There are a growing number of companies touting products like chips, protein bars, and cookies — all made from bugs. Cultures around the world have been eating different bugs for thousands of years. The people of Thailand enjoy grasshoppers, woodworms and crickets. Ghana relies on termites in the springtime. Mexicans enjoy a scrumptious worm in their Mescal. So why is it that the United States is just now joining in on this long-standing protein source that could potentially solve the food crisis?
The company behind the brands Doritos and Cheetos posted an innovation request on the US food and beverage’s site NineSights. Pepsico is asking for submissions for alternative protein sources that are easy to process and have a small impact on the texture.
Along with plat-protein sources, Pepsico included mycoprotein (insects).
This request is a big step towards insect-protein becoming mainstream. When a major food and beverage corporation is investing time and money into a product, you know it’s because they see a profitable future. Indra Nooyi, the CEO of Pepsico, even remarked that by 2026, the go-to snack would be made from bugs.
This shift couldn’t come at a better moment. The world’s population is swiftly growing, and so is the demand for meat, fish, and other proteins that are taxing on the environment and costly to raise. Estimations conclude that by 2050, the world’s population will be at 10 billion. At this rate, in the next 30 years, 70% more feed will be required for livestock, according to a 2013 Food and Agriculture report.
To put it simply, we can’t sustain the population on these animal sources for much longer. With an increase of population comes an increase in demand for food. We need to extend the amount of food produced while also conserving water and decreasing greenhouse emissions. With animals being the cause of 25% of greenhouse gases, that isn’t a possibility.
A 2017 study showed that insect farming has much less of an impact on the environment. Not only would greenhouse gases be reduced, but some insects contain more protein, pound for pound, than meat.
Even though over 2,000 species of bugs are consumed every day worldwide, people in the United States still hold a stigma against them. Our Western views of this food source are that of disgust and repulsion. So how do we get past this fear in hopes of a better future?
Currently, Americans hold an emotional response to the idea of eating bugs. We see them as creepy, crawly creatures that we try to avoid. A study was conducted by Sebastian Berger in Bern, Switzerland at the University of Bern to see how one could persuade people to eat insects. 180 participants were offered a truffle consisting of twenty mealworms covered in dark chocolate. Before receiving the truffle, participants went through an information sheet which contained an advertisement for a food company selling insect-based products. The message on the ad was either moral-based (“environmentally-friendly,” “good for the body”) or explaining how delicious the taste is.
The group that was given the message exclaiming the pleasure of insect-based products were more likely to eat the truffle.
Since our perceptions of insect are emotion-based, advertising telling us that insects are trendy, exotic, or hip have the potential to sway our views.
With such a clear benefit to both the environment and our health, I welcome insect protein with open arms. I had the chance to taste a few of these insect snacks, and the taste is no different than their grocery store counterparts. A few crickets in my cookie in exchange for saving the planet? I’ll take it.