How do you prefer your burgers? Beef, cooked medium rare with a nice slice of cheese and avocado? How about with lettuce, tomato and a patty made from ground-up mealworms? Yeah, we know. But researchers say the global demand for animal protein is rising, even as using 70% of the world’s farmland for livestock is damaging the planet. And getting it from beetle larvae might just be our best, most sustainable bet.
Researchers in the Netherlands have been trying to figure out how to deal with the demand for animal protein, which is expected to grow by up to 80% between now and 2050, reports Fox News.
Clearing land for livestock can release global warming gases and mess up the environments where people and other animals need to live. Using animals such as cows, pigs and other livestock for food use a lot of the world’s resources, whereas science suggests raising insects for consumption could have less of a harmful impact.
The Netherlands scientists teamed up to delve into whether or not insects are actually a more sustainable food and found that raising mealworms released less greenhouse gases than producing cow milk, chicken, pork and beef.
In addition, it takes 10% of the land to grow mealworms than it does for beef, 30% of what’s needed in pork production and 40% of the land used for chicken in order to come out with a similar amount of protein.
“Since the population of our planet keeps growing, and the amount of land on this Earth is limited, a more efficient, and more sustainable system of food production is needed,” [a researcher] said in a statement. “Now, for the first time it has been shown that mealworms, and possibly other edible insects, can aid in achieving such a system.”
That’s all well and good, but then there’s the huge ick factor — as in, eating bugs? That’s icky.
Proponents of bug-eating say there are ways to make the idea more palatable — namely grinding them up and used as protein supplements in other food.
“The freeze-dried forms of mealworms produced in the Netherlands are easy to grind into a powder on your kitchen countertop. I have already used them with good success in brownies,” said an entomologist at the University of Montana.
No word on whether her coworkers were aware of this fact at this year’s holiday party.