The idea that every insect species is universally sustainable is deceptive. Firstly, the means of procurement is not always sustainable.
In some cases, wild-harvesting may lead to overexploitation of insects – a threat feared by the Thai villagers quoted above. Secondly, not enough is known about the environmental impact of insect farming, and it appears to be much more complex than suggested by the ‘solution narrative’. For instance, farmed insects may be fed on a substrate with its own complicated sustainability status – shown by the example of the giant water bug in Thailand, which requires additional resource use for the farming of its amphibian prey.
The same issue applies to more commonly farmed insects, which tend to be fed with cultivated grain that adds to the insects’ environmental footprint, so that scaled-up production may be no more sustainable than conventional protein sources (see Lundy and Parrella 2015). Thirdly, farmed insects for a consumer market require processing for preservation and to meet consumer preference. When this is done on a large scale, common methods include grinding and freeze-drying, which use significant energy.
Overall, the realities of rearing insects on different substrates and on a large scale are yet to be fully understood, and may bring with them hidden or unforeseen environmental costs. The same certainly applies to the environmental costs of processing methods that tend to stay unmentioned in the marketing of insect products.
The arguments outlined above show the complexity regarding the sustainability of edible insects – yet all largely ignore the human dimension of sustainability. An approach such as Chatree Patisol’s may provide a more holistic answer to how edible insects can be sustainable. In his position both as a teacher and as an insect farmer, he gives local under- privileged youth the chance to gain income and education. So far not even adequately measurable in the most complex multi-dimensional life-cycle assessments, these social components may be given less recognition, but are highly relevant to implementing insects’ full democratic potential as sustainable food.