Buzzing: Entomophagy, what's in a name?
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This week in Buzzing:
Entomophagy: what’s in a name?
Q&A: Thomas Faruggia, Beta Bugs
Test corner: Cricket pancakes
This week, I attended the Insects as Food & Feed conference organised by the Royal Entomological Society. It was fascinating and provided lots of great insights and ideas. One thing that caught my attention was the use of the word entomophagy in a couple of presentations.
Early in my research on insect protein, I came across a brilliant paper entitled “’Entomophagy’: an evolving terminology in need of review” by Josh Evans et al, published in 2015 in the Journal of Insects as Food and Feed. The paper is 14 pages of eye-opening semantics and debunking of cultural assumptions, which left me thinking I should find other words to talk about the subject.
The main reason for this is the colonial overtones associated with the word entomophagy, basically a white man’s perception that eating insects is inappropriate at best, animalistic at worst. What I found particularly revealing is the fact that most cultures who regularly eat insects don’t have a word for it. The paper notes that a good analogy would be the lack of terminology to label people who eat seafood in Europe (crustaceaphagy? Bonus points if you can pronounce it).
It also points out that many cultures who eat insects don’t necessarily perceive them as insects: for instance, Sardinians bristle at the notion that the maggots in their beloved casu marzu cheese are insects and would probably balk at the idea of eating a grasshopper or a cricket. Similarly, members of the Luo and Luhya tribes in western Kenya eat lake flies, termites and black ants. Yet they only use the term insect to describe the insects they do not eat, pests especially.
I asked the panel of speakers at the event what they thought and a couple said that it was helpful to have a word to label what you eat and to introduce the topic. The paper says that the FAO agrees with this premise and that it had probably helped to spread the message about the benefits of insects as food when the movement started in the developed world in the early 2010s.
But the authors also argue that the negative baggage that comes with the term may have contributed to a growing rejection of insects in many insect-eating cultures in order to conform with western-style eating habits. They also think the word may perpetuate negative preconceptions amongst western consumers and put them off trying insects.
This begs the question of what word to use instead. Conference participants variously suggested “entotarian”, “flexitarian” and “insectivore”. I personally like “insects as food”: factual and dispassionate. It also skirts around the issue of having to label the eater: insects are food but you don’t have to eat them. Lamb, snails and Brussel sprouts are food, but I’ll pass, thank you very much.
The paper argues that we should be as precise in our terminology as possible: people eat fish but when they cook, they do so with sardines, salmon or cod. The same goes for insects. They also called on the scientific community to develop new terminology for this fast-growing field of research. Answers on a postcard please.
The Q&A: Thomas Farrugia, Founder & CEO of Beta Bugs
Thomas Farrugia originally hails from Malta but it is in Scotland that he found his calling: insect breeding. It doesn’t seem like the obvious career trajectory for a doctor in chemistry, but like every scientist worth his salt, Thomas saw a problem (inefficiencies) in an area that interested him (insect protein) so he set about solving it. His solution is Beta Bugs, a company that specialises in Black Soldier Fly (BSF) breeding. The company has received £1.5 million worth of funding from Innovate UK, the EU and Scottish Enterprise since its creation in 2017 and it is about to start commercial operations.
How did you become interested in fly breeding?
When I started looking at the insect protein sector, I realised that all players in the field were quite small, so my question was: what needs to happen for insect farming to become cost effective? Crickets and other source of insect protein are too expensive: I think they should be the price of prawns if we want people to eat them. I started thinking of options to make that happen and it led me to genetics. It’s the missing link between farming and affordable product. It felt scalable and impactful. Simultaneously, I realized that animal feed, and Black Soldier Fly, was the ideal market in which to create that impact.
What could genetics achieve for the industry?
We want to improve on-farm productivity through improved breeds. We basically want to double a business’s output without having to build another facility - they’re capital intensive so it’s attractive – and we know it works. Breeding works in all agrifood industries. In BSF, we see improved larval size and shorter development cycles.
The breeding focus is on quantity traits but we will also look at qualitative traits, such as the insects’ composition (eg protein or fat content) and how that would work for different animal feeds (each industry will have its own requirements). It’s the same with chicken and pigs: the amount of fat on a pork chop has significantly decreased over the past 20 years because they have bred to account for customer preference, resulting in leaner pigs.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I think there will be a British BSF supply chain – this is what the Future Food Production System grant from Innovate UK is trying to achieve, from genetics to farming and processing. We do see ourselves working with different species too; each insect will have its own nuances in the breeding, its own capabilities, and be amenable to specific market sectors.
Test corner: Cricket pancakes
A few weeks back, we ran out of bread. For a household wedded to things-on-toast for breakfast, this spelled disaster. Luckily, I had the ingredients to make cricket pancakes: breakfast saved.
The thing is, it felt like an upgrade rather than a narrow escape from going hungry. The pancakes are just straightforward American-style pancakes, with cricket powder thrown in for added protein. The Instar Farming cricket powder being deliciously subtle and nutty in flavour, the pancakes were absolutely *chef’s kiss*: the kids wolfed theirs down and demanded the same for the next morning. They had theirs with banana and maple syrup, I had mine with (defrosted) raspberries.
Truth be told, I would have pancakes every morning if I had the time. Reality means it’ll have to remain a weekend treat. But I feel like I am building a nice repertoire of insect protein recipes for breakfast, with the muffins being a great weekday option since they can be baked ahead.
The recipe is from BUG Recipes.
30g cricket powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
10g baking powder
255g plain flour
4 tbsp sugar
Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl. Add in the wet ingredients, stir until everything is well combined. In a lightly oiled frying pan, add one ladle of batter per pancake. Flip when the top of the pancake starts to bubble. Cook until both sides are golden brown.