A lot of people go vegan to help the planet. But what if you could do something even better than eating plants? According to the FAO, 30% of the world’s agricultural land area is used to produce food that will be wasted. Fruits, vegetables, roots and tubers have the highest wastage rates of any food (roughly 40 – 50 %). That’s a lot! Thankfully, insects can turn all that food waste into protein, vitamins, and minerals.
Insects are biowaste conversion machines
Some food waste can be avoided by better technology and good habits, but things like rice bran or banana peels just aren’t useful in a human diet. Insect species such as the black soldier fly, the common housefly and the yellow mealworm are very efficient at bioconverting organic waste like that. These species could collectively convert 1.3 billion tonnes of biowaste per year (1). Other insect species, such as crickets, can also be fed organic side streams to help make insect farming even more ecological.
Mealworm is more effective source of protein than soy
One of the most popular protein sources in a vegan diet is soy. Unfortunately, soy has an increasingly large environmental footprint and its mass-scale production is anything but sustainable. To produce 450 g of soy over 900 litters of water (2) and 1,6 square meters of land are required and it releases over 400 g of CO2 into the atmosphere (3). Most of the soy grown around the world is also genetically modified and needs large amounts of herbicides, currently it is a leading cause of deforestation in places like Brazil.
In contrast, to produce 450 g of mealworm, only 1,9 litters of water and 0,1 square meters are needed (4). That’s a substantial difference. And mealworm is about 48 % protein which is very close to the 50 % of soy. And on top of all that, mealworms also eat a wide variety of waste streams, including grain by-products, dried weeds, and even manures from other animals.
Mealworms are already recognized as a sustainable alternative to soy in animal feeding that can greatly reduce the bulk of organic pollution in our waste stream. Plus an optimized mealworm production system can produce a week’s worth of protein for one person in less than 18,6 square cm of space. Being vegan is a step towards sustainability. Eating insects along with plants means adding a big leap to it!
1) Veldkamp, ‘Insects as a sustainable feed ingredient in pig and poultry diets – a feasibility study’, 2012, https://www.wur.nl/upload_mm/2/8/0/f26765b9-98b2-49a7-ae43-5251c5b694f6_234247%5B1%5D
2) David Pimentel et al., ‘Water Resources: Agricultural and Environmental Issues’, 2004 BioScience, https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/54/10/909/230205/Water-Resources-Agricultural-and-Environmental
3) Annika Carlsson-Kanyama and Alejandro D González, ‘Potential contributions of food consumption patterns to climate change’, 2009 American Society of Nutrition, http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/89/5/1704S.full
4) FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN), ‘Edible insects – Future prospects for food and feed security’, Rome 2013, http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3253e/i3253e.pdf