People use 77 percent of the world’s agricultural land to grow feed for meat animals, even though they represent just 17 percent of calories consumed. Livestock emit 14.5 percent of climate change-causing greenhouse gases; farmed hogs represent a possible reservoir of pandemic-causing influenza viruses; chicken farming fueled the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria; and giant pools of hog waste threaten natural disaster every time a hurricane brushes the Carolinas.
But those aren’t problems with animal protein per se; they’re problems of scale and capitalism. And now the future of insects as food threatens to become every bit as industrial. Some European countries already have “mass-rearing facilities, enormous, like airplane hangar-sized,” Berggren says. But it doesn’t have to be a catastrophe. The newly buzzy insect biz is an opportunity. “If you start with totally new animals, we should be able to do it better. Knowing what we know now, what could we change if we started all over again, so we don’t continue to make it worse?”
The fact that few people are thinking about sustainability fits a pattern. “We think, oh, insects are going to be the silver bullet on protein and nutrition. But what about all this other stuff?” says Bob Martin, director of the Food System Policy Program at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. It happened with chicken, he says, and it’s currently happening with aquaculture, as people start building huge offshore fish farms and dousing them with antibiotics. It’s possible that the companies working on insects and fish have answers to some of these questions. They’re just not publishing them.
It still doesn’t make much sense to me that we spend so much energy and space to grow plants to feed animals so that we can then eat the animals.
Just eat the damn plants.