Insects on trend?

A recent BBC4 documentary has highlighted Asia’s love of eating insects. But will the dish of grub and bugs ever translate?

Can eating insects change the world? BBC4’s so-titled documentary, which aired in March, ventured into the world of entomophagy – the eating of creepy crawlies. Deep fried crickets and grilled tarantulas in the not-so-squeamish nations of Thailand and Cambodia were endured by food writer and broadcaster, Stefan Gates, who ultimately found himself speaking the word on our nation’s lips – bleurgh.

While Gates’ revulsion seemed adverse to the probable plan of changing viewers’ perceptions of our many-legged friends, some interesting facts were drawn on as he dotted around Thailand’s food markets and Cambodia’s cricket farms.

Seeing kids turn up to school with bags full of crickets for the lunchtime feast, or hunting tarantula nests for a furry friend is something we could all put money on as probably never happening in England. We get to see the hard graft communities put in to round up these tasty morsels, preventing pests in the paddy fields and starvation in Cambodia. With something like 40 tonnes of insects per human on the planet, the facts and figures are impressive, and have led to the rapid growth of insect farming in Thailand and Cambodia in the last 20 years. Though their economies are different – Thailand produces for its tourism and culture; Cambodia for the redress of malnutrition and low daily wages – the popularity is great and the likely use in food security evident.

Whether for a snack or for supper, insects are apparently 20 times more efficient than beef: they’re cold-blooded, eat little and barely expend any energy. The growth cycle from egg to full-grown cricket, for example, is just 45 days, and even more importantly, they reproduce quickly. If you were tasked with engineering a food to solve food insecurity, insects would be it (minus the eggs, legs and fangs, probably.)

But here in England, we’re probably not quite there yet, though insects are increasingly creeping onto our menus. Most recently, Wahaca, the Mexican restaurant chain, is currently serving up chapulines fundido – grasshopper fondue at its Southbank restaurant. Apparently a much sought-after delicacy, the month-long trial of grasshopper aims to make “a step in the right direction of sustainable food production and hopefully one that will change our food map forever.”

Insects are hailed as one of the potential answers to food insecurity. Their quick and cheap economy for a high-protein gain is on paper a much lauded idea. After Stefan’s often unconvincing, emphatic claims of “it’s delicious”, it became apparent that if this show was actually called, Can Sending A Food Journalist to Asia Make Him Learn to Love Eating Insects?, the answer would probably be no. And if the self-styled gastronaut can’t stomach it, what hope do the rest of us have?

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