Natalie Rubio, a doctoral student at Tufts University, wants to use insect cells to grow muscle and fat in a lab, making a sustainable alternative to animal meat. She thinks scientists could make food that tastes and chews like steak, chicken, lobster or shrimp.
Meat production is a leading cause of climate change, due to the water and energy demands of the industry. The production of fertilizer for livestock feed also emits nitrous oxide, and the animals themselves produce methane gas through bodily excretions. Both methane and nitrous oxide, heat-trapping gases, are significantly more potent than carbon dioxide. Eating less meat could also help preserve forests, which are often cut down for cow pastures.
The idea of eating insects isn’t appealing to many people, but Rubio told Popular Science she hopes eliminating the legs, eyes and other crunchy parts of the bugs might boost acceptance.
The meat and poultry industry is the largest segment of U.S. agriculture, with 9 billion chickens and over 32 million cows and calves processed in 2017. The Midwest is the epicenter of most livestock and slaughter in the U.S., and Indiana is known for its hog and cattle industry.
Decreasing American reliance on livestock and poultry could dramatically slow the progression of climate change and increase air quality in areas around animal production facilities in Indiana.