The West’s Missing Food Group

23rd August 2016

How do you like your critters, fried, crumbled or dipped in chocolate? 

Finding an insect in your restaurant-ordered gastro-burger isn’t something that you’d normally be happy to pay for. But what if the words were clearly printed on the menu? ‘Signature bug burgers (a blend of toasted crickets, mealworms and grasshoppers, spinach, sundried tomato and seasonings) with polenta chips and tatziki,’ is also available in a child’s size portion at Grub Kitchen in Wales. Don’t be alarmed; more than two billion people enjoy insects as part of their diet around the world. It just seems we might not be so wild in the West after all.

The technical term for bug eating is entomophagy, and if you look closely you’ll be able to find ingredients like grasshoppers in the indexes of dozens of cookbooks. The beautiful pink, orange and blue hardback, ‘Mexico: The Cookbook’ by Margarita Carrillo Arronte was seducing bibliophiles in high-street shops all across the country last year. Little did they know that the book had a recipe for ‘crepas de flor de calabaza, chapulines y queso’ printed on page one hundred and thirty seven. ‘Chapulines’, are grasshoppers.

While it might seem like novelty to us, insects are undoubtedly a valuable source of nutrients. Not only are they rich in protein, iron, calcium and zinc; insects are also considered to be very low in fat. If you’re still not convinced, consider that insect farms have a fraction of the impact on our planet that industrial livestock farming does.

Photo by Alyssa Brandt.

Photo by Alyssa Brandt.

Stigma is still a problem, however. In the West, we put insects and contamination side by side and this means that bugs are not an ideal endorsement for any restaurant, let alone your own kitchen. One designer is currently attempting to shift this perception with her ‘Bug Banquets’. Chloe Bulpin is broadening food boundaries by focussing on creative food presentation, and she is currently taking her culinary events around New York. One of her favourite food experiments is with pear-like waterbugs that she turns into an ice-cream flavour.

Back in the UK, we have quirky ‘pestivals’ that pop up from time to time, and of course Pembrokeshire’s intriguing Grub Kitchen. But what about in Edinburgh? While there certainly aren’t any restaurants displaying critter courses on their pavement chalkboards, we do have a beetle farm nestled somewhere in the city. An event at Safari Lounge in May invited pub-goers to sample homemade mealworm haggis pakora, courtesy of Craig Macfarlane, co-founder of Bugs for Life. Keep an eye on Bugs for Life’s whereabouts, and you’ll be able to satisfy your creepy crawly cravings at locations around the city.

Photo by Alyssa Brandt.

Photo by Alyssa Brandt.

While we tend to call insects future-foods, the idea of snacking on critters has actually been around for a long time. Erin Miller, a researcher of consumer attitudes towards entomophagy at The University of Edinburgh, says insects were a huge part of early human diets in Africa. When people migrated to more temperate regions where the insects were smaller, critters slowly got phased out of our diets. Now, we can grow them in large quantities here on farms meaning that insects could once again easily become a major part of nutrient intake.

If you’re convinced and you’d love to jump on the bug bandwagon, there’s something you should know – those pesky critters don’t come cheap. A non-mainstream product like insects can cost up to £30 for a starter pack ordered online. The solution according to Miller is to grow your own as Bugs for Life co-founder Craig Mcfarlane does. A few plastic boxes in a warm area of your house with some oats are the basic tools needed to farm insects.

But why stop there? Ben Reade, a Leither, chef, and Head of Culinary Research at Nordic Food Lab in Copenhagen thinks we can take it further. In an interview with The Scotsman, he said:

‘We are looking to explore the whole natural edible world. We have been looking into the edible seashore, too – limpets, razor clams, seaweed. We are opening up the discussion on a whole lot of other things, whether that’s insects, seaweed, oddly-shaped vegetables or offal. It’s about changing food habits and acceptance.’

Oddly-shaped vegetables are already becoming more popular with consumers after being given the label ‘wonky veg’. It’s true that changing perceptions is never easy, but how far are you prepared to go to catch up with the rest of the world? Whether you adapt your diet to be more environmentally friendly, or if it’s to be the healthiest version of yourself, insects are an exciting food group worth investigating.

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