Would you eat insects?

Finding insects in a dish tends to have a certain effect on westerners. However, they are an abundant, sustainable protein source and two billion people eat them.

In the West, it’s still a niche fashion, one way among many to be outrageous at the table. But for two billion people worldwide, it’s a well-established habit, and for the FAO it could even be a partial solution to the worldwide food crisis. It looks like eating insects is an idea we’ll have to get used to. In 2050, our planet will be home to at least 9 billion people, and if their only source of protein is meat from cows, pigs, goats and chickens, we’ll have a problem. Rearing these animals takes space and resources, and contributes to global warming. If you want to get an idea of the shocking cost to the environment of the meat supply chain, read the FAO’s 2006 report “Livestock’s long shadow”. In comparison, insects as a protein source are more sustainable, abundant and within easy reach.

In London, perhaps the most adventurous city when it comes to food, there are restaurants that serve them, as well as people working on transforming them into food suitable for catering and retail. Worldwide, however, two billion people regularly eat insects, especially in Asia and Africa. To discover this gastronomic world up close, you can’t do better than this great BBC documentary.

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The FAO – the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation – talked about it in a short video but if you want to go into the subject in more depth, you can read the entire FAO report . This document goes into both the nutritional aspects of eating insects and more importantly the benefits to the environment that rearing them as a source of animal protein would offer compared to raising mammals. However, you can also simply watch this great TED talk. or more briefly, read this article (in Italian) from Il Fatto Alimentare.

Grasshoppers, caterpillars, spiders, wasps and ants are rich in iron, calcium and zinc. Insects are nutritious and within everyone’s reach, they can be served alive, cooked or fried and could be used in any course from the first course to dessert.

Even the European Union is encouraging insect consumption, seeing it as a way of contributing to sustainably feeding a constantly growing population, and it has put up a prize of three million euros for anyone who can find a way of making eating insects popular. Perhaps it should be awarded to Angelina Jolie, who has already told the world her children eat crickets “like Doritos”.

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