As a survivalist and prepper, I am constantly looking for unconventional food sources. I have written several articles on the topic of eating insects in the wild as a food source. While some insects can make you sick, others are an incredible source of protein and other nutrients. For millennia, man has used insects as a food source. However, there is a whole new approach being taken to edible insects. Insect farming has become big business, and it can provide a good food source for any prepper or survivalist. In this article, we will cover the pros and cons of raising insects for food. We will also discuss how to get started with your own personal insect farm as a food source.
About eight years ago I was working as a car salesman and ended up helping a guy that worked just a block away. I had walked past this building countless times, but I had no idea what they did. It turns out that they used cricket meal to create faux burger patties and faux chicken breasts. They had just landed a big contract with one of the largest frozen food distributors in the country, and he was pumped. I was very confused. People actually eat crickets? Fast forward a few years, and I learned that countries all over the world farm insects as food sources. I was even curious enough to buy some barbecue flavored mealworms at a souvenir store in Oregon. They weren’t half bad.
Bugs in Food?
Back in 2014 a small company called Hotlix out of California was making and selling candies with scorpions, crickets, and mealworms inside them. They were considered novelties, and most people only bought a few just to try them out. However, despite the product being a novelty the company took insects very seriously. They produced and processed their own insects to be sure it was done in a healthy way. By carefully selecting what the insects eat, they could be sure they were both safe and tasty. The big development was when restaurants and food manufacturers started contacting them to get advice on using the insects and also to place orders. They started sending out huge orders of unprocessed insects to companies all around the world.
The boost in interest with edible insects was largely due to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN reporting specifically on the topic. In 2013 the report suggested that our focus on raising livestock for protein has been detrimental to the environment. They admitted that we would never forgo eating meat, but that adding insects to the standard diet in Western society would be nothing but beneficial. While this has created a spike in business for insect raising companies such as Hotlix, they are not able to sell small amounts of uncandied insects for individual consumption. So how do you add insects to your diet as an individual or a household?
Farming Your Own Insects
While foraging for insects is an option in a survival scenario, it is not ideal. You never know when you might misidentify an insect and get sick. In addition, you have no control over what that insect has eaten or what chemicals to which it might have been exposed. So, if you don’t get them from the wild, where do you get insects for food? Lots of companies that farm insects started by supplying food for pet reptiles. They have now been converted to feeding the masses. The process for farming your own insects is basically the same as these larger operations, just on a smaller scale.
Mealworms are actually beetle larvae, and they are a great place to start. You can usually buy a starter batch from your local pet store. It may sound strange, but they are completely fine for a food source. Mealworms have a more solid structure than other types of worms and do not come with grit and dirt in their digestive tract. Your best bet when harvesting is to keep them alive in your home farm for at least 24 hours before eating them. If they have been exposed to any type of chemicals or if they are sick, they will die in that first 24 hours. If they are still alive after the first day, they are safe to eat.
You can also get your first batch of breeding worms from an insect farm with good reviews. A few companies you can try are Rainbow Mealworms, Fluker Farms, and San Diego Wax Worms. Wax worms, mealworms, locusts, and crickets all do well in small insect farms in your home. They also all have ideal textures for adding to a meal or eating on their own. To start your farm, you need to create a habitat for the insects. This does not need to be expensive or elaborate. You can start with a plastic tub in a warm area with good air flow. Setting it in an attic near a vent or next to a window in an open room are both good options.
We can reference Andrew Brentano who is one of the co-founders of Tiny Farms. They specialize in helping people build insect farms in Western society. The company is larger scale, so they erect temperature-controlled tents set at roughly 70F for their mealworm bins. They have perfected the ideal food for the worms to give them the best growth rate and flavor. Powdered mulberry leaves are the primary feed in many of their bins. In other bins they use a bed of wheat bran or other grain byproducts along with vegetables like carrots to provide moisture. Remember that adult mealworms are beetles. He moves these beetles to a breeding bin containing about 150 insects. Just these 150 beetles will lay over 100,000 eggs! Tiny Farms also sells bug-raising kits for home farmers, so you can go straight to the experts to get started.
Care is very simple with these insects, especially compared to farming animals for food. Typically, just throwing some raw oats in your insect farm is fine for feeding them. Unlike animals that graze or need room to wander around and get exercise, insects can basically be stacked on top of each other. You can literally fill up your plastic tub with worms, locusts, or crickets. When you look at how much food you get per square foot of space, it is so much more efficient than raising animals. You can get pounds of quality protein out of just a few square feet of space.
You can feel free to have your insect farm outside in a covered area, but make sure it does not get too cold at night. Also, don’t be surprised if animals come around to eat your bounty. To most animals, a tub full of worms or crickets is a free buffet. Your best bet would be to put a lid on the tub and punch some holes in it to ensure plenty of fresh air gets inside for your insects.
Moving on to crickets, a single female cricket will lay about 100 eggs over her four-month lifespan. That will produce about 50 adult females that will lay 5000 more eggs in the next four months. Yes, you read that right. If you start with 20 females and 20 males, four months later you will have over 2000 crickets and four months after that you will have over 100,000. And you thought rabbits were breeders! Just spending a few bucks on a plastic tub and 40 crickets and easily feed a family of four.
Best Ways to Eat Insects
Insects are a huge part of the diet in Southeast Asia and are often eaten as snacks or street food. For a tasty snack they are just fried or roasted and then rolled in spices or sugar. They are also very popular as a source of protein in stir-fries and curries. Keep in mind that the adult insects are a bit crunchy and have more texture, while the larvae have a softer texture.
In Thailand they have a dish called red ant curry. Ants are not the most common insect to farm, but they do have a great flavor and texture. They are slightly acidic, and some of them even have a citrus flavor to them. I was first told that the large black ants taste like Sweet Tarts, and they absolutely do. Simply mix garlic, Thai chilis, shallots, shrimp paste, and black peppercorns. Mash all of this together with a mortar and pestle to create a paste. Scrape this into a pot of boiling water. Add green veggies such as lemongrass, broccoli, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, or spinach. Add red ant larvae to the water. Cook for just a few minutes and it is ready to eat. You can make this as thin or as thick with veggies as you like, but the broth is spicy and briny with an acidic bite from the larvae.
For a good stir-fry you want to use adult insects for their crunchy texture. Crickets are the perfect protein for a Taiwanese stir fry. In a wok or frying pan heat oil on high heat and add crickets, Thai chilis, garlic, and Thai basil. Cook for a few minutes until garlic is browned and chilis are cooked through. Add shoestring potatoes for 30 seconds and continue to stir. Plate and serve with Sriracha. The crickets are a blank slate as far as flavor with just a hint of shrimp, so they absorb the flavors with which they are cooked. In this case that is the basil, chilis, and garlic.
Well, that covers the basics to get you started. As you can see, insects can be an excellent and inexpensive source of protein if you can get past the stigma. They are significantly easier to raise than animals as a food source. They take up less space and can be grown indoors or outdoors. If you cook them properly, they make a great snack or primary protein for a meal. So, as you develop your prepping plans, put some serious thought into insects as a simple and easy source of protein.