I eat insects. They're nutritious, plentiful, and far more sustainable than other sources of animal protein. I also realize that many people are apprehensive about the idea. We have a long history in Western culture of looking at insects as pests, not dinner. However, I believe that if we can get over our apprehensions, insects will provide an opportunity to feed so many more people than our current food system can support.
This is why I'm helping lead the edible insect industry to figure out how to better farm insects for food, including how to establish rules and regulations to keep things safe. It's why I love to study the similarities between insects and other types of food we produce - to find precedent and to create a familiar link for the people I speak with. And one precedent I've found may surprise you...insects are a lot like mushrooms!
1. They are both grown in clean rooms. We mean Really clean rooms.
Despite popular perceptions about fungus, mushrooms are not grown on filth. Most insects are also picky and can’t stomach spoiled food. Both types of farms filter the air coming in and out. Mushroom and insect farmers go to great lengths to keep the environment they grow in as clean as possible.
2. Their feed is usually organic.
Fungus and insects are both common pathogens of most of the plants we eat. Harmful pesticides are designed to interfere with their growth, so one of the best ways to keep mushroom and insect farms healthy is to only feed them organic ingredients.
3. Both mushrooms and insects must be raised following strict guidelines.
The health and agricultural departments of each state require all farmers and food businesses to follow regulations for good production. For example, insects need to be killed and prepared in a commercial kitchen. Farmers know their customers and they put food safety first!
4. If it’s toxic for you, it’s probably toxic for the crop!
Peroxides and acids are used for cleaning, instead of toxic chemicals such as bleach. Food grade plastics and metals are used for cultivation.
5. Not so wild: most mushrooms and insects are grown indoors!
Back in the day, most of the mushrooms and insects humans ate came from the wild. Today, almost all mushrooms and insects on the market are reared indoors in highly controlled environments. In the United States, insects must be intentionally reared for human consumption. By controlling everything from temperature to humidity, production is both more efficient and more safe.
So, who is involved in regulating food products?
The Food and Drug Administration protects against impure, unsafe and fraudulently labeled products
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide surveillance for food borne disease and outbreaks
The US Department of Agriculture conducts food and safety inspections for livestock and dairy
In addition, the Department of Homeland Security deals with protection of the food supply and food supply chain infrastructure, while US State Departments of Public Health and Agriculture regulate the safety of farm products and food production facilities at the state-level.