Scientists looking at the world food shortage are wondering whether we should all be eating more insects. This assembly discusses the issue and draws in the serious debate about world food shortages

A lunchbox. If you can, have some model or joke insects in it.

What have you got in your lunchbox today?

Me, I’ve got a couple of grasshoppers and a few worms.

No, not really. But you know, they do eat insects in many parts of the world. In Algeria, locusts are a normal part of the diet for many people − that seems sensible because there are billions of them flying around at certain times. Thailand’s another country where people eat lots of insects − you can buy them in the market. And even in New York you sometimes find stir-fried mealworms and caterpillar crunch on the menu.

Ought we all to be eating more insects? There are lots of reasons why it might be a good thing. In fact, some scientists are saying that everyone in the world should get much more used to eating insects. Why is that, do you think?[Wait a moment to let them think]

It’s because there are lots of hungry people in the world, and lots of insects. So maybe the two things should be put together. Insects are healthy to eat − they have protein, not much fat, and lots of elements, such as calcium, that make us strong. The only real reason for not eating insects is that we just don’t seem to fancy the idea, and we could probably get over that.

But why is there such a shortage of food? Well, for many people across the world, food has always been in short supply. Over the past few years, though, things have been getting worse and, as a result, food has gone up in price. You or your family may have noticed that food is dearer in the shops − bread has gone up in price, for example, and so has rice.

For us it can be worrying, but in some countries it’s a disaster, because people depend heavily on grain and rice for their food and already spend a lot of their money on it.

There are several reasons for the increase in price. Australia grows a lot of wheat and they’ve had a shortage of rain for some years now.

And in China and other parts of Asia, as countries become wealthier, more people are eating meat, which means they want more grain to feed cattle. They also sometimes stop growing rice and start growing cattle food.

Another reason is that land is being used to grow crops for bio-fuels.

So, say the scientists, it’s probably sensible to look at other sources of food, such as some of the more edible insects.

Could you eat a caterpillar? Here’s a letter from a lady who went to visit a family in Mexico, in a village surrounded by the forest.

‘I really enjoyed staying with the family. The children used to take me out on walks into the forest, and they had this wonderful ability to spot animals and birds, even the shy ones. The little girl, Juanita, would suddenly stop and put her finger to her lips and sort of point with her head, and there on a branch would be a wonderful, colourful bird.

‘The biggest surprise, though, was when the eight-year-old boy, Joseph, asked me if I’d like something nice to eat. Of course, I said ‘yes, please’ and straight away he ran off into the trees. For a moment I lost sight of Joseph among the low bushes, and then I spotted him climbing up a huge tree. He was picking something from the leaves, and soon he came running back. In his hands he had around six very big and very brightly coloured caterpillars − yellow, black and green. Each was about the size of a grown-up’s finger.

He grinned at me and held them up and I stepped back, and he laughed.

Then he shoved all the caterpillars but one into his trouser pocket. He looked around and found a long, thin stick. He held one caterpillar in his left hand and with his right he pushed all the innards out of the caterpillar, and then pulled the skin of the caterpillar back, inside out, over the stick. What he now had was a sort of shiny tube.

By that time I was too horrified to speak. He offered the caterpillar skin to me on a stick and I shook my head, but he slipped it off the stick and ate it.

‘Mmm,’ he said. ‘That’s OK. But they’re better if you fry them in a pan. They go crispy and they’re really nice.’

Well, later, at his home, I did have some crispy fried caterpillars, and I have to say they were very good. I don’t think I’ll make a habit of eating them at home, though.

Many people think there’s really no difference between eating insects and eating anything else. Not all insects are suitable to eat, but there are many people around the world who find that some of them are perfectly fine.

So is that the answer to the world’s food problems? Perhaps, but what’s really needed is for people to be much more sensible about farming and the use of land. There’s really enough land on the earth to feed everyone easily, if only we could overcome our greed and agree to use our earth properly and share its resources fairly and evenly.

Lord, you gave us the animals, the birds, the insects and the fish, in trust for us to use. Help us to treat all living creatures with respect, and help us to remember our responsibilities towards the earth and all the lives on it.

Why is if OK to eat some things and not others? Can we always think of good reasons?

Just in case you’re thinking of it, please don’t just go out and catch some insects to eat. For one thing, you need to know which insects are OK to eat. And more importantly, in our country especially, insects are likely to have been sprayed with chemicals. So if the insect doesn’t make you ill, the pesticides on it might.

Further information

  • Excellent and fun article on insect eating, with some recipes, including mealworm chocolate chip cookies, and advice on safe bug-eating, at
  • Trouble with the link? Google ‘Eating bugs’ and it’ll be high up the page. 

This e-bulletin issue was first published in June 2008

About the author: Gerald Haigh