TEDGlobal 2010

Marcel Dicke: Why not eat insects?

Filmed:

Marcel Dicke makes an appetizing case for adding insects to everyone's diet. His message to squeamish chefs and foodies: delicacies like locusts and caterpillars compete with meat in flavor, nutrition and eco-friendliness.

- Ecological entomologist
Marcel Dicke wants us to reconsider our relationship with insects, promoting bugs as a tasty -- and ecologically sound -- alternative to meat in an increasingly hungry world. Full bio

Okay, I'm going to show you
00:15
again something about our diets.
00:18
And I would like to know what the audience is,
00:21
and so who of you ever ate insects?
00:24
That's quite a lot.
00:29
(Laughter)
00:31
But still, you're not representing
00:33
the overall population of the Earth.
00:35
(Laughter)
00:37
Because there's 80 percent out there that really eats insects.
00:39
But this is quite good.
00:42
Why not eat insects? Well first, what are insects?
00:45
Insects are animals that walk around on six legs.
00:48
And here you see just a selection.
00:51
There's six million species of insects on this planet,
00:53
six million species.
00:56
There's a few hundreds of mammals --
00:58
six million species of insects.
01:00
In fact, if we count all the individual organisms,
01:03
we would come at much larger numbers.
01:06
In fact, of all animals on Earth,
01:09
of all animal species,
01:12
80 percent walks on six legs.
01:14
But if we would count all the individuals,
01:16
and we take an average weight of them,
01:19
it would amount to something like 200 to 2,000 kilograms
01:21
for each of you and me on Earth.
01:24
That means that in terms of biomass,
01:27
insects are more abundant than we are,
01:29
and we're not on a planet of men,
01:32
but we're on a planet of insects.
01:34
Insects are not only there in nature,
01:37
but they also are involved in our economy,
01:39
usually without us knowing.
01:41
There was an estimation,
01:43
a conservative estimation, a couple of years ago
01:45
that the U.S. economy
01:47
benefited by 57 billion
01:49
dollars per year.
01:52
It's a number -- very large --
01:54
a contribution to the economy of the United States for free.
01:57
And so I looked up what the economy was paying
02:00
for the war in Iraq
02:03
in the same year.
02:05
It was 80 billion U.S. dollars.
02:07
Well we know that that
02:09
was not a cheap war.
02:11
So insects, just for free,
02:13
contribute to the economy of the United States
02:15
with about the same order of magnitude,
02:17
just for free, without everyone knowing.
02:20
And not only in the States,
02:22
but in any country, in any economy.
02:24
What do they do?
02:26
They remove dung, they pollinate our crops.
02:28
A third of all the fruits that we eat
02:30
are all a result
02:32
of insects taking care of the reproduction of plants.
02:34
They control pests,
02:37
and they're food for animals.
02:39
They're at the start of food chains.
02:41
Small animals eat insects.
02:43
Even larger animals eat insects.
02:45
But the small animals that eat insects
02:47
are being eaten by larger animals,
02:49
still larger animals.
02:51
And at the end of the food chain, we are eating them as well.
02:53
There's quite a lot of people that are eating insects.
02:57
And here you see me
02:59
in a small, provincial town in China, Lijiang --
03:01
about two million inhabitants.
03:03
If you go out for dinner, like in a fish restaurant,
03:05
where you can select which fish you want to eat,
03:08
you can select which insects you would like to eat.
03:11
And they prepare it in a wonderful way.
03:13
And here you see me enjoying a meal
03:15
with caterpillars, locusts,
03:17
bee pupae -- delicacies.
03:20
And you can eat something new everyday.
03:23
There's more than 1,000 species of insects
03:26
that are being eaten all around the globe.
03:29
That's quite a bit more
03:32
than just a few mammals that we're eating,
03:34
like a cow or a pig
03:36
or a sheep.
03:38
More than 1,000 species --
03:40
an enormous variety.
03:42
And now you may think, okay,
03:45
in this provincial town in China they're doing that, but not us.
03:47
Well we've seen already that quite some of you
03:50
already ate insects maybe occasionally,
03:52
but I can tell you that every one of you
03:55
is eating insects, without any exception.
03:57
You're eating at least
04:00
