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I read an interesting article on the internet today about entomophagy. “What’s that?” I hear you say? Well, it is the practice of eating insects.
I have eaten a few insects in my time. Travelling through Asia, I have sampled everything they have to offer, including crickets in Cambodia and scorpions in China. But my introduction to insect food came on an earlier trip to Australia, when I spent a few days in the bush with an Aboriginal guide called Geoffrey. He taught me numerous lessons about surviving in the wild, and at night we cooked kangaroo tail and Witchetty grubs in the glowing red embers of a campfire. Witchetty grubs look like oversized maggots, and can be eaten raw. However, when lightly cooked, they develop a crunchy outside with a texture like mashed potato on the inside. The taste is meaty, and slightly nutty. In fact, quite pleasant.
I find now that insect cuisine has become a popular recent topic a bit closer to home, with many experts suggesting it might be the next sustainable food revolution in western countries. Compared with traditional livestock farming, insects farming has a number of advantages. It requires far fewer inputs (less water, less space, less feed) and produce little in the way of greenhouse gas emissions. Currently, the rearing of livestock accounts for 14.5% of global emissions.
The following graphics (from: http://www.eatgrub.co.uk demonstrate some interesting comparisons:
Although not traditionally part of a western diet, insects have been a staple part of food intake in other locations. Around 2 billion people across the world regularly eat insects as part of their diet. In the tropics, for instance, insects are more readily available, larger, and more nutritious than in more temperate zones, making them a better food source. Entomophagy could help to fight world hunger and reduce pollution. The world’s population is growing, so we need to produce more food to feed everyone – and there are lots of insects to go around.
Edible insects come in all shapes and sizes, and it is possible to feast on over 1,000 species of insects, including grasshoppers, ants, wasps, mealworms, beetles, crickets and cockroaches. Some ants burst with honey as you bite into them, giant hornet pupae melt like cream on your tongue, and beetle larvae leave a smoky taste in your mouth. African termites, freshly roasted after the first rains, have a distinct taste of bacon, while Mexican grasshoppers can be quite fruity and tangy.
These insects can be served in a variety of ways including fried, boiled, sautéed, roasted or baked with a bit of oil and salt. They can also be made into flour and used in breads, crackers and biscuits. Insects are filled with lots of good nutrients, including amino acids and protein. provide as much – if not more – protein than beef! And many insect species have less than 5g of fat per serving.
Small-scale edible insect farms are becoming more and popular in the UK, producing mealworms and crickets for customers in the home market. These are ‘circular businesses’, taking surplus vegetables from local shops to be used for food for the insects. It is possible to access insect food from your nearest Asian supermarket, and last November, Sainsbury’s became the first major UK grocer to stock edible crickets, selling them as snacks in 250 of its stores. It is now also easy to source insect food online, and one of the best sellers (that also supply Sainsbury’s) is:
This site also includes some useful information about insect food, and some excellent graphics for use in the classroom. Many have been used to illustrate this article.
This web site has a list of the top 50 edible insects – perhaps you turn this into a quiz for your class?
There is another aspect of insect food to consider which may be even more important in today’s world of a changing climate. Insects have traditionally been collected, prepared and sold by people who hold little economic or political power. Commoditising insects as food may help make a significant contribution to the livelihoods of some of the world’s most marginalised communities. Can we wealthy consumers contribute to a fairer world by promoting and purchasing edible insects?
Insects have been tipped to rival sushi as the fashionable food of the future, and a poll carried out in 2019 discovered that one third of people in the UK believe that edible insects will eventually become part of their diets. Anyone up for making a start?