Micro-Livestock: Why More Preppers Should Consider Farming Insects
When it comes to reliable, cheap protein, insects and other micro-livestock are among the best options available to preppers, especially if you have limited space or resources.
Farming Insects: The Argument
It’s purely a Western bias against eating insects that prevents most American preppers from seriously considering farming insects as an alternative. The same goes for green activists, who want to reduce greenhouse gases while eating their steaks.
This silly little bias passed down to us from our ancestors is preventing widespread adoption of a cheap, reliable foodstuff that we can grow ourselves in limited space, with limited water, and with less food required to get an equivalent nutritional benefit from traditional livestock.
Argument #1: Micro-livestock is more efficient.
Cityfarmer.org’s Insect Paper has an interesting chart on the comparative ECI values for livestock and these “micro-livestock” on page 9. They also have a diagram on the meat cut in a grasshopper on page 15 that I love for reasons I’m not sure of.
Producing a kilogram of meat from a cow requires 13kg of vegetable matter as feed. Yet 1kg of meat from a cricket, locust or beetle needs just 1.5 to 2kg of fodder, and produces a fraction of the CO2 emissions. The good news is that, not only do insects require less food to farm, you also don’t have to eat as much to survive, as they are an extremely good source of protein and vitamins.
Argument #2: Micro-livestock is better for the environment.
According to a guardian.co.uk article, two-thirds of the world’s farmland are used for and 20% of greenhouses gases come from traditional livestock. About 1,462 insect species are eaten in over 80% of the world’s countries, and we’re missing out on all of that because of the “yuck factor”. Back in 2008, Discover Magazine released an article about experts endorsing insects for exactly these types of reasons.
Argument #3: Micro-livestock is easier.
Farming your own insects is preferable to wild harvesting because insects may absorb pesticides from plants, and of course requires less work. Speaking of less work, there’s no butchering or vet bills involved with farming insects. You don’t even have to go outside, if you’re okay with raising ‘em indoors.
Argument #4: Micro-livestock is healthier.
The health benefits, beyond lower fat content, could actually be considered as part of a robust prepping strategy as well. Water bugs have four times much iron as the equivalent amount of beef, for example. And they’re not an exception or anything – check out Girl Meets Bug’s nutritional chart.
Argument #5: Most of the “yuck factor” is in your head.
Don’t be scared off by the crazy flavors of some of the more exotic ones. Especially before you see the recipes for insects I’m linking to below. Instead, remember that your expectations are framing your experience.
Dave Gracer, Advisor for Insects Are Food, has an answer that covers both sides of the coin: “One kind of answer deals with the details – dry-toasted cricket tastes like sunflower seeds; katydid like toasted avocado; palm grub like bacon soup with a chewy, sweet finish. Weaver ant pupae have practically no flavor, while the meat of the giant water bug is, astonishingly, like a salty, fruity, flowery Jolly Rancher. The other kind of answer is more theoretical and conceptual: often, insects taste the way that people expect them to. If insects were delicious then we’d all know it and we’d eat them, since we like delicious food. Whereas if insects are perceived, however incorrectly as disgusting, the chances that they’ll be deemed delicious are pretty low.”
I won’t be starting with the water bug, either, expectations and arguments be damned.
Selecting Your Micro-Livestock
Insectsarefood.com’s FAQ says that crickets, mealworms, and silkworms appear to be among the most popular insects to eat. If your local pet food store isn’t doing it for you, it also provides links to online vendors like Bassett’s Cricket Ranch. Mmm… jumbo. That part’s nice and American. Girl Meets Bug has a list of vendor sources, too.
- WikiHow’s article on raising crickets will get you started; exoticpets.about.com also has links to a few guides. I like that second one’s note that “escapes are almost inevitable.”
- HCMealworm has an article on raising mealworms.
Unless you’ve got ready access to Sago grubs in Papua New Guinea, Witchetty grubs in Australia or mopane caterpillars in South Africa, you haven’t heard about at least some of your farming insect options. But people are eating ants, crickets, grasshoppers, scorpions, bee larvae, wasps, dragonflies, cicadas, tarantulas, termites, locusts, and other things you very well might have around you right now. In Ghana, they’re making winged termites into bread. Sounds crusty. Girl Meets Bug has a great rundown on edible insects if you’re looking for a complete list of your more likely, familiar farming choices.
Place the bagged insects in the refrigerator for a half hour to slow them down, then cook them. Boiling ensures cleanliness, but frying and baking will do the trick too. If you fry or candy all your insects, you’ll be losing much of the nutritional value of them – keep that in mind. My favorite recipe, because of the generic nature of it, is the “Basic Cooked Insects” recipe on dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.com:
“Place ingredients in a medium-sized saucepan. Bring to a boil and allow to simmer for 30 minutes or until tender.”
- 1 cup cleaned edible insects
- 2 cups water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 dashes pepper
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1/2 teaspoon dried sage
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped onions
- Girl Meets Bug’s Edible Insect Recipes
- Iowa State University’s Tasty Insect Recipes
- Grasshopper Recipes with Real Insects
- Edible Insect lab recipes
Some bugs are poisonous, so don’t go hopping outside and picking up any old creepy-crawly and eating it just because I’ve made you so enthusiastic. Because of germs and so forth, you always want to cook your insects as well. Don’t go teaching your kids to eat bugs off the field like you saw on that Doomsday Preppers episode.
In general, avoid caterpillars and brightly-colored, hairy, or spiny insects per insectsarefood.com.
Marcel Dicke: Why not eat insects?
How to raise crickets (and worms)
Resources & Related Reading
- Insects could be the key to meeting food needs of growing global population – http://www.guardian.co.uk/
- Want to Help the Environment? Eat Insects. – discovermagazine.com
- What is Entomophagy? – www.insectsarefood.com
- The Bugs You Can Eat – dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.com
- Thai Insects – Popular Snack Food in Thailand – importfood.com
- How to Raise Your Own Crickets – wikihow.com
- Keeping and Raising Crickets – exoticpets.about.com
- How to Raise Mealworms – hcmealworm.com
- Third Millenium Farming – cityfarmer.org
- China’s Maggot Factories Hoping to Feed the World – worldcrunch.com
- Eating Bugs – reason.com
- Grasshopper Recipes with Real Insects – faculty.de.gcsu.edu
- Iowa State University’s Tasty Insect Recipes – ent.iastate.edu
- Edible Insect lab recipes – life.illinois.edu
- Girl Meets Bug’s Edible Insect Recipes – edibug.wordpress.com
and you must link back if you use it elsewhere.