Buggin’ Out

August 13th, 2011 at 3:45 pm

There’s something in this New Yorker article on eating bugs that made a lot of sense to the economist in me.  The person-who-eats in me felt differently, for sure.  But I have a feeling things and going to head in this direction in our lifetimes, and I think that’s probably a good thing (except, of course, for the insects themselves).

–the opportunity costs in terms of environmental degradation per unit of animal protein are a lot lower for insects than for cattle;

–they are abundant;

–the lifestyles of some commonly edible insects are less gross than you think—compare how a grasshopper lives to how a lobster gets by, for example;

–there’s obviously a huge cultural component here.  Lots of people around the globe eat insects.  The author tells of dining with a family in Oaxaca that enjoyed grasshoppers but were totally grossed out by shrimp.  I remember dining in Southern China a few years ago and someone next to me was loving a big plate of some big-ass beetles.

So I say don’t knock it until you try it…which is easy to say if you haven’t tried it.  But I think I would give it a try at this point, assuming they were prepared by someone who knew what they were doing.


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5 comments in reply to "Buggin’ Out"

  1. foosion says:

    In addition, Bernstein, who stepped down this spring as Vice President Joe Biden’s economic advisor, said the situation now is different from in early 2009, when there was a need for a large government stimulus.

    “In early 2009, you really wanted a Summers and a Romer in the room, the Keynesian contingent really pushing the administration toward as much stimulus as the market could bear,” Bernstein said.

    With Republicans unlikely to approve any new stimulus, it’s important to have Sperling and others experienced in negotiating with Congress, he said.


    Isn’t there a need for a large stimulus today? Don’t we need someone pushing the administration toward as much stimulus as the market could bear? Why do you need a good negotiator if all you are going to do is adopt Republican framing (govt must tighten its belt, the confidence fairy, the austerity fairy) and adopt policies that the Republicans endorsed a short while ago, before their recent spin into the ozone?

    • Jared Bernstein says:

      These days, I don’t think about a large stimulus package like another wide ranging Recovery Act. I think about a number of targeted measures amounting all together to significant stimulus–like a few percent of GDPs worth (2%??). The challenge now is less what should be in such a package as getting it through Congress.

      • foosion says:

        There’s what’s needed, what’s possible given congress (and President ‘tighten you belt and eat your pea’ Obama) and what it might make sense to push for. Those are likely three different things.

        At this point, we’d be lucky to get congress to pass extensions to the payroll tax holiday and unemployment insurance, to avoid the fiscal drag. That’s somewhat over 1% right there. If we could get some aid to the states to avoid fiscal drag from their cutting, that would be nice. Alas, it probably takes all the running we can do to stay in the same place.

  2. Nylund says:

    I forget the source, but I recall reading a piece that said that we’re not hardwired to know which items make good foods and which will poison us. Many people thought tomatoes were poisonous for quite a long time. Some performers would even publicly eat them (and not die) to the awe of spectators. For the most part, what is “food” is a knowledge passed down usually from a parent to us as a small child. We know that if a parent feeds it to us (or eats it themselves), its ok. Similarly, if a parent taught you a food was dangerous as a child, you’ll likely have a hard time eating it. While we can learn later in life to like foods outside of what were exposed to as children, I think many westerners can still imagine how Mother would have reacted if we stuck a beetle in our mouth as a two year old. Its probably not too much different than if we’d swallowed bleach. Even as an adult, its hard to eat things we know would have induced panic in our poor mothers had we tried to swallow it as a child. Its not merely just a matter of getting acclimated to a new taste and texture. It goes back to some of the very first things we were ever taught.

  3. Jim Wilson says:

    Foods made from textured vegetable protein (TVP) aren’t recognizable as soybeans, and I see no reason that insect protein can’t be processed to make it just as attractive. We may initially gag if we look at the list of ingredients. But it’s not as if we’d have to down a bunch of fried grasshoppers that looked like, well, fried grasshoppers.

    Soylent Green is another matter, of course. 🙂