Buzzing: Tackling methane emissions with insects
Hello everyone, how are you all doing? Climate change is obviously at the forefront of news at the moment, so I thought I’d chip in too.
This week in Buzzing:
Insects could help tackle methane emissions from food waste and manure
In Other News: Royals and more prime time TV
Test Corner: Cricket Macaroni Cheese
It was great to hear about the Global Methane Pledge at COP26 this week. More than 100 countries have agreed to cut methane emissions by 30% by 2030 compared to 2020 levels. Methane (CH4) is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (CO2) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had warned earlier this year that curbing methane emissions was the utmost priority to prevent irreversible climate change.
Although 40% of methane emissions are from natural sources (wetlands, peatland, melting permafrost), the two biggest anthropogenic sources are agriculture (40%) and fossil fuels (35%) (figures are from the United Nations Environment Programme’s Global Methane Assessment, 2021). Emissions from the latter tend to come from leaky infrastructure, which is easy and cost-effective to fix. Most short-term efforts will therefore focus on these low-hanging fruits, as outlined in the US Methane Emissions Reduction Action Plan.
Another significant source of CH4 emissions is waste, especially organic waste from landfill (but also from wastewater). All decomposing organic matter – be it manure, food waste etc – produces methane. But this process can be reduced, prevented or harnessed with different waste management techniques. Which brings me to insects.
Back in July, I visited AgriGrub in the UK: the company farms Black Soldier Flies, which it rears on rotting fruit and veg. Their modus operandi is a truly circular concept: using waste to produce something valuable (protein and frass). I remember managing director Joe Halstead telling me at the time: “We’re not going to tackle this whole methane issue unless we get to use all those wastes.”
It feels like an incredibly prescient thing to say in light of what the IPCC report concluded in August and what world leaders are now working on (food waste and landfill emissions are priority No 2 for the US).
Insects have the potential to convert food waste and other organic matter into valuable products and to significantly reduce methane emissions in the process. Studies (I love the poo graph) have shown that BSF larvae could be used to turn cow and pig manure (which are big methane contributors in agriculture) into fertiliser and that the process would cut methane emissions by 56% and 86% respectively.
There are already plenty of insect businesses using organic waste to rear Black Soldier Fly larvae - AgriGrub, Sanergy or Goterra to cite just three. Most small-scale BSF farmers in Africa do so too. It seems like another low-hanging fruit to me: we just need regulators to buy into it (and my idea of an insect protein hierarchy to make it safe).
In Other News
You may well have seen this image already: Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, offering her husband Prince William a tub of Black Soldier Fly larvae at a COP26 reception. The insects were farmed by Sanergy, a Kenyan company that was one of the finalists of this year’s Earthshot Prize. Although BSF is usually reared for animal feed, they can be consumed by people too (although they would have to be reared specifically for human consumption).
Entocycle (UK) has started selling its products but its plan for growth is to sell hardware and licenses for its proprietary software (Sifted).
Auchan Portugal has started selling insect products: it’s the second supermarket chain to do so this year (ESM).
My eagle-eyed 98-year old grandfather tipped me off about a special programme on edible insects on French TV channel France 5. It’s great to see so many documentaries on the topic on prime time TV.
Insightful interview with Gabe Mott of Aspire, an American company building a large cricket farm in Ontario, Canada. (Food Navigator USA).
Test corner: Cricket Macaroni Cheese
I was inspired to make this dish after watching Joseph Yoon of Brooklyn Bugs make cricket macaroni cheese bites on his Epicurious video. Much as I would have loved to replicate these tasty crickety mouthfuls, I felt that deep-frying little parcels of mac & cheese was not only more work but also went against the wholesome-weeknight-dinner vibe I was going for. Whole insects are still a niche food in our household (basically just me, lol) too whereas ground insects are tolerated.
I felt that mac & cheese was a safe bet: everyone likes it, the nuttiness of the crickets would work beautifully with the cheese sauce, and we’d all get a protein boost. The dish didn’t last long. I didn’t even manage a picture before someone had started it! I will definitely make it again, but I may make slightly more cheese sauce for the same amount of pasta next time.
Here is the recipe for 350g of pasta:
Boil the pasta for 2-3 min less than you normally would cook it for (it will cook further with the cheese sauce in the oven).
In a separate pan, melt 2 tbsp of butter in a pan. Add 1 tsp of English mustard, then 3 tbsp of flour, stir and cook for a couple of minutes. Gradually add 500ml of whole milk, whisking all the time. Simmer for another 5 min for the sauce to thicken, stirring occasionally.
Take off the heat and add 250g of grated cheese (I used cheddar), 40g cricket powder (I used whole crickets which I blitzed), stir and then add to the pasta. Tip into an ovenproof dish, sprinkle with parmesan and bake for 180C for 20 min. Ta-dah!
Serve with greens (I did broccoli for dinner, salad leaves drenched in vinaigrette the next day, yum!).