Bug appétit: Why eating cicadas is good for the environment

Jessica Fanzo, an expert in food policy and ethics, discusses the environmental and health benefits of eating insects, including cicadas


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Jill Rosen
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Trillions of cicadas are poised to get their buzz on across much of the United States, with the once-every-17-year emergence of Brood X. Hope you're hungry!

One person's infestation is another's free eco-friendly lunch, according to Johns Hopkins University sustainable food expert Jessica Fanzo, author of the forthcoming Can Fixing Dinner Fix the Planet? (JHU Press). In the book, Fanzo explores the interactions among food systems, diets, human health, and the climate crisis. Drawing upon her decades of hands-on research projects in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas, Fanzo describes how food systems must evolve to promote healthy, sustainable, and equitable diets.

Fanzo, who plans to collect and eat cicadas herself as soon as they hit her own backyard, says the insects have as much protein as red or other factory-farmed meat, but without the harsh environmental effects, such as rising greenhouse gases and biodiversity loss.

In addition, insects are already an established source of protein around the world, including in Mexico, where people eat crickets; in Thailand, where people enjoy water bugs; and in Africa, where people regularly eat locusts and crickets, Fanzo says.

Fanzo, the university's Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Global Food Policy and Ethics, has sampled most of the insect dishes of other cultures and believes the shrimp-tasting cicadas of the United States should certainly rank among them, although the North American palate might not be ready.

"There is the yuck factor, but people who are looking for alternative sources of animal protein shouldn't rule out cicadas" she says. "They're a great natural source of protein and other nutrients, there's going to be a lot of it in a very short period of time so, it's a great opportunity to give them a try."

It just takes a bit of getting used to.

"Once you get over the look of them, they're quite tasty," she says.