Last weekend an article caught my eye in the Guardian; “Grub’s up” the headline read! It was an article examining insects, or lack thereof, in the Western diet. It’s a subject that I had come across during my time developing science documentaries. At the time I was looking into alternative food sources, and ideas which I delved into had included ‘artificial meat’ and vertical farms. But the idea of edible insects stuck with me so when the Guardian article popped up I decided to revisit these tiny beasts!
As the population continues to grows, there are more hungry mouths to feed, meaning existing food suppliers cannot keep up with demand, stockpiles are reaching new lows, and the prices of basics such as rice are going through the roof. To add to the doom and gloom, eating meat is likely to contribute to climate change by generating an estimated 20% of the greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere.
In light of all these negatives, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) held a workshop in Thailand in 2008 to look into the possibility of insects as an environmentally friendly alternative food source. Mankind has eaten bugs since ancient times and the popularly quoted statistic is that today more than 1,000 types of insect are eaten in countries around the world in 80% of nations. In South Africa edible insects are a multimillion dollar industry whilst in Thailand creepy crawlies are commonly farmed and foraged. However, psychologically the Western world still has a problem with the thoughts of putting creepy crawlies in our mouths.
Farming insects instead of livestock could emit 10 times less methane into the atmosphere. Professor Arnold van Huis, an entomologist at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, FAO consultant and one of the most vocal scientists on the subject, has previously explained that “producing a kilo of beef requires 13 kilos of grass or green matter. But to produce a kilo of cricket, beetle or grasshopper meat one needs just 1.5 to 2 kilos of feed and it produces a fraction of the carbon dioxide emissions.” Being cold-blooded, insects convert plant matter into protein extremely efficiently.
Top end food retailers, such as Harrods and Fortnum and Masons, have started selling bug delicacies, such as chocolate covered ants, in recent years. And, throughout the Western world, entomophagists (insect eaters to you and me) are trying to persuade people that a multitude of different insects are tasty treats. You never know, they may be one of our main sources of protein in the future!
The Guardian article tells the story of Marc Dennis who, for the last two years, has hosted a multitude of bug infested dinner parties in Brooklyn, New York. His signature dishes, inspired by his childhood in Puerto Rico, are said to include dry-roasted crickets and deep-fried worms. Here’s one to try at home!
Banana worm bread
2 bananas, mashed
1 tsp soda
1 tsp salt
60g chopped nuts
50g dry-roasted mealworms
Mix together all the ingredients and bake in a greased loaf tin at 180C/350F/gas mark 4 for about one hour.