Our Next Course May Be
Bugs & Invasive Species
Not to spoil your appetite but with almost 800 million starving in the world — despite producing more food than ever — and climate change squishing us away from the water, you may not care much for what’s for dinner.
Indeed, the main source of nourishment of tomorrow’s meal may be something you’re used to squash: insects. And if you’re not up to the crunch, and by flies, got the means to turn down all that protein, do everyone a big favor and go after some invasive species.
Any way you slice it, our meat and grain industry won’t cut it. Since stomachs are made to be filled, let’s hope that, rather than dirt and junk food, we develop a knack for recycling and regurgitating what we’re so used to toss. Bless our prophets, the Dumpster Divers.
To be sure, many already survive on a diet rich in crawling critters and hairy creepers, and one can tell by the way we say it, how deluded we still allow ourselves to be. But the time will come when we’ll learn or starve, and for the majority, it may be as simple as that.
It’s one thing, though, to eat what dwindling forests still have plenty to offer. It may take guts to pick one up and swallow it whole, but with time, anyone can be a forager. It’s an entirely different affair, though, for those living in the cities, just like most of us.
Again, we hope your stomach is strong, but that disgusting creature that just moved its antennae and scurried up behind your sofa may be on tomorrow’s menu. Along with the fat subway rodents and the unsanitary geese that no longer migrate away from that fetid city pond.
That’s when grown men will cry like inmates, to no one’s sympathy, and children will dispute with feral pets the scraps of civilization. Just like the increasing millions of landfill dwellers, we may need to engage into a higher survival gear, so the pickings won’t be slim.
The first two, arguably most important things anyone needs to know about eating bugs is, one, that it’s good for the planet. And two, that you may be already eating them, without knowing it. That’s not the case, of course, of indigenous peoples in pretty much all continents, who’ve been eating them from time immemorial.
Ants, locusts, beetles, worms, crickets, water… boatmen (we’re not quite there yet), flies and stinkbugs, are central to the protein (more)
ingested by African, Asian, Australian, and Latin American natives. Solo or sauteed with tasty vegetables, what hungry person would refuse it?
We would, of course, for as long as we’d have a choice. Trouble is, we may be running out of that too, unlike insects, which fester even when all else dies. Hey, even from inside the dead. Fine, we’ll stop here for now. But don’t say later that we haven’t warned you; it’ll happen.
The biggest argument, though, is that eating bugs beats eating meat, and the amount of greenhouse gases required to maintain live cattle (animals we reserve to eat as opposite to the ones we save for pets) is unsustainable. Forget lab meat: we simply won’t be able to keep eating flesh on such a scale, for too long. Unless, well, let’s let corpses lie.
In fact, farming conditions widely adopted to produce the food we eat is far from clean and it’s highly conducive to a reality that, like it or not, is already here: throughout the day, either in our food or just by breathing, we already eat bugs, and plenty of them. Again, we don’t want to spoil your appetite, etc, etc.
But it is true. And although we can’t simply go out and start picking and ingesting them, just like that, very few bugs can be harmful to anyone. Or rather, not the size we’re talking about here, anyway. Only if you consider viruses kind of bugs, albeit of the nano size, then it’s all about something else entirely, of course.
Talking about viruses, outbreaks may be the result of yet another fact of modern life: travel. As with spiders, scorpions, beetles and a variety of critters, cute or disgusting, now routinely found on planes, but most commonly on food from distant lands, so do those microscopic ‘aliens,’ that enjoy a ride and can sicken a city. Or wipe out a civilization.
But this is but a side effect of something we value about our lifestyles: go far away and come back, know new places and people, and still remain bound by our home. That’s a good thing. And if a big tarantula hitches a hike on a banana shipment and comes to visit us, so be it.
They’re all beautiful creatures, no doubt. But it’s understandable that you don’t want on of these so er anatomic different creatures to show up unannounced and spoil the slideshow of your vacation in the tropics, they still have the same right of sharing the world with us. But there’s yet another huge, and likely uncontrollable, trespassing of our borders going on, and unlike immigrants who come to help make this country great, they’ve got their own agenda: invasive species.
Remember those African killer bees? They’re still advancing, thanks for asking. But a more pernicious threat is the Asian Carp, for instance, which has been found in the Great Lakes and, well, seems to have liked what it found. Left alone, it’ll kill a number of native species and disrupt their already tenuous environmental balance.
Scientists have tried everything to prevent that from happening, but after almost a decade of efforts, they’ve all but conceded defeat. The only thing that hasn’t been tried yet, on an effective scale, may be surprisingly close to home: human appetite. See, if it becomes a staple of the American diet, we may be able to control it.
It certainly beats burgers and hot dogs, in terms of nutritional value. It’s biggest foe may not be our conservatism when it comes to eating new things, though, but a formidable adversary: the junk food industry, which makes billions of dollars just by gripping our pantries and won’t let it go without a fight. Still, Python soup, anyone?
But if you think that eating the beautiful Lionfish, for example, which is actually poisonous, or making sushi with Spider crab, just to mention two of the most well known invasive species of seafood, may require artistry and culinary abilities to accomplish, you’re right but many a successful chef are already on the case.
And having said that the corn and industrial farm complex are gargantuan enemies of any threat to what’s considered ‘American food,’ there are other challenges on the road to combat the threat of invasive species just by eating them: herbs and vines that simply can’t be eaten. Or can they?
They may, but perhaps a faster solution will be to adopt them for their potential to produce raw fiber and cellulose for garments, construction and a number of manufacturing applications. Plants such as the Japanese Honeysuckle, the Norway Maple, and the English Ivy, all stunningly beautiful and awfully decorative, came from far away places and are now a big threat to our native ecosystems.
Their exquisite appearance, like that of the Purple Loosestrife, may’ve been a reason for importing them, along ornamental and even medicinal purposes. But now they’re so widespread all over the U.S. that even their extraction is economically unfeasible. Another way may have to be found to co-opt these lethal beauties.
Blame it on globalization, which allowed strains and species from far sides of the globe to wreak immune systems and vulnerable environments. The same way that, from an economic standpoint, the opening of global markets has all but exacerbated the unbalance, for benefiting too few while disadvantaging so many others.
It may have been inevitable, though, and now we simply have to deal with it. But in the context of man-made disasters, like our fossil-fuel dependency, appalling distribution of resources, and indulgence of the one-use society, eating bugs and bitter-tasting herbs may be a much sweeter solution in the long run.
As we said, dumpster diving may become another one of those occupations we’d love to relegate to others, but that we may have to become skilled at ourselves, and soon. Food waste is one of those sinful byproducts of constantly indulging ourselves to every little whim that we may foolishly believe will make us happy, regardless of wasting irreplaceable resources. And now, now, now.
Let’s see how long will last the sense of entitlement of the squeezable minority, the one close to but not quite, at the top, before it’ll have to beg those immediately below it for a piece of the still-edible but passed-the-expiration-date pie, shared by everyone else.
OMEGA (3 FATTY ACIDS) MEN
Perhaps the counterpart of such dire prospects of hunger and miserable conditions to billions, is another time coming when landfill dwellers will have a seat at the table, and the main course of scraps will be more nutritious than the hormone-ladden protein consumed at the world’s most exclusive banquets.
We may digress but heroes fed on poisonous fish and chewy herbs may have a place, after all, among the pantheon of survivors who’ll inherit the planet. Better them than survivalist tribes of armed-to-the-teeth nuts, who may not even be able to emerge from their holes for lack of quality nourishment. And an aversion to bugs.
(*) Originally published on April 10, 2014.