Buzzing: Insects as food or feed?
Hello friends, how are you doing today? I’d like to start by saying hello and welcome to all the new subscribers who have joined over the past couple of weeks. Also, what a pleasure it’s been to meet some of you in the flesh at the Royal Entomological Society’s Insects as Food & Feed conference this week: thank you for all your kind words about Buzzing, it’s been a real tonic.
So, this week in Buzzing:
Should we focus on insects as food or insects as feed?
In Other News: A Buzzing presentation and a new study on insects’ footprint
Test Corner: Dhal with cricket tarka
I believe that insect protein is part of the answer to more sustainable food systems; this is why this newsletter is free to read. It is not free to produce however so if you’ve enjoyed reading it, you can support me on ko-fi.
The conference was great: not only did I meet plenty of old and new faces, it also reminded me how new and exciting this field is. Everything is still up for grabs: the science, the business models, the technology, the applications. I have enough material to write the next three issues of Buzzing (thanks RES). But I wanted to start by revisiting the debate about whether we should use insects for feed or food.
Ah, that old chestnut. If you’re looking at it purely from an efficiency/Life-Cycle Analysis perspective, food wins. The science says so: I wrote a post about it last September after a fascinating study by the University of Helsinki confirmed what everyone already suspected: fewer links in the chain is more efficient. Arnold Van Huis of Wageningen University & Research, who wrote the seminal 2013 FAO report on edible insects and who was the keynote speaker at the RES conference, echoed those findings. “It might be too expensive to have two conversion cycles for animal feed,” ie one through the animal and another one through us. In other words, just eat the bugs.
The trouble is, not many people want to. Whilst presenting his new business InsPro, British entrepreneur Richard Small said that he’d decided to focus on Black Soldier Fly (BSF) and animal feed because he “didn’t have time to convince Europeans to eat insects.” Quite. A fledgling business has enough on its plate not to have to re-wire the western psyche too. Akissi Stokes of WunderGrubs, a Georgia-based start-up, also said during an IPIFF/NACIA seminar earlier this month that she’d decided to switch from food to fish feed “because it was easier for consumers to understand.”
It is undeniable that consumer acceptance is a significant barrier, but it’s not insurmountable. [On a side note, Miha Pipan of Better Origin, who focus on BSF and feed, joked during his presentation that acceptance would come with mass market products such as “maggot nuggets” – or should that be MagNugget? Well, YumBug have come up with Bug Nugs and I can’t wait to try them.] Equally, it is unrealistic to expect that everyone will stop eating meat and fish so how do you make these more sustainable? Insect protein are one solution. There is clearly room for both food and feed.
Please send in your thoughts and any other insect food puns I could have fun with 😉
In Other News
Buzzing was invited to speak at the Royal Entomological Society’s Insects as Food & Feed conference 😀. I talked about how you can create a buzz about insects as food and feed. I argued it was all about trying to normalise the idea that insects are food, moving the needle from disgust – “yuck” – to normal – “meh” (and maybe eventually to “wow”). And I encouraged the sector to be more proactive, especially on social media, and not just Twitter and Instagram. Who’s on TikTok?
🦗 This study in Nature Food has been widely picked up by the media this week: it found that incorporation of novel foods such as insects and lab-grown meat in European diets can reduce global warming potential, water use and land use by over 80%.
📻 I am a fan of the Quartz podcast so it was nice to see them kick off their 3rd series with an episode on edible insects. The archives are well worth a browse too.
💰 The ValuSect Consortium has awarded €460,000 to 18 SMEs in the insect sector in northwest Europe to work on topics such as food development and innovation, consumer acceptance and technological services.
Dhal with cricket tarka
Good food is so often about the simplest things, the few but high-quality ingredients or the condiment that will make a dish sing. This is what this meal is all about.
Last Christmas, a friend gave me a jar of home-made dukka, a Middle Eastern condiment made of hazelnuts and spices. It was such a lovely present: it keeps for ages and can be used in anything from salads to soups, eggs, pasta etc.
This week, I thought I would use it to jazz up my dhal. Everyone in the Buzzing household loves dhal: quick, easy, nutritious and delicious however you make it. I didn’t have much time so I made the most basic dhal: in a saucepan, I cooked 200g of red split lentils with 600ml of water. At the same time, I slowly pan-fried a large onion, 5 garlic cloves, a thumb-sized of ginger and a teaspoon of ground cumin. Half an hour later, I mixed the two. Dhal done.
I then made the tarka – basically fried spices, which you add to the dhal at the last minute for flavour. I flash-fried a handful of crickets with a tablespoon of dukka and poured it in on top of my dhal, with another sprinkle of dukka and a drizzle of my favourite chili oil. I know it’s not much to look at, but it was absolutely delicious. A classic ento-vegan recipe 😎