The U.N. Wants You to Eat More Bugs

A blog about business and economics.
May 13 2013 9:47 AM

The U.N. Wants You to Eat More Bugs

Of course the problem with eating insects is that it's kind of gross and they don't taste very good

Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Over the weekend I read a bit about Rand Paul's efforts to fundraise off an alleged United Nations plot to confiscate your guns, but they turn out to be up to something considerably more insidious—they want us all to eat more insects.

Now, on the merits, the case for insect eating is pretty strong. Bugs are high in protein, much like proper animals, but compared to—say—a cow "they have high growth and feed conversion rates and a low environmental footprint." Which is to say insects reproduce quickly, they grow quickly, and, since they're really low on the food chain, the plant-to-insect-to-food path is one of the least resource-intensive ways of converting solar power into fuel for humans.

Of course the problem with eating insects is that it's kind of gross and they don't taste very good. Having insects serve as a regular part of the human diet is by no means rare, as insect-mongers are want to point out, but that's because (unfortunately) living in intense poverty is also by no means rare. You see a lot of bug-eating primarily in places where people are very very poor and obtaining pork and chicken is a serious financial burden. Alternatively, when I visited Oaxaca I saw a lot of western tourists trying out some of the famous local bug-based dishes and naturally I joined the party. It's definitely the hip foodie thing to do and I by no means regret it, but nobody seems to actually return from these adventures and decide to become a regular bug-eater. By the same token, as countries get richer their populations seem to invariably eat fewer bugs and more meat. The main domesticated animals, after all, have been bred for centuries to make delicious and practical meals while insects are busy evolving for other purposes.


Ultimately, I think we're more likely to meet the U.N.'s goals by going in the opposite direction. Lab-grown meat is too expensive to be practical right now, but the technology will improve and the world will get richer. A downscale shift to bug-eating seems very unlikely.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.



The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

An Iranian Woman Was Sentenced to Death for Killing Her Alleged Rapist. Can Activists Save Her?

Piper Kerman on Why She Dressed Like a Hitchcock Heroine for Her Prison Sentencing

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

We Need to Talk: A Terrible Name for a Good Women’s Sports Show


Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.


How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

The U.S. Has a New Problem in Syria: The Moderate Rebels Feel Like We’ve Betrayed Them

Homeland Is Good Again! For Now, at Least.

Oct. 1 2014 11:48 AM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 1 2014 12:20 PM Don’t Expect Hong Kong’s Protests to Spread to the Mainland
Oct. 1 2014 2:16 PM Wall Street Tackles Chat Services, Shies Away From Diversity Issues 
The Eye
Oct. 1 2014 1:04 PM An Architectural Crusade Against the Tyranny of Straight Lines
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 2:08 PM We Need to Talk: Terrible Name, Good Show
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Oct. 1 2014 1:53 PM Slate Superfest East How to get your tickets before anyone else.
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 2:24 PM The New Interstellar Trailer Is the Most Exciting Yet
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 2:26 PM The Apple Graveyard Leave a flower for a dead Apple product.
  Health & Science
Oct. 1 2014 2:36 PM Climate Science Is Settled Enough The Wall Street Journal’s fresh face of climate inaction.
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.