On our Facebook page, we recently asked the question of whether people would be willing to eat edible insects, including crickets. The answer was an overwhelming “no”, but you may have been wondering why we opted to ask the question in the first place. The answer is simple: these insects are a sustainable food source that relieves pressure on the planet and are packed with nutrients for us!
The taste of a healthier planet & diet
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recently issued approval for the consumption of the house cricket, with nine other insect applications undergoing safety evaluation by the EFSA. The reason for this is that as the world’s population is expected to reach some 9.8 billion people by 2050, demand for food and feed will put ridiculously intense pressure on agricultural resources. Resources that are already overexploited.
And this is where the creepy-crawlies come into the equation. For starters (literally and figuratively), they’re a great source of protein and when they convert their feed into nutrients, not only do they do so more efficiently than livestock (cows, pigs etc), but what they produce is more environmentally friendly.
They release far fewer greenhouse gases and ammonia per kilo of meat than livestock, and crickets, for example, are filled with protein, iron and vitamin B-12. However, if you’re gluten intolerant and/or allergic to crustaceans, dust mites and molluscs, you might want to stick to your traditional diet.
Coming soon to Malta?
The biggest obstacle at the moment is packaging edible insects as an actual alternative to meat. As one person on our poll commented, “we don’t eat for nutrition, we eat for enjoyment!”, and it’s hard to argue with that. So, there are two things that need to be done. First, we need to establish that the insect actually tastes good. After that, it needs to be integrated into the local culture.
In Malta, could you imagine having a “ftira werżieq” instead of your morning “bajd u bacon”? Or cricket with spaghetti as opposed to rabbit? We won’t be sacrilegious and suggest pastizzi (for now) but when it comes to reaching sustainability goals, then everything’s worth consideration.
The truth is that insects are far easier to “farm” and require much less land. This in particular should interest locals given the ever-disappearing arable land in Malta. The excrement they produce, called frass, is an excellent fertilizer and soil amender. So, with far fewer emissions required, reaching Malta’s 2030 climate goals suddenly become easier. The reasons in favour of catering for an insect-based diet keep increasing.
It’s likely to happen
It’s likely to happen not because we have to; that will be a key factor. But the reality is that food culture always changes. 500 years ago Italian’s thought tomatoes were poisonous; now they’re kings of pizza and pasta. How many people would have eaten raw fish 50 years ago? Now, sushi is a culinary phenomenon.
The idea is not for insects to replace meat, however, but to reduce demand. Apparently, the best place to start would be salt-roasted crickets, the gateway bug, served with beer. So, tasty, healthy, sustainable for the planet, easy to farm and local. What’s not to like?
In order to compete, manufacturers will have to figure out how to successfully market bugs to consumers. The sustainability halo and health aspects may be enough for some, but are unlikely to work on a wider scale, says Cortni Borgerson, an anthropology professor at Montclair State University in New Jersey. “You can’t just say, ‘this source of protein you’ve been eating all your life? Well you can’t have that anymore. Here’s another source, and it’s got six legs instead of four.’ That will never work.” The goal, she says by video chat from New Jersey, should be “to find something that people would rather be eating, or would like just as much.” In other words, insects have to taste at least as good as what they are meant to replace.
In the taste stakes, crickets still come up short. Fried and dusted with chili lime or nacho spice, they don’t taste much different from say, corn nuts or extra crispy shrimp. In powder form, it has a mild, nutty flavor and is best used like a protein boost, sprinkled over porridge, stirred into a vegetarian chili or folded into banana bread batter. Devotees say they can’t get enough, but even they admit that crickets may have a hard getting past that most damning of descriptions—a meat alternative.
A bug fit for a taco
The hatching of a trend
Food culture does change. Five hundred years ago, Italians thought tomatoes were poisonous. In the 1800s, Americans considered lobsters to be trash food and fed them to prisoners. Few cultures ate raw fish 50 years ago; now sushi is ubiquitous. Insects are likely to follow the same trajectory, says Fisher, who suggests salt-roasted crickets served with beer as the ideal “gateway bug.” The sustainability factor, the health aspects, those are the angles that will make people want to try edible insects, he says. The rest is easy. “If it’s done right, they will keep coming back for more, because it tastes really good.”