500 grams per year.
04:02
What are you eating?
04:04
Tomato soup, peanut butter,
04:06
chocolate, noodles --
04:08
any processed food that you're eating
04:10
contains insects,
04:12
because insects are here all around us,
04:14
and when they're out there in nature
04:17
they're also in our crops.
04:19
Some fruits get some insect damage.
04:21
Those are the fruits, if they're tomato,
04:24
that go to the tomato soup.
04:26
If they don't have any damage, they go to the grocery.
04:28
And that's your view of a tomato.
04:31
But there's tomatoes that end up in a soup,
04:34
and as long as they meet
04:37
the requirements of the food agency,
04:39
there can be all kinds of things in there,
04:42
no problem.
04:44
In fact, why would we put these balls in the soup,
04:46
there's meat in there anyway?
04:49
(Laughter)
04:51
In fact, all our processed foods
04:55
contain more proteins
04:57
than we would be aware of.
04:59
So anything is a good protein source already.
05:03
Now you may say,
05:06
"Okay, so we're eating 500 grams just by accident."
05:08
We're even doing this on purpose.
05:11
In a lot of food items that we have --
05:13
I have only two items
05:15
here on the slide --
05:17
pink cookies or surimi sticks
05:19
or, if you like, Campari --
05:21
a lot of our food products that are of a red color
05:23
are dyed with a natural dye.
05:26
The surimi sticks
05:29
[of] crabmeat, or is being sold as crab meat,
05:31
is white fish
05:33
that's being dyed with cochineal.
05:35
Cochineal is a product
05:37
of an insect that lives off these cacti.
05:39
It's being produced in large amounts,
05:42
150 to 180 metric tons per year
05:45
in the Canary Islands in Peru,
05:48
and it's big business.
05:51
One gram of cochineal
05:53
costs about 30 euros.
05:56
One gram of gold
05:58
is 30 euros.
06:01
So it's a very precious thing
06:04
that we're using to dye our foods.
06:07
Now the situation in the world is going to change
06:10
for you and me, for everyone on this Earth.
06:13
The human population is growing very rapidly
06:15
and is growing exponentially.
06:18
Where, at the moment, we have
06:20
something between six and seven billion people,
06:22
it will grow to about nine billion
06:24
in 2050.
06:26
That means that we have a lot more mouths to feed,
06:29
and this is something that worries more and more people.
06:32
There was an FAO conference last October
06:35
that was completely devoted to this.
06:37
How are we going to feed this world?
06:39
And if you look at the figures up there,
06:41
it says that we have a third more mouths to feed,
06:43
but we need an agricultural production increase
06:46
of 70 percent.
06:48
And that's especially because this world population
06:50
is increasing,
06:52
and it's increasing, not only in numbers,
06:54
but we're also getting wealthier,
06:57
and anyone that gets wealthier starts to eat more
07:00
and also starts to eat more meat.
07:03
And meat, in fact, is something
07:06
that costs a lot
07:08
of our agricultural production.
07:10
Our diet consists, [in] some part, of animal proteins,
07:12
and at the moment, most of us here
07:15
get it from livestock,
07:17
from fish, from game.
07:19
And we eat quite a lot of it.
07:21
In the developed world it's on average
07:23
80 kilograms per person per year,
07:26
which goes up to 120
07:29
in the United States
07:31
and a bit lower in some other countries,
07:33
but on average 80 kilograms
07:35
per person per year.
07:37
In the developing world it's much lower.
07:39
It's 25 kilograms per person per year.
07:42
But it's increasing enormously.
07:44
In China in the last 20 years,
07:46
it increased from 20 to 50,
07:48
and it's still increasing.
07:51
So if a third of the world population
07:54
is going to increase its meat consumption
07:57
from 25 to 80 on average,
08:00
and a third of the world population
08:03
is living in China and in India,
08:05
we're having an enormous demand on meat.
08:07
And of course, we are not there to say
08:11
that's only for us, it's not for them.
08:13
They have the same share that we have.
08:16
Now to start with, I should say
08:18
that we are eating way too much meat
08:20
in the Western world.
08:22
We could do with much, much less --
08:24
and I know, I've been a vegetarian for a long time,
08:26
and you can easily do without anything.
08:29
