“Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup.”
“Terribly sorry, sir. It seems that the kitchen was running a little low on maggots.”
If we want to satiate the world population’s ever-growing appetite, insect farming should be the next global foodie fad. Or at least that’s the gist of a new report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The thorough 187-page report [PDF], published Monday, covers everything from different cultures’ attitudes towards eating insects to farming methods to tips for using insects as emergency food during disasters.
Benefits of bug munching are manifold: The report points out that farmers can raise insects on human and animal waste, they emit fewer greenhouse gases and produce less pollution than cattle or pigs, and they use substantially less land and water than other livestock.
From the report’s foreword:
Land is scarce and expanding the area devoted to farming is rarely a viable or sustainable option. Oceans are overfished and climate change and related water shortages could have profound implications for food production. To meet the food and nutrition challenges of today – there are nearly 1 billion chronically hungry people worldwide – and tomorrow, what we eat and how we produce it needs to be re-evaluated. Inefficiencies need to be rectified and food waste reduced. We need to find new ways of growing food.
Edible insects have always been a part of human diets, but in some societies there is a degree of distaste for their consumption. Although the majority of edible insects are gathered from forest habitats, innovation in mass-rearing systems has begun in many countries.
More than 1,900 insect varieties have been identified as sources of human food around the world, the report notes. The most frequently consumed insects are (deep breath) beetles, caterpillars, bees, wasps, ants, grasshoppers, locusts, crickets, cicadas, leafhoppers, planthoppers, scale insects, termites, dragonflies, and even regular old flies.
If your mouth isn’t watering yet, read this passage from The Guardian’s report:
“In the past there has been a tendency to say insects are for primitive, stupid people. This is nonsense, a misconception that must be corrected,” says lead author Arnold van Huis, who has helped write a Dutch insect recipe book that includes mealworm pizza and locust ravioli.
Westerners barely know what they are missing, he suggests. Dragonflies boiled in coconut milk with ginger are an Indonesian delicacy; beekeepers in parts of China are considered virile because they eat larvae from their hives, and tarantulas are popular in Cambodia. Europe gave up eating them centuries ago, but Pliny the elder, the Roman scholar, wrote that aristocrats “loved to eat beetle larvae reared on flour and wine” while Aristotle described the best time to harvest cicadas: “The larva on attaining full size becomes a nymph; then it tastes best, before the husk is broken. At first the males are better to eat, but after copulation the females, which are then full of white eggs,” he wrote.
Mealworm pizza and locust ravioli are all fine and good, but beetle larvae infused with flour and wine? That’s haute cuisine.