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The Environmental Impact of Meat
(Released January 2012)

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  by Ethan Goffman  

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Gonna Eat Bugs

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In a strange coincidence, recent issues of the New Yorker and the Atlantic brought up the topic of eating insects. Or perhaps this convergence isn’t so strange; the environmental problems of meat are increasingly discussed, and eating insects is an obvious solution—or would be if it weren’t for cultural revulsion. In much of Africa, South America, and Asia, for instance, eating insects is considered normal. After all, why is consuming these creatures, quite distant from humanity, any grosser than consuming mammals, which are warm blooded, gestate their young like us, and have relatively large brains? Eating insects is also far better for the environment. They “are about four times as efficient at converting feed to meat as are cattle” (Goodyear). Furthermore, “Insects require less land and water—and measured per kilogram of edible mass, mealworms generate 10 to 100 times less greenhouse gas than pigs” (Fromson).

Bugs for sale at a Thai food market
Deep fried insects sold in a food stall in Bangkok, Thailand.
The trick will be to overcome cultural revulsion by disguising the insects, by marketing them, and perhaps, by making them a gourmet delicacy. A Dutch company has already begun marketing freeze-dried locusts and mealworms. It seems that environmentally aware consumers will soon be competing to try out the newest gourmet insect dish.

Still another possibility is the growing of meat without animals. Scientists are in the early stages of extracting muscle tissue and using it to grow meat in vitro (Potter). Such a process would free up grain currently fed to animals, and avoid the many other environmental impacts of livestock (and the moral dilemma of eating animals). Still, growing meat without animals needs far more research to move out of the realm of science fiction.

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