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Feeding 9 Billion People High-Quality Protein

By   /  March 10, 2014  /  Comments Off on Feeding 9 Billion People High-Quality Protein

There are lots of folks worrying about this problem, wondering how agriculture today is going to be able to feed everyone in the future. The solution may not be the agriculture of today, but something much different and outside our box.

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HultPrize

The Hult Prize is sometimes called the Noble Prize of the business arena.

On a drive to a speaking engagement in Tennessee, one of my fellow passengers brought up the topic of food security and the question that I’ve seen a lot lately: “How will we feed the 9 billion people who will be living on our planet by 2050?”  Given our current farming technology and natural resources it seems like a huge challenge. Fortunately, there are a lot of great minds working on a solution, demonstrating that humans are likely to adapt and change as they always have.  Today’s example is brought to us by the Aspire Team of McGill University. Their project to provide affordable nutrition to the urban poor earned them the prestigious Hult Prize in 2013.  How will they do it?  With insects!

The team’s research showed them that the vast majority in urban slums do not go hungry. They simply lack access to affordable nutrition.  Here in the U.S. we’ve labeled these areas “food deserts” because they lack grocery stores and other affordable food options, so people feed themselves by purchasing food from convenience stores or fast food restaurants. These populations may be overweight, even obese, but the low-nutrient foods they eat leave them malnourished.

Though you and I may not be ready to eat insects, 2.5 billion people DO eat them.  So Aspire’s solution is to improve access to edible insects worldwide.  They develop and distribute affordable and sustainable insect farming technologies in countries where eating insects is part of the culture.  This stabilizes the year-round supply of insects, creating income for the new “farmers” and lowering the price of food.

The McGill Aspire team accepting their trophy and check for $1 million to see their project to fruition.  They are a very accomplished group with degrees in neuroscience, law, Business Administration, and Computer Science.  One is even in medical school now.  Read more about them by clicking on the picture.

The McGill Aspire team accepting their trophy and check for $1 million to see their project to fruition. They are a very accomplished group with degrees in neuroscience, law, Business Administration, and Computer Science. One is even in medical school now. Read more about them by clicking on the picture.

In addition to eating insects in dishes as usual, they can also be ground into a high protein flour.  While I can’t see myself eating a bowl of grasshoppers, I can imagine eating bread, cake or even tortillas made from grasshopper flour. Imagine what that might do for folks on gluten-free or carb-free diets!  Aspire notes that ground insects can also be mixed in feed grain for feeding chickens at a reduced cost.

In an interview with the Boston Globe, Gabe Mott, one of the students on the team said, “Pound for pound, crickets provide approximately equivalent amounts of protein, four times the iron, and at least five times the calcium that can be obtained from eating beef.” He noted that they also require less feed, land and water than cows.

We could show you all kinds of pictures of insects on plates, ready to eat, or of people eating them, but that just raises the whole “ick” factor for those of use who have a hard time getting out of our anti-insect-eating rut.  (If you want to see pictures, go here. It’s the Aspire team’s website and blog.)  Instead, let’s think about how we might get over feeling grossed-out by eating bugs.

A non-profit in Austin, Texas has taken on this task.  Little Herds is working with governments, entrepreneurs, farmers, bakers, chefs and businesses to change views about eating bugs and to create a market of bug eaters.  They see children as a good inroad because as we know, young creatures are more likely to try new things.  I’ve also learned, from my speaking engagements that the techniques I use for teaching cows to eat weeds can be successfully used to get my audience to eat fried larvae and crickets.  After I toss them lots of candy, participants barely bat an eye when I ask them to eat a bug. “After all,” they say, “everything else you fed us was great!”

Look!  A grasshopper cake made from real grasshoppers!

Look! A grasshopper cake made from real grasshoppers!

This isn’t the only “Feed the 9 Billion” solution I’ve seen, so I’ll share more in the future.  In the meantime, if I invite you over for cake and coffee, don’t be surprised if I tell you I’m using high-protein flour.

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About the author

editor and contributor

Kathy worked with the Bureau of Land Management for 12 years before founding Livestock for Landscapes in 2004. Her twelve years at the agency allowed her to pursue her goal of helping communities find ways to live profitably AND sustainably in their environment. She has been researching and working with livestock as a land management tool for over a decade. When she’s not helping farmers, ranchers and land managers on-site, she writes articles, and books, and edits videos to help others turn their livestock into landscape managers.

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