Eating Mealworms: Good For You And The Environment

Eating mealworms may sound horrifying but they can actually be good for both you and the environment.

According to Scientific American, a new study suggests mealworms are a viable and environmentally friendly substitute for traditional livestock offerings. Eaten in their larval forms, the worms could be a protein replacement for products such as chicken, pork, and beef.

The study was conducted by Dennis Oonincx, of the Department of Plant Sciences, and Imke de Boer, of the Animal Department of Animal Sciences. Both are scientists at Wageningen University, located in the Netherlands. The results of their research were published on December 19, 2012.

The study focuses on the environmental impact of raising typical farm animals like cows, pigs, and chickens versus that of two worms — the Tenebrio molitor and the Zophobas morio.

Right now livestock production takes approximately 70 percent of agricultural land. It is also responsible for “some 15 percent all human-generated greenhouse gasses.” The new study shows the cultivation and consumption of insects to be a way of keeping a protein-based diet while maintaining a lower impact ecologically.

ABC News reports that this week’s study shows that mealworm farming yielded “one-half to two-thirds” less gas emissions and land use than the cultivation of milk, chicken, and pork. The numbers rise to approximately 90 percent against beef production. The energy used for the worms was fairly equal to that of pork and beef, but a bit less for chicken and milk.

While consuming larvae may be helpful to the planet, convincing people to add them to their diets may be a bit difficult. Western culture often views insects as disgusting and unsanitary but the adventurous palate could find some added benefits from bug consumption.

Zack Lemann, chief entomologist at The Audubon Insectarium in New Orleans, says that insects can have high nutritional content and subtle variations in flavor. Looking forward to a time when bugs will be common fare, he says:

“The hope for this entomologist is that bugs will eventually be viewed like sushi is now. If you had offered me raw fish when I was a kid, I would have looked at you like you were out of your skull. Now it’s no big deal. And I hope the same goes for bugs; that they don’t remain as an anathema, but are actually embraced.”

Will the new year find you eating mealworms?