28 Non-Human Alchemists III: Insects

If the earth is a computer then insects are the trillions of tiny microprocessors responsible for successfully operating the system. Insects are the foot soldiers of the biosphere. Their functions include pollination, soil aeration, seed dispersal, and maintaining ecosystem structure by regulating the food chain (via disease transmission or parasitism) and being themselves an integral part of it. Through their interactions with plants and soil, not to mention their considerable biomass, insects play a primary ecological role, cycling nutrients when they degrade and consume vegetation, wood, and decomposing matter, and dispersing fungi.

Insects formed part of the human diet for much of our history. Before we developed the tools for hunting and agriculture, they were a key source of protein, fibre, vitamins, and nutrients. Today entomophagy (insect eating) is practised in 113 countries. Over 2000 species are known to be edible. The potential for high efficiency and low-cost inputs has produced a broad range of startups that incorporate insects as part of their production methods. These include Protix, who manage insects that turn food waste into valuable high-end proteins and fats. Ÿnsect offers an environmentally-friendly fertilizer alternative made of molitor larvae castings, and Agriprotein refines fly larvae and frass in a digitally controlled, bio-secure factory that mimics dawn and dusk to maximize egg production, into produce a protein powder, oil, and soil conditioner.

In Shandong Province, China, cockroaches are used to process food and kitchen waste: a batch test for a scalable system that safely consumes old food by producing new food for humans. With their potential as a source of alt-protein, fibre, rare nutrients, and vitamins, plus a rich history of insect gastronomy from South America, Africa and Asia, the place of crickets, beetles, mealworms and locusts in the food system to come is already assured.