A group of young graduates from the University of Chicago are tackling malnutrition in Guatemala in a way that might surprise you: encouraging locals to eat more worms. But as it turns out, they're not the only ones who see eating insects as a sensible and sustainable way of ensuring adecuate nutrition in an densely-populated world.
Worms, crickets, ants and caterpillars. You might be surprised if you found that list on your favourite restaurant's daily specials menu, but according to information from the FAO, a huge 80% of the world already enjoys some kind of insect as part of their everyday diet. From wasps in Japan to grasshoppers in Mexico, insects consistently have great nutritional values - tending to be high in protein and low in fat. High up on the scale are mealworms, which are nearly 55% protein and contain almost as much per 100g as a tin of tuna, as well as a host of other vitamins and minerals.
MealFlour's Mission In The Guatemalan Highlands
MealFlour is a project that was set up to tackle malnutrition in the Western Highlands of Guatemala. The country has the fourth highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world, and one of the main reasons for this is poverty. Protein deficiency is particularly problematic, with simple sources of protein, such as meat, too expensive for many families to buy. And plant-based sources of protein, such as quinoa, don't (currently) grow in the Central American country.
But mealworms might just hold the answer. MealFlour is a social enterprise that provides training sessions to locals to show them how to build and care for their own mealworm farms at home, and also how to roast and grind the worms to create a protein-rich mealworm flour. Not only does this help communities with high levels of malnutrition improve their diets, it can also supply them with an additional source of income.
Wait... Flour Made of Worms?
Yes! Making the worms into flour makes the protein-source much more versatile. And of course, it makes the whole worm-eating idea a bit more palatable - the flour can be baked into "normal" yummy things like bread and cakes and cookies, a whole range of protein-packed treats.
Added to that, the worms can help out at home too, by chowing down on household waste - they feed on food scraps that humans don't eat, such as banana peels, something Guatemala, as a plantain-growing country, has a lot of. And to top it all off, mealworm farming is heaps better for the environment than livestock farming, with 12 times fewer greenhouse gases released and 2000 gallons less water needed for a pound of mealworms than a pound of beef.
Incorporating something like bugs into people's diets seems like a sensible and efficient way for tackling malnutrition, especially seeing how it's something that so many people around the world are already used to doing. It's certainly a more straight-forward solution than other ideas such as breeding crops to increase their nutritional value or buy-one-give-one schemes that see food donated to malnourished populations.
How Can You Help?
MealFlour are currently running a crowdfunding campaign on Generosity to help them take their project out to more communities - their first round of training sessions is already underway and they've had a lot of interest from other NGOs around the country. So click on the link and donate now - the price of a whole mealworm farm for a well-deserving family, just 10 USD. Check out the video below to find out more.