Roasted grasshoppers on spinach and avocado

Roasted grasshoppers on spinach and avocado. © Chad Zuber

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Eat insects, save the world

Insects aren't just an unusual accompaniment to wine. Eating them could help sustain Earth's booming population, as Museum scientist Dr Duncan Sivell reveals.

Superhero movies may be popular right now, but when it comes to saving the world you might be better off eating a spider than being bitten by one.

Entomophagy - the eating of insects, arachnids and centipedes - isn't a new idea. It is mentioned in the Bible, as well as ancient Roman and Greek texts.

And according to Dr Duncan Sivell, Curator of Diptera at the Museum, Britain's suspicious attitude towards insect-eating is far from universal:

'The practice of eating insects is far more common in other cultures than in the UK. Some two billion people around the world eat insects as part of their regular diet.'

Dr Duncan Sivell, Curator of Diptera, stands holding a bug-catching net in the mountains above a lake

Dr Duncan Sivell, Curator of Diptera, on an insect gathering expedition

Edible insects

For one of the Museum's late-night openings, Dr Sivell created an event that challenged visitors' preconceptions with an unusual pairing of culinary experiences: wine tasting with edible insects.

A selection of insects - mealworms, grasshoppers, silkworms and giant ants - were each matched with a wine chosen by an expert to complement its taste.

'We wanted to use the event to draw attention to a food source that will become more common in the West,' continued Dr Sivell.

Insects are generally rich in vitamins like iron and zinc, as well as essential fatty acids like Omega-3.

They're also low in fat and a good source of protein - a 100-gramme portion of crickets can contain as much as 69 grammes of protein. 'Insects are nutritionally comparable to meat,' says Dr Sivell.

Paper cups of mealworms scattered over the surface of a table

Edible mealworms at the Museum's Edible Insects and Wine Tasting event

Sustainable living

Apart from the quick energy boost and healthier lifestyle, eating insects could also provide an economically sensible and sustainable way of life.

With Earth's population estimated to grow from seven billion to around nine billion by 2050, the growing demand for sustainable protein sources has put entomophagy in the spotlight.

According to estimates by the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization, the livestock industry could account for roughly 70% of the planet's agricultural land, with as much as 33% of all cropland being used to grow food for livestock.

In comparison, Dr Sivell says, cultivating insects requires less space, less feed, and generates less greenhouse gas.

'The massive advantage of introducing entomophagy into our diets is the respective resources needed by the two systems. Economically and ecologically, it's much more efficient to rear insects than livestock.

'And with the future issues we're going to have, and the energy and land required to maintain our current food consumption, eating insects is going to happen.'