Protein sources: bugs, beef or beans?
Something awful happened to me the other day.
I'd prepared a lovely green salad and was about to tuck in to it when I suddenly noticed something...a little dark green speck. Then another. Then another.
The lettuce was covered in aphids!
I had to chuck the whole thing away. This would've been fine except I'd had a lovely green salad the night before...from the same head of lettuce. I hadn't been paying attention so I'd probably eaten a tonne of the little critters already. Eew!
When relaying my woes to my mum by text, expecting a sympathetic reply, she responded, "On the plus side, the protein from yesterday's bugs must've improved your eyesight today" This was followed by many lol emojis. Thanks mum.
It got me thinking though, there's been a lot of talk over the last few years about incorporating more insect protein into our diets because we just cannot continue to consume meat at the rate that we do.
Talking about eating insects in the Western world is generally met with disgust. But wait a minute, why is it disgusting to eat a cricket but not disgusting to eat a cow? It just depends where you live. If you live in Thailand, Ghana or Japan, you wouldn't bat an eyelid at a tasty, crispy cricket. In Southern Italy where my family is from, it's common practice to eat horse meat but here in the UK it's considered utterly revolting.
The fact is, the human body requires protein to function but where we choose to get it from has evolved over time and has mainly been influenced by wealth, poverty, availability and religious beliefs. Protein is made up of amino acids. When you eat protein from any source, the body breaks it down and uses the individual amino acids for all sorts of bodily functions. The point is, it doesn't matter where you get the protein from, as long as your body can effectively break it down and utilise those essential amino acids.
It is simply unsustainable and completely unnecessary to consume animal-sourced meat at the rate we do. If you paleo- and keto- lovers out there believe you're following an ancestral diet by eating bacon and eggs for breakfast, chicken salad for lunch and steak and kale for dinner, you're sorely mistaken. There's no way that much animal-source protein was available back then. There would've been a feast and famine way of eating with little variation per day; hunter-gatherers would've gone out to hunt and either been successful or not and if they were, the meat, bone, hide and organs of the animal would've all been used and then perhaps for a period of time sustenance would have come from foraged, plant-based sources.
Once agriculture and animal husbandry developed, we no longer had to hunt. The animals were raised specifically to be eaten and provide milk. But what does this mean to the planet today? I'm sure you've heard this before but it apparently takes just over 3500 litres of water to produce 1 pound of beef! The world's 1.5 billion cows alone produce dozens of polluting gases, including methane, which is 23 x more powerful than CO2 and is therefore contributing significantly to global warming.
So yes, we need to find more potentially sustainable protein sources like insect protein but we also need to understand that we don't need the vast amounts that we've grown used to. Even insect protein, if we insist on over-consuming it as we have with meat and fish, may fall prey to the same issues we have with animals and farmed fish, such as increasing vulnerability to diseases. Another potential issue is that insects can produce defensive secretions which could be a problem for those working at the farms.
So what could you do right now that wouldn't be too much of a change and wouldn't involve you hunting caterpillars in your back garden for dinner? You could have one day a week where you didn't consume any animal products. Whaaat?! I promise you, you won't die but you would be going a long way to saving the planet!
Check out my vegan jackfruit savoury pie recipe to get you started :)
If you want to know more about how much protein YOU need, contact LDN Nutrition for 100% personalised nutrition advice.