Ants anyone? Pass the bees please!

Fancy some deep fried locusts with a side of sautéed crickets? Scorpion soup with toasted ants anyone?

It may sound like something from a ‘Bushtucker trial’, but it actually could become reality — or so the EU hopes. Having recently invested £2.65 million in a project promoting the eating of insects, the EU is investigating the practicalities of insect cuisine. Although this may seem rather far-fetched, it is just one of the new measures the EU is considering to solve the problems of food shortage. With populations continuing to rise and costs of meat ever-increasing, our sources of protein are becoming limited. A food crisis could very well turn into a reality within a few years, since as a population our demand for food, and for good food quality, increases each year. In terms of UK meat production, costs for farmers are mounting, making it very difficult to keep the prices of meat on our supermarket shelves low. I have always been a huge believer in ‘buying British’ wherever possible, and transporting meat from countries outside the UK is simply not an environmentally sustainable option. The UK, like many EU countries, therefore, faces a dilemma; as you can see, eating our insects might be the most logical option. We are all very much aware of the fact that there are bugs a-plenty throughout Europe, so could this really be a solution for our food problems?

For one, unfortunately no matter how much you dress it up or word it, insects will always be insects, the creepy crawly things we don’t really like. Although it might be daring or amusing to try it once or twice, realistically most of you will never opt for a grasshopper sandwich over a burger. Furthermore the logistics of having the nation frequently eat insects are not ideal. To have insects as a genuine alternative to meat here in the UK would mean setting up insect farms on a vast commercial scale. Needless to say, if insects such as locusts escaped, they would be impossible to round-up and could easily devastate the local area and crops. Also, in terms of food standards and safety, insects often carry more diseases than cattle, which could lead to health problems in humans.

In department stores and high-end food shops, insects and other such creepy crawlies have been available to buy in the UK for some time, mostly in the form of sweets and snacks. These are generally marketed as novelty gifts and have never been close to becoming popular in the UK or reaching the general consumer market. However, in other parts of the world insects and the like are often considered to be delicacies. For example in China, bee larvae (deep fried with salt and pepper) are a favourite local snack, and are the equivalent of popcorn in rural China. Hugely popular in South Korea is the street snack, stewed silk worm pupae, which apparently have a nutty flavour. Deep fried tarantulas feature in Cambodian cuisine and are described as “pleasantly gooey”, tasting like a cross between cod and chicken.

It still might not be sounding delicious enough to switch your steak for; however, the health benefits of eating insects as opposed to meat cannot be denied. A portion of deep fried grasshopper in a Chinese dish contains 60% RDA of protein with only 6% fat, much healthier than a hamburger, which on average contains only 22% protein and a huge 37% fat. Insects also release far less carbon dioxide than cattle and need less food, making them an environmentally friendly option.

Professor Marcel Dicke from Wageningen University in the Netherlands (which specialises in food research) said: “By 2020 everybody will be buying insects in supermarkets. We will be amazed that people in 2011 didn’t think it was going to happen”. So brace yourselves for the insect taste sensation that we will experience. However, those of you who are yet to be converted might be interested to know that bugs and insects accidently slip into our food system all the time, and when added up this is as much as 500g of insects eaten by every person every year. That’s two bags of Haribo full of locusts, ants and spiders to snack on while you are in Hallward.

Rebecca Cranshaw

FoodThis Issue

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