Let them eat bugs…in space

The subject of two articles in today’s newspaper have been conflated in the title of this column. Article one involved the prospect that as the world’s population reaches 8 billion people, the need for a protein-rich food source will create an international diet of bugs. Bugs, the article points out, are a rich source of tasty fats and proteins, and are already widely consumed by people in many parts of the world. Besides, it goes on, we’re going to run out of land for raising cattle, so “let them eat bugs!”

The second article was about the technology company PayPal and their current effort to develop a workable system for people to order stuff online while traveling in space and living on Mars. Now that’s planning ahead, or perhaps just a good PR gimmick to get PayPal mentioned in the business section of the newspaper. Though the CEO of PayPal tries to position the effort to “dream big and to chart the future,” by the time people are living on Mars the internet and technology won’t resemble anything we have today. Technology changes so fast how it will look in 20 years is not even imaginable.

The conflation of these two strange articles (and perhaps it was just a slow news day and the Chronicle was desperate for content) produced a reflection on the trends of commercial human society, one in which the starving millions are saved by the clever community of billionaires willing to invest in bug-farming (surely their lobbyists will get congress to create bug-farming tax credits!), and Richard Branson of Virgin Galactic teams up with PayPay to make sure the passengers to Mars can pay for plenty of nutritious bugs online. Salted crickets, anyone?

The whole scenario feels unseemly to me. First, though insects may well be a good food source, digging into a bowl of dried mealy bugs sounds downright repulsive. I know Kellogg’s is good at marketing, and a cute “Mickey the Mealy Bug” cartoon character (also sure to be available on kid’s clothing) is probably inevitable, but really, a bowl of sugar-frosted beetle grubs with soy milk is a turn-off.

The larger issue is about poverty and entitlement, and the likelihood that the wealthy will be the ones eating deep-fried ants and termites is low. Though the future acreage devoted to cattle may prove to be inadequate, something tells me the Bill Gates and Warren Buffet’s of the future will continue to enjoy their filet mignon (rare of course).

And as for people ordering items online and paying with PayPal while they whisk their way to Mars, it also smacks of entitlement. Sure, the rates of space travel will drop over time, but for now only millionaires need apply. And will they need to order anything from space? Not likely. Fly first class on any decent airline today and you’ll find yourself wanting for nothing. Even the salted nuts are served warm, as are the complimentary moist hand towels.

Of course, there is one more scenario, the shadow scenario: The poor and impoverished of Earth are fed high-protein dried bugs and shipped off by the tens-of-thousands to Mars to provide house-keeping and maintenance services for the galactic billionaire real estate developers, bankers and businesses of the future.

Thankfully, by then I will be dead and the bugs will have eaten me.