We Need Bugs In Our Food

Let me start by saying that I’m really not a big fan of bugs. I mean, most people aren’t, but I’m one of those wimps who has to get my mom to kill the spider on my pillow for me. And don’t even get me started on bees. I’m terrified of them. I turn into an irrational baby when one gets too close to me, and I avoid them at all costs. I’m convinced my phobia is rooted in my childhood, during which my dad frequently told me the story of how he almost died from an anaphylactic reaction to a bee sting. I’ve never even been stung. When I was little, if you had told me there was a way to get rid of all the bees in the world, I would have been all for it.

Now, though, as averse as I am to them, the knowledge I have acquired forces me to concede that bees are actually essential to our survival. I admit I don’t know that much about it, but bees are pollinators, which means they facilitate the fertilization of certain plants that allows them reproduce. And they don’t just pollinate flowers — bees are responsible for pollinating many crops that are integral to our food system. Without bees, the diversity of our diet would decrease substantially, to the point where it would be even more difficult to feed the world nutritiously than it is now. And unfortunately for us, bees are steadily disappearing, in a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder. Many researchers have linked this horror to the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, which are meant to kill harmful pests, but seem to be killing beneficial ones as well. So not only are chemical pesticides hurting farmworkers and the environment and to some extent consumers, they are also probably hurting an organism that is crucial to a consistent supply of food. What’s more, attempting to get rid of “harmful” pests with chemical pesticides is also not great, because in our monocultural industrial agriculture system, the insects grow resistant to the chemicals and they become ineffective, leading to the need for harsher pesticides. There are better ways to manage crop-eating pests.

I might be able to forgive the accidental killing of bees because I know that it was indeed accidental. What little faith I have in agricultural chemical companies assures me they would never intentionally get rid of necessary pollinators. But what is even more acutely concerning and less excusable is the crusade to get rid of much tinier bugs — I am referring to certain disease-causing bacteria. Our society’s overuse of antibiotics and antibacterial substances to attempt to sterilize our environment has consequences, namely the destruction of beneficial bacteria and the proliferation of harmful, pathogenic bacteria that are resistant to these antibiotic substances. By far, the worst abuse of antibiotics is in the food system, as I’ve written previously. Industrially raised livestock are routinely fed antibiotics to promote growth and prevent disease. The disease prevention is considered necessary because the animals’ living conditions are generally unsanitary and disease-promoting. With all of these antibiotics, the number of strains of antibiotic resistant bacteria is growing and there are still shockingly high counts of pathogenic bacteria found in samples of industrially raised meat. There are better ways to raise healthy animals.

I can think of several other examples of the necessity of various types of bugs, but alas, I must get back to studying.

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