This idea has legs: the future of edible insects

We might see eating insects as the repulsive challenges in reality TV shows like I’m A Celeb Get Me Out Of Here or as the pretty unrealistic survival techniques championed by the likes of Bear Grylls, or better, as the regular pastime of characters like Leo Di Caprio in the film ‘The Beach’, who make preparing and eating insects look like an unfeasibly easy and attractive process.

However creepy the thought, in the future, eating insects could become a commonplace part of our everyday diet. And it’s not as if we’ll be dropping live creepy-crawlies down our throats. They’ll most likely be hidden (and cooked, I’d hope) in lovely, crunchy burgers or protein-filled snacks.

Research last year showed that nearly a third of people in the UK believe that these sorts of insect-based food will be part of our mainstream diet within the next decade. More surprising, 72% of people in this study from the Agricultural Biotechnology Council (ABC) said that they’d support these kinds of technologised food habits.

Amongst things like lab-grown meat and urban farming, this trend is part of a growing effort to find different ways to feed a growing population at a time when traditional farming is becoming more and more stretched due to soil exhaustion and erosion. And rearing cows or producing vegan-alternative soybeans are bad for the climate as they use a disproportionate amount of water and land space. With the population set to grow to nearly 10 billion, any additional food sources must be explored. Imagine the difference it would make if we were to partially replace these resource intensive foods with insects, which need hardly any water, feed or land to harvest; and thus may be the perfect protein addition to feed the proverbial extra 385,000 people showing up at our dinner table each night.

Besides, insects are also extremely healthy: the little beasts are full of nutrients like fats, proteins and amino acids. In adopting insects in our diets, we are merely following the eating habits of millions of people in developing countries. Whilst in the West the mere sight of creepies makes us shudder, according to the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation, already at least 2 billion people across the world regularly consume more than 100 species of insects.

If this makes you squeamish, not to worry. Many insects can be eaten in forms which don’t give away what you are actually eating. Nevertheless an article in the New York Times suggested that “secrecy isn’t the way to persuade a wary public” but rather that reaping the ultimate benefits of eating insects is reliant on eating them “in their natural physical state.” Some bravery is certainly required!

Though fresh insects aren’t readily available in stores in the UK (no surprise there), dried edible insects can be bought from a host of online stores: crickets and mealworms are apparently high in demand in some parts of North America and Europe and are used in pulverized forms, like flour and as such have endless uses in food preparation. Like tortilla chips made out of mealworm flour.

If the idea still fills you with disgust, consider listening to the insect-eating celebrity ambassadors that have hopped on board the trend: “You start with crickets and a beer,” Angelina Jolie told The Independent in a 2017 interview. In an album launch a year later, Justin Timberlake said he served guests “ants coated in black garlic and rose oil as well as fried grasshoppers.”


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