You'll get proteins in any kind of food anyway.
08:31
But then there's a lot of problems
08:34
that come with meat production,
08:36
and we're being faced with that more and more often.
08:38
The first problem that we're facing is human health.
08:41
Pigs are quite like us.
08:44
They're even models in medicine,
08:46
and we can even transplant organs from a pig to a human.
08:49
That means that pigs also share diseases with us.
08:52
And a pig disease,
08:55
a pig virus, and a human virus
08:57
can both proliferate,
08:59
and because of their kind of reproduction,
09:01
they can combine and produce a new virus.
09:03
This has happened in the Netherlands in the 1990s
09:05
during the classical swine fever outbreak.
09:08
You get a new disease that can be deadly.
09:11
We eat insects -- they're so distantly related from us
09:15
that this doesn't happen.
09:18
So that's one point for insects.
09:20
(Laughter)
09:23
And there's the conversion factor.
09:25
You take 10 kilograms of feed,
09:28
you can get one kilogram of beef,
09:30
but you can get nine kilograms of locust meat.
09:33
So if you would be an entrepreneur,
09:35
what would you do?
09:37
With 10 kilograms of input,
09:39
you can get either one or nine kg. of output.
09:41
So far we're taking
09:44
the one, or up to five kilograms of output.
09:46
We're not taking the bonus yet.
09:49
We're not taking the nine kilograms of output yet.
09:51
So that's two points for insects.
09:54
(Laughter)
09:56
And there's the environment.
09:58
If we take 10 kilograms of food --
10:00
(Laughter)
10:02
and it results in one kilogram of beef,
10:04
the other nine kilograms are waste,
10:07
and a lot of that is manure.
10:09
If you produce insects, you have less manure
10:12
per kilogram of meat that you produce.
10:14
So less waste.
10:17
Furthermore, per kilogram of manure,
10:19
you have much, much less ammonia
10:22
and fewer greenhouse gases
10:25
when you have insect manure
10:27
than when you have cow manure.
10:29
So you have less waste,
10:31
and the waste that you have is not as environmental malign
10:33
as it is with cow dung.
10:36
So that's three points for insects.
10:38
(Laughter)
10:40
Now there's a big "if," of course,
10:43
and it is if insects produce meat
10:45
that is of good quality.
10:48
Well there have been all kinds of analyses
10:50
and in terms of protein, or fat, or vitamins,
10:52
it's very good.
10:55
In fact, it's comparable
10:57
to anything we eat as meat at the moment.
10:59
And even in terms of calories, it is very good.
11:01
One kilogram of grasshoppers
11:03
has the same amount of calories
11:05
as 10 hot dogs, or six Big Macs.
11:07
So that's four points for insects.
11:09
(Laughter)
11:11
I can go on,
11:14
and I could make many more points for insects,
11:16
but time doesn't allow this.
11:18
So the question is, why not eat insects?
11:20
I gave you at least four arguments in favor.
11:22
We'll have to.
11:24
Even if you don't like it,
11:26
you'll have to get used to this
11:28
because at the moment,
11:30
70 percent of all our agricultural land
11:32
is being used to produce livestock.
11:34
That's not only the land
11:36
where the livestock is walking and feeding,
11:38
but it's also other areas
11:40
where the feed is being produced and being transported.
11:42
We can increase it a bit
11:45
at the expense of rainforests,
11:47
but there's a limitation very soon.
11:49
And if you remember that we need to increase
11:51
agricultural production by 70 percent,
11:53
we're not going to make it that way.
11:55
We could much better change
11:57
from meat, from beef,
11:59
to insects.
12:02
And then 80 percent of the world
12:04
already eats insects,
12:07
so we are just a minority --
12:09
in a country like the U.K., the USA,
12:11
the Netherlands, anywhere.
12:14
On the left-hand side, you see a market in Laos
12:17
where they have abundantly present
12:19
all kinds of insects that you choose for dinner for the night.
12:21
On the right-hand side you see a grasshopper.
12:26
So people there are eating them,
12:28
not because they're hungry,
12:31
but because they think it's a delicacy.
12:33
It's just very good food.
12:35
You can vary enormously.
12:37
It has many benefits.
12:39
In fact, we have delicacy
12:41
that's very much like this grasshopper:
12:43
shrimps, a delicacy
12:45
being sold at a high price.
12:48
