Short Take: But It’s Protein

There are many people dedicated to the sustainability of the planet and its human inhabitants. Among the many problems we face, sustainable food sources is on the list, even if not as high up as fossil fuel. Soylent Green, anyone? And Lauren Taranow of College Station, Texas, has a solution.

In one year, a single acre of black soldier fly larvae can produce more protein than 3,000 acres of cattle or 130 acres of soybeans. Such yields, combined with the need to find cheap, reliable protein for a global population projected to jump 30 per cent, to 9.8 billion by 2050, present big opportunity for the black soldier fly. The United Nations, which already warns that animal-rich diets cannot stretch that far long term, is encouraging governments and businesses to turn to insects to fulfill the planet’s protein needs.

Black soldier fly larvae is a more technical way of saying maggots.


People who’ve seen what black soldier fly larvae can do often speak of them in evangelical tones. Jeff Tomberlin, a professor of entomology at Texas A&M University, said the bug industry could “save lives, stabilize economies, create jobs and protect the environment.”

“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be doing this at some scale throughout the world,” he said.

On paper, there’s much to be said for eating maggots. They not only provide a great source of protein and consume waste, but they’re a far more effective use of resources than our traditional protein sources today. So what’s the issue?

Back at Symton, Taranow pops a couple of oven-dried soldier fly larvae into her mouth. “Honestly, they taste like Fritos,” she said.

They have a pleasant, neutral, nutty flavour to them. Slather them in powdered ranch or barbecue seasoning and it’s easy to imagine bags of them flying off the shelves in truck stops and convenience stores.

The dried larvae also have an advantage over other insect edibles — like, say, Mexico’s chapulines — in that they don’t really look like bugs. They have few identifiable buggy characteristics — no legs to get stuck in your teeth, no eyes to stare at you. It would be easy enough to mistake them for some sort of exotic grain.

On the other hand, they’re maggots. Then again, who was the first person to grab hold of a lobster and say to themselves, “this looks like something I would like to put into my mouth.” Then there was the second person who said, “maybe we should cook it first?”

Close to 2 billion people worldwide already include insects in their diets, according to the 2013 U.N. report. Insect-based snacks are commonly seen in open-air markets in places such as Thailand and China, for instance.

The practice hasn’t caught on in Europe or the United States, in part, because of long-standing cultural attitudes toward insects. This is somewhat puzzling, considering many Westerners happily consume foods such as crab and lobster, which are really just giant sea bugs.

“I absolutely think there will be applications [for the soldier fly] in the human food market,” said EnviroFlight’s Koutsos. “The challenge is getting over the cringe factor.”

There may well come a day when our descendants laugh at our sense of ickiness over eating maggots, whether out of necessity or because it turns out that they taste good and aren’t really any different than anything else we eat, except for the lack of psychological acceptance that we’ve somehow given something as creepy, if you think about it, as goose liver or cow tongue.

But today is not that day.

30 thoughts on “Short Take: But It’s Protein

  1. Guitardave

    Have they given any thought as to where these critters get their food?….oh, wait, never mind…i suppose there will be a temporary abundance of them in the rotting corpses of all the cows and pigs and chickens that die of old age after we give them their ‘rights’.

  2. Jeff

    My family are all vegetarian, with my wife pushing towards veganism. Personally, I’ve tried by can’t manage even vegetarian, because I am weak willed. I’m a flexitarian, someone who eats meat when nobody is looking.

    Personally, were I told the only way to get animal protein was via dried maggots, I strongly believe I would choose death.

    More food for the maggots, I suppose

  3. wilbur

    When Wilbur was a young buck, he scored a job for three summers picking up garbage for a municipality. It was a union job and paid very well for a college kid home for the summer.

    All residential garbage was in metal cans and paper or plastic bags, and was manually handled – there were no lifts as on the trucks today. The sight and smell of maggots was commonplace and inevitably you’d get some on your person and clothing. After a short while you become inured to the unpleasantness and hard labor or you didn’t last.

    Today I would try one of these cooked delicacies and might like it. The public will not, no matter how woke it may be.

    1. SHG Post author

      Among the many jobs I enjoyed in my wayward youth was deli counterman. It wasn’t union and paid shit, but it did provide an opportunity to get up close and personal with maggots. I never got used to them.

  4. B. McLeod

    Probably all of the world’s people “include insects in their diet.” As with the bag of theatre popcorn, you can pretty much bet that all the insect parts that regulatory standards permit will be present. It is just that most of us prefer to maintain unawareness. Once the maggots become visible (as on the Potempkin) it can cause major nonacceptance of the associated food source.

    1. SHG Post author

      At this point, pretty much everyone knows they’re in there, but knowing intellectually is one thing. Seeing the little bastards wriggling is crossing the Rubicon.

  5. Black Bellamy

    You’re fooling yourself. Friend of mine used to service complicated conveyor belt and packing systems in places where they made hot dogs. When you eat hot dogs, you’re eating insect and rodent parts for sure. But look at the hot dog, it’s so sleek and shiny and delicious. People squirm when they see hands holding a bunch of maggots, but you need to get past the visual and enjoy that great taste instead!

    Anyway, the factory was like 110 degrees inside and smelled like shit. In one corner of the floor they built this little shack. They put a recliner in there, a television, a massive air conditioner unit, and a tiny little window that faced a wall. Guess where the USDA inspector spent 100% of his time when they came for their completely non-surprise visit? Ahhh yeahhhh.

  6. Scott Jacobs

    I’m fairly certain that mucking around with beef in Texas is something they hang you for.

    I don’t think Oprah’s been here for well over a decade.

  7. DaveL

    That’s the funny thing about “sustainability”. There’s nothing unsustainable about filet mignon if each person has 1,000 arable acres for their subsistence. Soy burgers are “sustainable” on a fraction of that, and the Maggot diet on even less. But if the population keeps growing, no food source can be sustainable. So why not concentrate on limiting ourselves to the filet mignon level?

      1. Jake

        NY Sirloin FTW!

        Voluntary sterilization in exchange for UBI, free health, and free education FTW!

    1. Onlymom

      All the more reason to move funds into space access. We need to get off this planet.

      We have been in the bussom and womb of mothet earth far too long time to get out and give mom a break.

  8. ShootingHipster

    I’m willing to try feeding maggots to my black angus for a few months to see how he tastes.

    1. David

      Totally off subject but somehow relevant to his particular video.
      I was in Asia for the first half of the 80’s and came home to life in Western Mass.
      So there I sat in the car while the wife did the shopping thing and on comes this Eat It song on the radio and I have no clue that it is a parody of Michael Jackson. Same with “Where’s the Beef?” and so many other such things in the culture I had been excluded from for so many years. Not sure where this is going, but if you’ve been there you know…..

  9. Igor Kaplunov

    I’ve tried various insect products and when they say they taste like fritos, well…. only if fritos were horribly dry, refused to dissolve in your mouth, and tasted like dirt. Think very powdery pork skins without any of that wonderful porkiness. That said if they invent some kind of insect sausage along the lines of cheap bologna, which already includes everything form the asshole to the snout but tastes great with lots of mustard, I would be down for trying it.

      1. Igor Kaplunov

        I’m more of an interested citizen, being a spokesman sounds like an awful lot of hard work. I prefer naps.

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