Could entomophagy end U.S. and African protein shortages?
By Paul Driessen
Nearly two centuries ago, amid a fungal infestation that destroyed Irish potato crops and brought famine, starvation, death, and the emigration of countless men, women and children, Gulliver’s Travels author Dr. Jonathon Swift offered “A Modest Proposal for preventing the children of poor people in Ireland from being a burden on their parents or country, and for making them beneficial to the publick.”
Dr. Swift suggested that children too young to work could be eaten in place of potatoes. As he explained, “a young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious, nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricasee, or a ragoust.” Surely, he said, this is preferable to aborting unborn or murdering newly born children.
Of course, his proposal was only in jest, a sly response to the callous disregard many of his countrymen displayed toward the Irish tragedy and the plight of poor families throughout the United Kingdom.
Today, despite enormous advances in seeds, fertilizers, irrigation, mechanized equipment, pest control and agricultural practices, famine still stalks dozens of countries, especially in Africa. Millions still live on the edge of starvation, all too often kept there by despicable government agencies, pressure groups and financiers that despise modern agriculture, promote “agro-ecology” and even oppose Golden Rice.
Africa’s poverty, malnutrition, despair and premature death have been made even worse this year by one of the worst plagues of desert locusts in memory. Swarms numbering in the billions descended on East Africa, which was completely unprepared to cope with them. The first swarms unleashed even larger second and third waves, with swarms larger than Manhattan.
The insatiable insects are devouring millions of square miles of crops, pasture lands, gardens and forests, creating massive food shortages that could cause hundreds of thousands of deaths from starvation.
Meanwhile, coronavirus outbreaks among workers forced meat packing plants to close. Wendy’s took burgers off the menu at many locations, and the fast food chain’s customers are again asking “where’s the beef?” – echoing the iconic television commercials from 35 years ago. Pork is also in short supply, even as American pork shipments to China quadrupled in recent months. Chicken too is scarce.
But now we may have a fortuitous alignment of the stars, a happy confluence of events, wherein a modest proposal for abundant food in the form of locusts could benefit the hungry “publicks” of two continents.
Up to now, we have had an unhappy confluence of sick ideologies: the belief that too many people are a cancer on the Earth, depleting fossil fuels that are destroying our climate and planet, and ignoring what former Obama science advisor John Holdren insisted was a vital need for modern societies to de-develop, de-industrialize, and dictate to still-poor countries how much they will be permitted to develop.
The ideologies have forced too many Africans to continue living primitive subsistence lifestyles or pack into impoverished cities that lack basic energy, water, roadway, communication, refrigeration, hospital, sanitation, and employment opportunities. The locust plagues could turn this awful situation around.
Enormous nets strung between two trucks or airplanes could harvest millions of locusts at a time. Thousands could be employed constructing and operating food processing facilities, hauling insects to them, running them through roasting ovens and freeze drying machines, packing and shipping the finished delicacies to hungry families around Africa and North America, and teaching people to savor them.
Thousands more jobs could be created managing the new export and import businesses. Commercial airliners sidelined by COVID would be rejuvenated. Millions of people could go almost overnight from hunger to enjoying what Popular Science magazine has described as delicious, nutritious food, rich in protein and all nine amino acids essential for human development.
The new meat substitutes would give entirely new meanings to “in-flight meals.”
There is yet another benefit. These activities and facilities would require reliable, affordable electricity, on a far larger scale than can possibly be provided by wind turbines and solar panels. They will require coal, gas, nuclear and hydroelectric power plants. However, environmentalist pressure groups, UN agencies, the World Bank and multilateral (anti)development banks have been telling Africans that wind and solar power must be their energy future. They and the EU clearly won’t finance those power plants.
But perhaps Chinese agencies and companies will finance and build them, as they have in many other countries – often under exploitative, extortionist loan arrangements, to be sure. The projects could also be incentivized by a desire to resurrect China’s tarnished reputation for having unleashed the Wuhan virus on unsuspecting nations. They might also secure special prices on locust products that would be right at home in China’s wet markets and on its television equivalent to “Bizarre Food” with Andrew Zimmern.
Popular Science expresses deep concern that “raising cattle requires a lot of space and water, and more room for cattle means less [sic] trees, which in turn means a diminished natural capacity of the planet to process carbon dioxide.” Its writers clearly have no clue that modern non-organic farming with biotech crops enables fewer farmers to raise more crops, from less land, with less water and fewer pesticides, than any other farming methods in history – or that cattle typically graze on lands that have limited value for growing crops. They obviously have not read any of my reports and articles about the monumental impacts that wind, solar, battery and biofuel technologies have on farm, scenic and wildlife habitat lands.
Instead, PopSci cites a 2013 report by the ever-helpful UN Food and Agriculture Organization, which has worked for years with radical environmentalist groups to oppose modern farming, biotech and even hybrid seeds, synthetic insecticides and fertilizers, and even mechanized equipment like tractors. PopSci and the FAO extol the virtues of “entomophagy,” a fancy progressive term for eating bugs, not beef.
Indeed, they say, this could be “the answer humanity is looking for.” (If that’s the answer, it must have been a very foolish question.) The FAO report offers techniques for processing “edible insects” into tasty consumable products that can improve people’s diets and livelihoods, create thriving local businesses, and even promote “inclusion of women.” It has sections on overcoming the yuck factor and setting up industrial-scale processing operations. (I should have known the FAO would be ahead of me on that.)
The FAO study says bugs can have twice as much protein as beef and 1.5 times as much as fish and poultry. PopSci sings the praises of grasshoppers, locusts, crickets, ants and mealworms – whole or powdered – as snacks, desserts, guacamole or entire meals.
Mealworms have “an earthy flavor, similar to mushrooms or beets,” says Joseph Yoon, chef and founder of Brooklyn Bugs, a “catering company and education platform” in New York that serves an entire menu featuring insects. You can add them to brownies – or toss some salt on sautéed mealworms to get “protein-boosted potato chips.”
Since they are committed to saving the planet from fossil fuels, climate change, big corporations and modern technologies, people attending the next UN climate confab in November 2021 in Glasgow should expect to dine on an entire smorgasbord of tasty locusts and other bugs. Perhaps they can be paired with haggis, Scotland’s savory traditional pudding of bone broth, sheep heart, liver and lungs, onion, oatmeal, suet and spices, cooked together in the animal’s stomach.
Back here in the States, for the same reason, those delectable African locusts could figure prominently at the upcoming Democratic National convention in Wisconsin’s Brew City this August. They would pair very nicely with those pilsner beers that made Milwaukee famous.
Personally, though, I’ll stick with hearty beef, lamb, chicken, ribs – and really big bugs: shrimp, lobster, crabs and crawfish – served up at the Republican National Convention, accompanied by a good IPA.
Paul Driessen is senior policy analyst for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (www.CFACT.org) and author of books and articles on energy, environment, climate and human rights issues.