“It is hoped that arguments such as the high nutritional value of insects and their low environmental impact, low-risk nature (from a disease standpoint) and palatability may contribute to a shift in perception,” the report reads.
Torres adds that the conception of bugs as pests contributes to Americans’ distaste for the idea of them as food. “One of the factors is we see insects on a daily basis,” he says. “We see them as a bug on the wall—not as, oh that looks good! But we should be eating bugs to save the world.”
The bug-obsessed scientist made the U.N. report his nighttime reading, and says he agrees with its essential argument: that the world population is slated to hit 9 billion in 2050, having enough arable land for farming will be an increasing concern, and insect farms offer bountiful nutrition at a less environmentally-impactful cost.
“The environmental factor of farming insects is so much lower,” Torres says. “Basically there are no greenhouse emissions, you can feed bugs side product from other industries, you can grow them vertically. You don’t need huge, grazing cattle ground. Theoretically, you could make a towering skyscraper and fill it with different types of insects.”
On an episode of Al Jazeera’s TechKnow, Torres enthusiastically tries sautéed dragonflies and consults with top chefs for easy-to-replicate recipes.
“There is such a diversity to eat, depending on the flavor or method of cooking,” he says. “There’s a bug for you.” Chefs have tried to popularize gourmet bug dishes, but Torres says he hasn’t seen it trickle down much, though he would love to be able to order such a dish on a first date.
Many countries already are "entomophagous," feeding on bugs such as beetles, mealworms, and grasshoppers as a culinary delight: 36 African countries, 23 in the Americas, 29 in Asia, and 11 in Europe, National Geographic reports.
Even if Americans can overcome their mental aversion, it will take a bit more to make insect consumption a viable alternative that you can find in the aisles of supermarkets. Torres includes perspectives from farmers and scientists in his TechKnow episode to investigate exactly how this industry might grow wings.
“I think it starts with a heavy investment in the infrastructure,” he says. “The technology in a cattle farm, compared to a cricket farm, is way more advanced and streamlined. Insect farming just doesn’t have the market right now. If the industry got the investment and stayed in contact with the FDA, it would absolutely do well.”
Insect food in the U.S. remains a niche industry, for the time being.
The Audubon Natural Institute in New Orleans offers an interactive dining experience in which the public can watch as chefs prepare insects, then sample at a bug buffet. It was here that Torres tried—and enjoyed—sautéed dragonflies. In the spring and summer time, traffic through the Audubon has them producing 10,000 bugs a week for patrons to consume according to Zack Lemann, an entomophagist at the Audubon Insectarium.