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Improving relationships with insects includes an open mind to an insect-inclusive diet

Gina Hunter

Insects play a key role in balancing ecosystems, and they also serve as a source of protein in the diets of two billion people worldwide. Specifically, rural areas can significantly benefit from an insect inclusive diets.

Gina Hunter, a professor and director of Illinois State University's Office of Student Research, said insects are more environmentally friendly than consuming beef for protein.

“Beef production requires a lot of land. It produces a lot of greenhouse gases and requires a lot of water. It’s very environmentally unfriendly,” Hunter said. “It’s more sustainable to eat cricket protein than it is to eat beef, but they’re not more efficient than chicken, generally. Now we are scaling up in being able to produce more insects in some really highly industrialized settings. If you’re concerned about the environment, eat plants. That is the most sustainable diet.”

Hunter is the author of a new book "Edible Insects: A Global History," which not only delves into the historical role of insects as human food, but their contribution to sustainable future food systems.

Hunter said the insect industry is working towards making insect consumption more sustainable through many renovations, including increasing access to the black soldier fly. The black soldier fly will be used to process organic waste, such as grain from beer production.

“We have a waste problem, and they consume that. The black soldier larvae are super veracious eaters, and they themselves are very nutritious and are being turned into pet food,” Hunter said. “So that really holds promise for being much more of an environmentally sound and solution type food. We’re not there yet in terms of that being a protein source for human consumption.”

While eating insects is becoming an increasingly popular protein option and holds promise, many are opposed to this.

Hunter said the thought of consuming insects has been eliminated from many cultures' set of norms because it was seen as primitive or backwards. For Hunter, she believes eating insects has the potential to become more popular and viewed in a more positive light if people are educated on the methods of consumption from a young age.

“Proponents of insect foods often start with children. There’s a big resistance among adults, and this is learned. We learn that bugs are not something to eat, so we don’t usually eat them,” Hunter said. “I think it has a place in our food system, but I think if there is a reason to eat insects, it’s only because it changes your relationship to bugs.”

Hunter said eating insects allows individuals to become more curious and it opens one’s eyes to a more diverse diet. Additionally, it allows people like Hunter to be more appreciative of the impact insects make on the planet and have a better overall relationship with insects.

“The more I learned, the more curious I was about them. Instead of running away the minute something buzzes around you, you just stop and look,” Hunter said. “I think just curiosity and just trying them not just by going out and picking up some bugs in my backyard, I don’t really recommend that to anybody; you need to know what you’re doing. But following people who like to find and prepare insects and trying the products that are on the market is a good way to ease into the world of insect eating.”

Hunter’s new book“Edible Insects: A Global History” is part of the Edible book series. It can be purchased through the University of Chicago Press.

Jordan Mead is a reporting intern at WGLT. She joined the station in 2021.
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