Ants, Spiders and Cockroaches: Saving the World...One Mouthful at a Time  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

Der Spiegel has an article on the revival of interest in eating insects - Ants, Spiders and Cockroaches - Saving the World...One Mouthful at a Time.

Oxford has a history of hosting odd meals featuring exotic dishes. Around 150 years ago, the well-known zoologist Francis Trevelyan Buckland caused a stir with his culinary flights of fancy. For example, he determined that earwigs taste "horribly bitter" and nearly as bad as moles and bluebottle flies.

This was an era that saw a great deal of fear over the so-called "population trap" outlined by Thomas Robert Malthus. The British economist predicted that agriculture would not be able to keep pace with population growth, leading to famine and human suffering. In 1860, Buckland founded the Acclimatization Society, which aimed to introduce organisms like silkworms, beavers and parrots into the British diet.

Though few followed Buckland's example, the idea survived. "Wood louse sauce is equal, if not superior, to shrimp," British entomologist Vincent Holt wrote in his 1885 book "Why Not Eat Insects?" He also wrote of the joy of "a fat month nicely baked," urging his readers: "Try them, ye epicures! What possible argument can there be against eating a creature beautiful without and sweet within; a creature nourished on nectar, the fabled food of the gods?"

Though Holt was no more successful than Buckland in turning Europeans into insect-eaters, this aversion is only widespread in the West. In fact, there's only one thing more uncommon than eating insects: not eating them. Two-thirds of all 1.5 million known animal species are insects. And for 2.5 billion people, especially those in tropical regions, insects have always been a standard element in the local diet.

In parts of the Central African Republic, insects satisfy one-third of the population's protein requirements during the rainy season. Dried caterpillars sell for $14 (€10) a kilogram. And high-end restaurants in Mexico City offer a pricy delicacy called escamoles, a sort of insect caviar made of ant larvae.

People in Thailand use sticks with adhesive on them to hunt dragonflies. In Nepal, they strain bee larvae through a cloth before frying the resulting gooey mass like an egg. And, in Africa, termite mounds are a carefully guarded resource because they have a higher protein content than chicken and their queens can grow to the size of a potato.

Butterflies are also popular fare. During the rainy season in southern Africa -- which is harvest time for the large, bristly caterpillars of the saturniid moth known as mopane worms -- beef prices collapse. In the early 1980s, 1,600 metric tons of mopane were sold in the region each year. And, in Italy, insects are also found in a delicacy called casu marzu, a cheese filled with live larvae. ...

Vollrath studied in the southwestern German city of Freiburg and now works as a zoologist at Oxford. He snacked on locusts for the first time during an expedition in Panama, where he plucked them directly off charred shrubs after they had been naturally grilled in a brush fire. "Insects are approximately 10 times more eco-friendly than beef," he says. Harvesting them doesn't require deforestation, he explains, but actually helps preserves forests. "Insects offer us an opportunity to rethink and move away from pork and beef," he says.

Indeed, experts believe putting more bugs on our plates could help solve some of humanity's worst problems. The global population increases by 6 million every month, food prices have nearly doubled in the last two years, and meat consumption is threatening forests and drinking water.

"The protein content (of insects) is comparable to that of conventional meat," according to the United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). It goes on to explain that insects are rich in vitamins, minerals and unsaturated fats as well as hardly contaminated by environmental pollutants in many places. "They are often harvested in areas … where no pesticides are used," one FAO report states.

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