Let’s eat some insects!

When I was at primary school in Madagascar, I had a game that I played with a friend of mine in the playground. We’d get thin canes, about six feet long, and go out into the long grass to look for grasshoppers. You couldn’t get close to them or they’d fly away, but if you crouched down and moved slowly you could get into range without them jumping. Then it was a matter of bringing the cane down fast enough and accurately enough to whack the insect.

It felt like a game to me, but this wasn’t gratuitous slaughter. We’d bag up our catch, and my friend would take the grasshoppers home with him at lunch time, and then bring them back fried and salted for an afternoon snack. This was normal for him, though the other children would tease him for it. Eating insects was a sign of poverty and I was the only one who would join him in catching them.

Back at home, I remember some men coming to do some building work, and watching them catch big grey beetles from the trees down the side of the house. They were to go with their rice after work. I didn’t get to try any this time, but they did give me one to play with. They tied a little loop of thread round the leg of the beetle, and I held the other end and watched it fly in confused circles.

Where I come from, there’s nothing particularly odd about eating insects. I got the impression it wasn’t common in the city, and neither was it aspirational, but it certainly wasn’t disgusting or strange. More people ate them in the countryside. A study in 2013 found that people in rural Madagascar eat some 65 different kinds of insect, depending on the season.

Here in Britain, it’s a different matter. Eating insects is an activity for survivalists or freak-shows – most notoriously the ‘bush tucker trials’ in the sadistic ‘reality’ TV show I’m a celebrity, get me out of here. Nobody eats insects, with the possible exception of novelties such as chocolate covered ants, or bottles of Mezcal with the larvae in them. But even those are only bought to freak out your friends.

That’s a shame, because insects are one of the most sustainable sources of protein on the planet. They can be raised with a fraction of the water and land needed for most livestock, and with much lower greenhouse gas emissions. Feeding the world’s growing population is a major challenge, and insect protein is a really useful tool in the box.

I’ve been saying this for ten years, and there hasn’t been much to show for it really. That began to change recently, and this time last year I was able to highlight a few pioneering companies. When I came to revisit the topic this summer, I discovered that the number of insect foods on the market has boomed. There are all sorts of companies crawling out of the woodwork, so to speak.

So it’s time to put my mouth where my mouth is and try some insect foods. I’ve been in touch with a number of companies and sourced a range of different products, and over the next few weeks I’m going to try them out. I’m interested in what they taste like, and I hope to find a few things I can actually add to our household diet on a more regular basis. I’m also interested in what the obstacles to wider adoption might be, and how far we are from a tipping point where insects become a normal food. I’m curious to see how the children react, and whether I can persuade my wife to try any of them at all…

I’ll post my first insect tasting notes tomorrow.

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14 Comments on “Let’s eat some insects!”

  1. Dichasium August 8, 2017 at 9:10 pm #

    Not an insect, but, many years ago, (maybe 2 decades), David Bellamy spoke, (and perhaps made), a worm quiche. Will you be up for trying this too?

    • Jeremy Williams August 11, 2017 at 9:32 am #

      Mealworms are available and I’ll be trying those, and various other worm varieties are eaten around the world. I believe common garden earth are technically edible, but they’re already providing food for me through soil creation and I’ll be leaving them alone!

  2. twogalsandabook August 8, 2017 at 11:13 pm #

    I couldn’t bring myself to eating bugs, just like I can’t stomach the thought of eating anything amphibious or reptilian.

  3. marymtf August 9, 2017 at 2:57 am #

    I’m with two gals and a book. But I suspect that if you find a way to start them young the next generation will be okay with it. I have to point out though that it’s the increasing population that’s the problem. People refuse to understand that there’s a limit to our natural resources. Even harvesting enough bugs would have its problems.

  4. Melissa August 9, 2017 at 9:41 pm #

    When I was a little girl, my aunt and uncle who are missionaries in West Africa and who have been there most o my life, brought back some type of dried termite (as I remember it) and told me it was a delicacy there. I thought it tasted like rice crisps. I have always been curious and am not one to turn down trying a new food. I’d love to know more about eating insects, how to select and prepare and what type of prices to seek. I wouldn’t have the first idea about what is safe and what is not. I live in NYC and I do sort of fear eating insects is heading toward more of a trendy path for health conscious folks and will sport a high price tag to go along with it. The insect based protein bars, for instance, are some of the most expensive. Please share what you learn and what companies are passing on good savings to the customers.

    • Jeremy Williams August 11, 2017 at 9:35 am #

      Yes, one of the first things I noticed was the price. I’ll be writing about that in my conclusions. I suspect it’s mainly because these are small companies that don’t have economies of scale, but I’m going to try and talk to some of them and get an explanation.

  5. blondieaka August 10, 2017 at 3:23 am #

    Eating insects is a common practice here and big trays are to be found on most market stalls and they are very popular. As an English lady who has ate things like whelks and the like … I was curious…I have tried a few although I stick to the very crispy…I always get that image pop up from I’m a celebrity and the witchety grubs ..so crispy ones only…lol

    • Jeremy Williams August 11, 2017 at 9:39 am #

      I reckon ‘I’m a celebrity…’ has set insect eating back by a decade! Thanks to them, everyone’s first impression of insect eating is something gross, and one of the things I want to show in this series is how easily insects can be part of a normal diet, with nothing freakish about it. But I’m with you on crispy things…

  6. stuartbramhall August 11, 2017 at 12:37 am #

    Reblogged this on The Most Revolutionary Act and commented:
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    Personally I prefer garden snails – they’re easier to catch and much tastier. Gordon Ramsay explains how to prepare them: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ju7_ZORsZw

  7. marblenecltr August 11, 2017 at 1:13 am #

    Not ready for flies, especially the green ones; the wander about and dine on fecal matter and rotting cadavers.

    • Jeremy Williams August 11, 2017 at 9:48 am #

      Pound for pound, flies have more protein than any other meat on earth. And if they were raised in a farm, they’d be raised on safe and healthy feed. Whether they’re actually tasty or appetising in another matter though.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Tasting notes: Sens energy bars with cricket flour | Make Wealth History - August 9, 2017

    […] I wrote about my plans to try some insect based foods over the summer. If your first reaction was ‘never!’, then you are not alone. […]

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