personal blog (www.samwoolfe.com) to read my articles on philosophy, psychology, and more opinion-related content.