The growing trend of edible insects has started many debates among foodies. It’s gaining popularity because It’s a great alternative source of protein because farming insects requires fewer resources and it can be done in ways that don’t harm the environment.
Some Google definitions:
- Vegetarian: a person who does not eat meat or fish, and sometimes other animal products, especially for moral, religious, or health reasons.
- Vegan: a person who does not eat or use any animal products.
Antoine Doré, who created the image above, captures how most vegetarians see eating insects.
By definition neither vegetarians nor vegans should even consider eating insects because they are animals. Whether or not they are sentient is another question that is currently being researched.
However research does show that insects don’t have nociceptors which inhibit them from feeling the same type of pain that humans feel. This does not mean they can’t feel pain though, you can read more about this here.
How are insects prepared for eating?
Since over 2 billion people in the world eat insects as part of their daily diet, even this question has many answers. But the most humane way to prepare insects, for example mealworms, is to place them in the fridge which makes them hibernate. Once they are hibernating they are thrown into boiling water so they die immediately. This is believed to be painless although, as previously mentioned, there is no data yet to back this up.
Mealworm example and comparison to cattle:
Mealworms live an average of 3 months and if they are hibernating in the fridge, they can live up to 5 months. When people eat mealworms, they eat the insect at the larva stage (where it looks like a worm instead of a black beetle). An adult beetle lays up to 500 eggs in their lifetime. These eggs hatch in 1 – 4 weeks and they become pupas (cocoons) in 7 – 10 weeks. You can see a video of their life cycle here.
The quick maturity rate of mealworms (and other insects) is another benefit of eating insects. It takes very few resources for them to become mature and it takes little time to repopulate them. With cattle, for example, it takes 2 years for a cow to reach maturity and be able to breed.
Here is an infographic from Six Foods showing the comparison of resources needed for cow and crickets. Did you know that only 40% of a cow is actually edible as opposed to 80% of a cricket?
Why SHOULDN’T vegetarians and vegans eat insects?
Disclaimer: Just because they don’t want to eat insects is a perfectly reasonable answer! No one has a right to force others to do something just because they believe it is right. But for the sake of answering the question…
The vegetarian and vegan belief is that animals should not be harmed for the survival of humans. Insects are animals too so they should not be eaten. Research does show that there are sufficient amounts of alternative protein sources for humans to survive without eating meat.
Recently there was a great answer on Quora explaining what would happen if everyone in the world stopped eating meat. Although human beings are born omnivores, there has been plenty of evidence to suggest that we can be healthy without eating meat.
Can humans really get all necessary nutrition without meat-based protein?
Again debatable, but research shows that the biggest problem with veganism and vegetarianism is the possibility of developing iron deficiencies, not lack of protein. This is because plant-based iron doesn’t absorb as easily into the human body.
Insects can play an important role here for those who are willing to eat them. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO): “… many edible insects provide satisfactory amounts of energy and protein, meet amino acid requirements for humans, are high in monounsaturated and/or polyunsaturated fatty acids, and are rich in micronutrients such as copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, selenium and zinc, as well as riboflavin, pantothenic acid, biotin and, in some cases, folic acid.”
There is also evidence of certain enzymes that could play a role in curing Alzheimer’s disease – although this, like everything insect related, still needs a lot of research.
Why SHOULD vegetarians and vegans eat insects?
Disclaimer: Again, no one is trying to force anyone to do anything! But here’s a few reasons why eating insects is something to consider!
There have been various articles about how eating insects will cause animals less harm. Some go as far as saying that replacing plants with insects can help the environment. Here’s one that the Huffington Post did a while back.
There are many reasons to become vegetarian and many do it to harm fewer animals. There are also vegetarians who choose to make exceptions and not follow all the strict rules: like many ideologies in life, it’s not always possible to follow 100%. (Is it even possible to live in a house, shop in a supermarket, use chemical beauty products and wear factory-produced clothing without harming animals? Don’t forget that most medicines are tested on animals.)
What is the purpose of veganism (and vegetarianism)?
If the ultimate goal is to help animals and there is proof that eating insects helps them, wouldn’t it make sense to give it a try? Imagine saving an intelligent animal that could live up to 15 years (a cow) by eating an insect that has a lifespan that’s measured in weeks and can be farmed without feeling the stress or pain that a mammal would. Wouldn’t that be worth it?
Since my opinion is clearly biased, I decided to ask about this on Quora to see what other people thought. Most of the responses were clear: vegans don’t eat insects because they don’t eat any animals. This is totally understandable and a fair answer, however my favorite response was from ex-vegetarian Pavel Georgiev:
“Veganism is both the practice of abstaining from the use of animal products, particularly in diet, and an associated philosophy that rejects the commodity status of animals.
Not all animals are equal in their ability to experience pain and desires. Ending the life of an insect is not equivalent to ending the life of a human in many respects.
Some vegans may argue that oysters can be eaten, despite their status as an animal, because they lack the biological systems that give rise to the sensation of pain and desire. Some people stick to a strict definition and don’t consider those “self-appointed vegans” to be vegans.
“Insects” include many different animals. Some people that call themselves vegans might find it okay to eat certain insects despite their ability to experience pain or desire because it may be a very limited ability.
Eating insects instead of plants could reduce the net suffering of animals since it is possible for many animals to suffer (that have a greater ability to suffer) from agricultural processes. The definition of veganism can be limiting for some because “animal” is a broad term and it ignores more complex ethical issues.”
Would you eat an insect if it could save a cow?