From giant water bugs in Thailand through to Chapulines in Mexico there is already a wealth of insects that are eaten around the world. The most recent tally puts the number of species of insects that are eaten around the world at a staggering 2037 and the last few years has seen a pulse of research and media coverage, on various aspects of how entoculture (the farming of insects) might contribute to issues of food security in the future. From recycling plastic, to providing an efficient way to produce protein rich food and feed, the farming of insects is generating quite the buzz.
Chapulines in Mexico https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chapulines.jpg
Got a waste problem? Find an insect that will eat it!
One major problem of our food production system is that it is extremely wasteful, from the species we choose to farm right through to how we select which products make the cut to be sold in our markets. What if we could produce a valuable protein source to be used as human food or animal feed from every bit of food waste produced by our agricultural system? Increasingly, research is showing us that by using insects, to process this waste into usable food and feed, this might well be possible. Looking across almost every waste product, there is an insect that might eat it. Waste meat, why not use flesh flies? They already perform the same conversion process in nature on industrial scales. Is Dung your problem? Don’t worry, there are beetles and flies that view a pile of dung more as their version of a cheeky Nandos. Even plastic might not be beyond the mighty Darkling beetle, who’s larvae were recently shown to break down polystyrene, a plastic that is otherwise not possible to recycle. By decreasing the wastefulness of our agricultural system, and at the same time producing protein rich feed, it seems insects will be a vital to our fight for food security.
On that farm he had a cricket E.I.E.I.O
Although insects are not the first thing that comes to mind when you say the word livestock, viewing them in the same frame of mind as we view our pigs and cows could provide major benefits to farming them. Selective breeding has revolutionised the productivity of every one of our farmed organisms. Modern day Maize is almost unrecognisable compared to its ancient ancestor teosinte. Meanwhile, we have managed to take the wild Red Jungle fowl, that produces fewer than 20 eggs, and breed chickens that produce over 300 eggs a year. There are obvious benefits of applying selective breeding to insects, generating strains with increased productivity or efficiency of feed conversion and many exciting questions remain. Could we breed giant versions of our current insects that are eaten, to be sold in a soon to be thriving entomophagy market? Just imagine popping down to your local supermarket and buying 1kg of giant crickets that are as large as your hands.
A million and one new recipes!
Insects are all around us and their stunning diversity and abundance staggering. However, there remains a ‘YUCK’ factor in many countries to the idea of eating insects. Working with Bugs for Life, I am fascinated by the different attitudes of people to the idea of eating insects. One of the ways we engage with people about insects as food, is to try to imagine some classic recipes with insects in them. Our first foray into this was when Craig, our outreach leader, created his very own Bug Haggis, or Buggis, as he likes to call it. With over 2000 species already being eaten around the world, the potential for new flavours and recipes is definitely something to get excited about. I am certainly looking forward to visiting Grub in Pembrokeshire, the first insect restaurant in the UK, and trying some of their insect dishes. So will it be Spaghetti Bugonaise or a cricket and ale pie that will be your new favourite recipe?
Rudi Verspoor is a PhD student at the University of Liverpool, where he studies processes of evolution in Insects. He is also the co-founder of Bugs for Life, an organisation that studies traditional entomophagy and raises awareness about edible insects across the UK.
Follow @RVerspoor and @Bugs_For_Life on Twitter to follow their exciting work.