Why Grasshoppers Could Be the Beef of the Future

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BY NOW, you may have heard the consensus from the scientific community that beef is not the most sustainable food option out there as far as the environment goes. Many people argue that there are healthier places to get protein from that also don’t have such a large carbon footprint. Even so, beef is extremely popular, so if we were ever going to collectively swap it out for something, the replacement would have to be just as good, if not better. There are lots of potential candidates for beef alternatives out there — one of which is… grasshoppers.

While eating insects might sound farfetched to someone raised in the United States, in reality, plenty of people all over the world get their protein from insects — specifically grasshoppers — already. In fact, crickets and grasshoppers are comparable sources of iron to beef, and an estimated two billion people around the world are already eating them and reaping the benefits.

The dietary iron our bodies need for their vital processes comes in two forms: heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme iron, which is found in animal sources, is more readily digestible than non-heme iron, which is found in plant sources. Not only is the iron in grasshoppers of the easily-digestible heme variety, its flesh can provide the body’s cells with about three-quarters of the iron that beef can, which is pretty darn good. In addition to being a good source of iron and high in protein, insects like grasshoppers are also low in fat, which makes them an appealing choice as far as waistlines go.

A typical serving size of grasshoppers, by the way, is about 3.5 ounces, which contains 13 grams of protein and 121 calories. As a comparison, two large eggs contain roughly the same amount of protein, and clock in at 154 calories.

Along with being a healthy food item, grasshoppers also have the potential to feed a ton of people without leaving a big carbon footprint. The production of beef requires a lot of environmental concessions. Those large animals need a large amount of space to do their grazing; in fact, 28 percent more land needs to be used to raise cows compared to raising other animal proteins, an unfortunate side effect of this being that 70% of the Amazonian rain forests have been cleared to make space for grazing land. Some experts actually say that the carbon footprint of beef is so large that giving it up can lower an individual’s carbon footprint as much as giving up their car — this makes sense, considering that the methane output of one cow is equivalent to the carbon-dioxide output of a car driving 8000 miles. Because of that, a lot of people think that cutting back on meat eating is an important and underutilized tactic for tackling climate change.

Of course, at this point in time, the USDA doesn’t have any legislation over producing insects as food, so there would be a ways to go to figuring that out. But when faced with questions about how to create a more sustainable climate for the plant, it sounds like we have plenty of options. Our protein sources just might need to have a few more legs than we’re used to.

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