Bugs May Be The Latest Culinary Trend

Over 2 billion people across 100 countries eat insects as part of their regular or traditional diet. But in the Western world, where meat consumption — and indeed the consumption of food in general — is disproportionately high, making bugs an accepted part of the menu would be beneficial — if not difficult, given the obvious taboos (there is a reason insects are almost always only eaten in the context of reality shows, or as part of gross-out humor).

NPR’s excellent food and health column, The Salt, has more on this growing trend in the West, and how bugs can be made more palatable to societies where eating is them unthinkable. 

It’s true that many insects may not be especially enticing at a sensory level, at least at first: They’re dry, and their wings and legs may crumble strangely in your mouth.

But there are other ways around this that don’t involve visual seduction with gold dust. Last summer, we attended an event called the “Pestaurant” that featured turkey burgers with ground-up and whole grasshoppers. As we reported, the burgers were juicy and full of flavor, thanks, in part, to a brilliant secret ingredient: duck fat. We watched as many skeptics gobbled the burgers, clearly happy to accept the unfamiliar addition to the succulent dish.

Entomophagists agree that bugs will need some culinary champions to really go big.

“Chefs (and their celebrity diners) will have to play a leading role in making crickets (or any other edible insects) attractive and desirable, in the same way that California chefs turned dangerous and disgusting raw fish into sushi, the dish of Hollywood elites,” Robert Nathan Allen, founder of Little Herds, a group that’s working to grow the market for edible bugs, tells The Salt in an email.

Deroy thinks some insects could also stand to be re-named, a la the Chilean sea bass (formerly Patagonian toothfish). And indeed, there have been efforts to rename locusts “sky prawns” to make them more appetizing.

“And we should not forget those with a sweet tooth: many insects lend themselves naturally to desserts,” she writes.

I would personally be open to eating insects, depending on how they are prepared (spices would be a must). I worked at a pet store for several years, and we used live crickets as a staple food for a lot of our animals. I learned they were high in protein and fat, and could be “gut loaded” — fed formula of grounded foodstuffs, like grains and veggies — that would make them even healthier. A lot of my customers, especially those with ties or travels abroad, expressed a favorable view of them as a wholesome snack (usually dried in salt and vinegar).

In any case, as an article in the BBC notes, bugs might be more than a chic or exotic meal — their consumption could very well be necessary to the future of the planet and its hundreds of millions of starving people:

By the year 2050, the planet will be packed with nine billion people. In low- and middle-income countries, the demand for animal products is rising sharply as economies grow; in the next few decades, we’ll need to figure out how to produce enough protein for billions more mouths. Simply ramping up our current system is not really a solution. The global livestock industry already takes an enormous toll on the environment. It’s a hungry and thirsty beast, gobbling up land and water. It’s a potent polluter, thanks to the animal waste and veterinary medicines that seep into soil and water. And it emits more greenhouse gases than planes, trains and automobiles combined.

The insect authorities assembling in Ede believe that entomophagy could be an elegant solution to many of these problems. Insects are chock-full of protein and rich in essential micronutrients, such as iron and zinc. They don’t need as much space as livestock, emit lower levels of greenhouse gases, and have a sky-high feed conversion rate: a single kilogram of feed yields 12 times more edible cricket protein than beef protein. Some species of insects are drought resistant and may require less water than cows, pigs or poultry.

Insect meal could also replace some of the expensive ingredients (e.g. soybeans and fishmeal) that are fed to farm animals, potentially lowering the cost of livestock products and freeing up feed crops for human consumption. As an added bonus, bugs can be raised on refuse, such as food scraps and animal manure, so insect farms could increase the world’s supply of protein while reducing and recycling waste.

Given the growing ethical and environmental consequences of industrial livestock raising, many people are turning to the plentiful — and surprisingly nutritious — population of insects to help meet the world’s growing demand for meat. Hence why so many organizations and researches, as well as adventurous foodies and culinary pioneers, are pushing to make bugs more mainstream food.

What are your thoughts on this development? Would you eat bugs, whether by necessity or interest? Do you think they are a viable solution to the problems outlined above?

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