Buzzing: Insects for resilience
Hello everyone, how are you all keeping?
A diary update for you: the next issue of Buzzing will hit your inboxes in three weeks rather than the usual two because I am going to Insects to Feed the World in Québec City, Canada. This is basically the global jamboree for the insect protein sector so there should be lots to write about. Also, Brooklyn Bugs chef Joseph Yoon, who was featured in Buzzing last year, will be in charge of the food, so I intend to eat my own weight in bugs 😋.
If you plan to attend, do drop me a line: it would be great to meet face to face.
This week in Buzzing:
Insect farming could improve food systems’ resilience to crises such as the pandemic or the war in Ukraine.
In Other News: Feeling hungry & farm updates
Test Corner: Pan con Tomate y Grillos
People often ask me why I got interested in insect protein. The answer is quite complex but essentially, it’s because it brings together all the things I’m interested in as a journalist: sustainability, business, innovative ideas, circularity, food and culture, the global economy.
The rise of insect protein doesn’t exist in a vacuum: it is part of a broader movement to make food systems more sustainable and resilient. This has been brought into sharp focus lately with the pandemic and now the war in Ukraine. Both events have profoundly disrupted supply chains: there have been acute shortages of everything from microchips globally, to toilet paper and sunflower oil in the west, wheat and animal feed ingredients in Africa.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in turn has put severe inflationary pressure on commodities such as natural gas, wheat, sunflower oil and fertilisers. Natural gas prices have increased 335% in the past 12 months whilst fertiliser prices reached a historic record high in March this year.
One of the reasons is that Russia is a major fertiliser producer and that the costs of fertiliser production have risen everywhere (you can read more in this excellent post from the International Food Policy Institute, where the chart below comes from).
So where do insects fit in? Let’s start with fertilisers: one of the main outputs of insect farming is frass, or insect manure. In fact, by volume, insect farms produce more insect frass than insect protein. Frass is a powerful fertiliser and trials have shown that it can replace or complement synthetic NPK fertilisers, which could significantly alleviate current shortages. Numerous trials are underway but regulation is still lagging to fulfil this potential.
It’s the same story for protein: the food shortages and price spikes of the past couple of years are a cautionary tale of the vagaries of globalisation. Short supply chains are best for resilience and sustainability. Insect farming offers the potential of genuinely local, circular protein at a time when the environmental impact of protein production is under intense scrutiny.
It was interesting to see that Ken Murphy, the chief executive of Tesco, one of the largest retailers in the world, recently chose to write an op-ed in the Telegraph calling on the UK to fast-track the adoption of innovative food technologies and farming practices, including insects.
Necessity is the mother of invention: it often takes a crisis to bring about change that’s been years in the making. Before the pandemic, video doctor’s appointments or working from home were ad hoc practices. They are now widespread. Let’s hope the tragedy of the Ukraine and the lessons from the pandemic can bring regulators to their senses about the urgency to fully integrate insect farming into food production systems.
In Other News
This, reader, is what feeling hungry looks like. You may remember a couple of editions ago that I’d described my cricket granola 2.0 as “very sating”. I’m pleased to say that there is now science to back this statement. A new paper in the journal Nutrients shows that pancakes containing insect powders are more sating than standard pancakes. Interestingly, cricket and buffalo worm also turned out to be more sating than mealworms.
🐛 Nice segment on insect farming in the UK in the BBC’s Wake Up to Money show (starts at 44’) with Keiran Whitaker of Entocycle.
🏨 InnovaFeed and ADM plan to break ground later this year at their new plant in Decatur. (Herald & Review)
📄 IPIFF has a new publication highlighting its research priorities: 1) exploring new substrates as feed for insects, 2) using frass in agriculture, and 3) exploring the nutritional benefits for insects as food and feed.
Test Corner: Pan con tomate y grillos
Simple food is so often the best. I grew up in France and spent most of my childhood holidays in the Alps and the south of France where food was all about high-quality regional products: Beaufort cheese or goat’s cheese, tomatoes and basil, local cured meats, good bread, nectarines and peaches so succulent they were impossible to eat without slurping.
Eating all this lovely food has stayed with me. Lunch is often a few really nice things thrown together if there are no leftovers. This is precisely what I had this week: toasted sourdough bread from our local bakery, rubbed with garlic, drizzled with top-notch olive oil from the south of France, topped with cherry tomatoes, chive from the garden, my favourite crickets and a pinch of Maldon sea salt flakes.
I can’t claim it’s particularly original: pan con tomate is a Spanish classic, although the tomatoes would normally be grated (and it wouldn’t be cherry tomatoes). It channels the spirit of that recipe however and the crickets are a great addition. I loved it and I’m sure you would too. Que os aproveche!