A conference held in St. Peter this week treated attendees to cricket cookies and mealworm flour flatbread while challenging them to embrace insects as a vital food source in a changing climate.
“We need to recognize our aversion to insects is not with insects, but with looking uncivilized,” Julie Lesnik, associate professor of anthropology at Wayne State University, said during Gustavus Adolphus College’s 59th Nobel Conference.
The two-day conference titled “Little Body, Big Impact” featured innovations in insect science, and the speakers were researchers who have studied everything from whether flies get lonely to the global impact of insects.
In Lesnik’s presentation on Wednesday about the environmental and cultural impacts of food, she said people need to consume less, and that means consuming things that consume less food. Insects can be farmed and harvested locally — even in people’s homes — minimizing their environmental impact as a food source.
Segenet Kelemu, the director for the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) in Nairobi, Kenya, said insects are a good alternative food source, because they have a high protein content and are rich in micronutrients like zinc and iron.
More than 2 billion people eat insects worldwide, Kelemu said. In places like Thailand, the importance of insects in a person’s diet is taught from a young age.
Even if certain cultures won’t eat insects, they can be used to replace animal feed, Kelemu said. Most animal feed consists of fish meal and soy, and more than a third of fish caught in the ocean goes to feed animals, she said.
Meanwhile, forests in Brazil have been destroyed to accommodate the demand for soy production, Kelemu said. To produce 1 kilogram of beef, a cow needs to be fed 25 kilograms of animal feed, Kelemu said. To produce the same amount, insects need to be fed 2.2 kilos of food.
In her research, Kelemu successfully harvested a grasshopper from Uganda that will be available as a food source all year round. Traditionally, Ugandans harvested the grasshopper seasonally from the wild and served it as a delicacy.
The key, Kelemu said, was identifying the insect’s main food source. A graduate student collected and dissected the grasshopper and identified its diet as consisting of plants and another insect.
Not only are insects a good food source, they produce oils that can be easily extracted and can replace other oils used in cooking and cosmetics that are derived from plants, Kelemu said.
Switching to insects can help maintain biodiversity, mitigate climate change and solve malnutrition, Kelemu said.
Lisa Heldke, the director of the conference, announced next year’s Nobel conference will be focused on sleep and is titled “Sleep Unraveled.”
“Drive safely home, get a good night’s sleep and dream of insects,” Heldke said at the end of the conference.