Who wouldn't like to eat a shrimp?
12:50
There are a few people who don't like shrimp,
12:52
but shrimp, or crabs,
12:54
or crayfish,
12:56
are very closely related.
12:58
They are delicacies.
13:00
In fact, a locust is a "shrimp" of the land,
13:02
and it would make very good into our diet.
13:05
So why are we not eating insects yet?
13:08
Well that's just a matter of mindset.
13:10
We're not used to it,
13:12
and we see insects as these organisms that are very different from us.
13:14
That's why we're changing the perception of insects.
13:17
And I'm working very hard with my colleague, Arnold van Huis,
13:20
in telling people what insects are,
13:23
what magnificent things they are,
13:26
what magnificent jobs they do in nature.
13:28
And in fact, without insects,
13:30
we would not be here in this room,
13:32
because if the insects die out,
13:34
we will soon die out as well.
13:36
If we die out, the insects will continue very happily.
13:39
(Laughter)
13:42
So we have to get used to the idea of eating insects.
13:44
And some might think, well they're not yet available.
13:46
Well they are.
13:48
There are entrepreneurs in the Netherlands that produce them,
13:50
and one of them is here in the audience,
13:53
Marian Peeters, who's in the picture.
13:55
I predict that later this year, you'll get them in the supermarkets --
13:57
not visible, but as animal protein
14:00
in the food.
14:02
And maybe by 2020,
14:06
you'll buy them just knowing that this is an insect that you're going to eat.
14:09
And they're being made in the most wonderful ways.
14:12
A Dutch chocolate maker.
14:15
(Music)
14:18
(Applause)
14:55
So there's even a lot of design to it.
14:57
(Laughter)
14:59
Well in the Netherlands, we have an innovative Minister of Agriculture,
15:02
and she puts the insects on the menu
15:05
in her restaurant in her ministry.
15:07
And when she got all the Ministers of Agriculture of the E.U.
15:10
over to the Hague recently,
15:13
she went to a high-class restaurant,
15:16
and they ate insects all together.
15:19
It's not something that is a hobby of mine.
15:21
It's really taken off the ground.
15:24
So why not eat insects?
15:26
You should try it yourself.
15:28
A couple of years ago, we had 1,750 people all together
15:30
in a square in Wageningen town,
15:33
and they ate insects at the same moment,
15:36
and this was still big, big news.
15:38
I think soon it will not be big news anymore when we all eat insects,
15:41
because it's just a normal way of doing.
15:44
So you can try it yourself today,
15:46
and I would say, enjoy.
15:49
And I'm going to show to Bruno some first tries,
15:52
and he can have the first bite.
15:55
(Applause)
15:58
Bruno Giussani: Look at them first. Look at them first.
16:10
Marcel Dicke: It's all protein.
16:13
BG: That's exactly the same [one] you saw in the video actually.
16:16
And it looks delicious.
16:19
They just make it [with] nuts or something.
16:21
MD: Thank you.
16:24
(Applause)
16:26

▲Back to top

About the Speaker:

Marcel Dicke - Ecological entomologist
Marcel Dicke wants us to reconsider our relationship with insects, promoting bugs as a tasty -- and ecologically sound -- alternative to meat in an increasingly hungry world.

Why you should listen

Marcel Dicke likes challenging preconceptions. He demonstrated that plants, far from being passive, send SOS signals by emitting volatile substances when under attack by pests, attracting carnivorous insects to eat their enemies. Dicke opened a new field of research and won the NWO-Spinoza award, the Dutch Nobel prize. Now he wants to change Western minds about insects -- especially insects as food.

"People hate bugs, but without insects we might not even exist," he says. Dicke's PR crusade began in the 1990s, as a lecture series. Then his team made world headlines when they convinced 20,000 people to attend an insect-eating festival in Waginegen. Today, Dicke leads what he says is fast-growing research into insect agriculture, and predicts that insects will be on Dutch supermarket shelves this year. And does the former vegetarian eat bugs? "At least once a week. Locusts are nice cooked with garlic and herbs, served with rice or vegetables."

Read the UN's 2013 report, Edible Insects: Future Prospects for Food and Feed Security >>

More profile about the speaker
Marcel Dicke | Speaker | TED.com