Close to a decade ago, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization issued a report with a six-legged directive: eat more bugs. With the human population set to exceed 9 billion by 2050, we’re going to need new sources of food to satisfy our growing demand. Insects are a rich source of protein, already consumed regularly by some 2 billion people worldwide.
This has significance in the Southwest. The region is in the grip of a decades-long megadrought. The most extreme drought recorded in the last 500 years, it’s likely to get worse because of climate change. Insect consumption not only offers solid nutrition, it also saves water.
It generally takes more than one hundred gallons of water to produce an ounce of beef. The same amount of water produces over ten times as much cricket protein. But for insect consumption to become standard, one of the challenges is figuring out how to mass produce them at low cost.
University of Arizona entomologist Goggy Davidowitz focuses his research on this conundrum. His lab farms insects in a habitat-centric environment with a strong emphasis on the whole organism. One of the habitats of study is food waste. Davidowitz studies how to take the highly variable food waste stream and turn it into a consistent output of edible insects.
But what about the “yuck factor”? Davidowitz isn’t concerned. Every October, the University of Arizona hosts the Arizona Insect Festival, the school’s biggest visitor outreach event next to ball games. The Department of Entomology serves up a crowd favorite: mealworm, garlic and onion stir-fry. Davidowitz says, “We always run out. Always.”
This Earth Note was written by Reece Gritzmacher and produced by KNAU as part of a student collaboration with the Sustainable Communities Program at Northern Arizona University.