Swap burgers for bugs to save the planet says UN

Clockwise from top left: Food from Thailand, Japan, Guatemala, China, USA and South Africa.

Can the world stomach the latest sustainability recommendation from the United Nations: will you make insects a central part of your diet, to protect the environment and solve world hunger?

Next time you step on a wood louse, perhaps you should think twice about what you have squashed: was it an unsightly pest, or a valuable source of protein, a crustacean in fact, which might be delicious boiled and served with a hollandaise sauce?

The United Nations would like all us to make the wood louse and his insect friends a regular part of our diet; with the world population now higher than seven billion, the organisation’s specialists in food and agriculture say the whole human race needs to adopt the entomophagy already practised in some regions.

Eating insects is not a new fad. The Book of Leviticus permits eating locusts, while early Western travellers reported American Indian chiefs carrying on conversations while snacking on the crunchy bugs that infested their shirts. In Australia, Aboriginal peoples are expert at roasting Wichetty Grubs in their shells – according to one adventurous gourmet they taste ‘like nut-flavoured scrambled eggs and mild mozzarella wrapped in filo pastry.’

In some regions, creepy crawlies have remained a delicacy. Mexicans are happy to munch roasted grasshoppers, while in parts of South America people even eat tarantulas. Across Asia, tasty recipes for termites, weevils and scorpions (steamed, barbecued or dipped in sauce) are common street food and restaurant fare.

But now the UN wants the rest of us to develop similar tastes as a matter of urgency, because exploding population numbers, climate change and overfishing have made food shortages a pressing threat. The experts say we need to find more environmentally-friendly sources of protein.

Bugs, which are plentiful, nutritious and very efficient to rear, could be the solution.

A Bug’s Life

Since reports about the UN report hit the headlines, some shops in the UK claim their sales of exotic edible insect products have shot up. But they only sell novelties, rather than training Western taste buds to transform an instinctive reaction of disgust at the very idea of eating insects into a gratified ‘yum!’

The blogosphere has long been filled with those on the wilder reaches of the gourmet world, who are keen to educate us in the culinary side of creepy crawlies: ‘Ants have a vinegary taste until they are boiled, and are best dressed with lemon juice or coated with honey’ is typical of the advice on offer. Or ‘taste improves if you remove the wings and legs’.

But are ordinary Western eaters, never mind home cooks, adventurous enough to do what’s necessary to combat hunger and global warming? Will we ever be ready to give up our burgers and turn to the bugs?

You Decide

  1. Do you eat anything that might disgust someone else?
  2. Why is farming insects for food more environmentally friendly than farming traditional livestock like beef cattle?

Activities

  1. Design a menu for an insect-themed restaurant.
  2. Describe the top three strategies that could help to address global food shortages.

Some People Say...

“Take a glance at the fancy ants and maybe try a few!’ Baloo the Bear”

What do you think?

Q & A

Sorry, I can’t talk to you, I feel sick!
Oh no! What you need to decide is whether the disgust you are feeling is a sign that you really shouldn’t be putting these foods into your body, or a squeamishness that naturally arises from having to think of creatures that you think of in one category (unclean pests) into another category (dinner).
Not all bugs are pests.
Very true, and there may be a different mental block about eating grasshoppers, butterflies or dragonflies: they’re too beautiful to be put in the pot. But anyone who is not a vegan or strict vegetarian is already making distinctions between which creatures are too cute or too revolting to eat, and those they would happily chomp on. Lots of people in Europe eat rabbit, for example, but others baulk at the idea.

Word Watch

Crustacean
Lobster, prawns, crabs and other similar shellfish. They have exoskeletons and long, jointed limbs. The woodlouse belongs to this group of creatures, and is rumoured to turn pink when cooked!
Leviticus
In the Old Testament, the Book of Leviticus is packed with rules about forbidden behaviours, but the eating of all grasshopper-type insects is permitted.
Entomophagy
The technical term for eating insects. From Greek: entomon, insect and phagein, to eat.
Efficient to rear
According to the new report from the Food and Agriculture Organisation, part of the UN, insects use just 2 kg of feed to produce 1 kg of insect meat. Cattle, at the other end of the spectrum, require 8 kg of feed to produce 1 kg of beef.
Nutritious
As well as providing a good source of protein, the FAO report says some insects are high in essential fatty acids and the micro-nutrients which are absent from the diet of those suffering malnutrition.

Subjects

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