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INSECTS NOW Would you find it easier to eat insects and arachnids if you knew you already do?


Being forked while getting down and dirty. We are already consuming insects in one way or another.

Fraser Lewry The Guardian 16th September 2011


ack in 1885, the same year that the first issue of Good Housekeeping appeared and the Statue of Liberty arrived in New York, British entomologist Vincent M Holt published a pamphlet entitled Why Not Eat Insects? Alongside a recipe for wood-lice sauce (excellent with fish, apparently) and some example menus (curried cockchafers, anyone?), Holt spends much time agonising over the Western abhorrence for meals made from our scuttling insect cousins. “Is it not a wonder”, he asked, “that people do not look around them for the many gastronomic treasures lying neglected at their feet? Prejudice, prejudice, thy strength is enormous!” As Victorian kitchen classics go, this flimsy tract might not be viewed with the same affection as more famous works by Isabella Beeton or Agnes Marshall, but it’s quite possible that Holt’s time has at last arrived. The UN thinks so. Their Food and Agriculture Organisation is exploring the possibilities of insects providing a greater share of global food needs, and the statistics appear to suggest that a


future of crunchy critter consumption isn’t beyond the realms of possibility. With the planet’s population heading ever more rapidly towards the seven billion mark (we’ll get there in October) and an ever-less-economical reliance on meat, farmed insects might just provide an answer. They produce much more meat per kilogram of feed than the more usual farmed animals do, and more of their body mass is edible.

at a piece of delicious, dripping honeycomb on display at a restaurant in Xi’an, Shaanxi province, and was somewhat surprised to be served a plateful of baby bees. Elsewhere, western tourists are approaching the idea of insect and arachnid cuisine with more open minds. The consumption of a delicious Cambodian deep-fried tarantula was once the preserve of macho food tourists

“Just four locusts provide as much calcium as a glass of milk.” What’s more, they produce a fraction of the greenhouse gasses pumped out by cattle and are rich in minerals, vitamins and proteins. Just four locusts provide as much calcium as a glass of milk, while mopani worms, gram-forgram, contain more protein than beef. Insects are already eaten in four-fifths of nations, from the grasshopper tacos popular in Mexico to China, where almost anything goes. I once pointed

like Anthony Bourdain. Then the experience was added to the gap-year checklist alongside full moon parties in Koh Phangan and bungee jumps in Queenstown. The signs are that the “edible insect movement” is finally being treated much more seriously with chefs getting in on the act. Even the New Yorker, that bible of urban sophistication, recently devoted 6,500 words to the subject.


But insects taste terrible, right? Well, perhaps not. In his introduction to Man Eating Bugs‚ The Art and Science of Easting Insects author Peter Menzel writes that a toasted witchetty grub tastes like “a tender cheese omelette rolled in a smoky philo-dough shell” and that Ugandan termites are akin to “roasted peanut skins, only juicier”. Suspicious that Mr Menzel has a book-selling agenda that renders him incapable of saying bad things about such morsels, I make my way to the Natural History Museum in London’s swinging Kensington, where an event is being held. It’s called “Edible insects: food for the future? A tasting event with a difference”, and a trio of experts are lined up to inform the uninformed. There’s the NHM’s resident insect identifier Stuart Hine, Meredith Alexander, a “hunger expert” for the charity ActionAid, and Daniel Creedon, head chef at Archipelego, on whose menu chilli and garlic locusts nestle comfortably alongside chocolatecovered scorpions.

The first thing we discover is that we’re already eating insects. And yes, that “we” includes you. That delicious bar of chocolate you’ve saved for later? In all probability it contains 60 or more insect fragments (a type of contamination known in the trade as “insect filth”). That sweetcorn? The average tin is home

My favourite treat is an off-menu item, a scorpion dipped in chocolate and possessing a gentle alcoholic kick. The worst? No-one seems keen on the silkworm pupae. South Koreans buy these like crisps at convenience stores, but they don’t go down well here. “Like rancid fish sauce”, says Creedon.

“The first thing we discover is that we’re already eating insects.” to a couple of sizeable larvae chunks. And frozen broccoli? You really, really don’t want to know. The knowledge that we’re already seasoned insect eaters, albeit unwittingly, makes the food that follows easier to swallow for the assembled diners. The waxworm larvae have a very subtle sweetness, while the fried crickets leave a pleasantly nutty aftertaste. Toasted weaver ants taste of very little and the chocolate ant wafers are delicious but taste almost entirely of chocolate.

In between courses it’s Q&A time. Which wine works best with insects? The answer, apparently, is “beer”. How many locusts would one need to eat for breakfast to replace two eggs? “About 74”, says Hine, tongue firmly in cheek. Is the recent tourist predilection for spiders endangering the tarantula population? Can one eat insects or arachnids live? Are insects sentient beings capable of sensing cruelty? Hine suggests not, but a vegan in the audience argues that while insects might not be able to philosophise, you could

say the same of most humans, obsessed as they are with the X-Factor and EastEnders. Yeah! In your face, science! As the evening draws to a close, one gentleman rises from his seat, sheepishly makes his way forward, and offers the evening’s host a small bowl containing a single silkworm pupa. It looks for all the world like some kind of demented courtship gesture. Reluctantly, she pops it in her mouth, and instinctively makes the kind of sour, scrunched face only worn by those with a desperate, sudden need for a glass of water and a toothbrush. At this very moment, assuming bugs haven’t entirely consumed him, Vincent M Holt is probably spinning furiously in his grave.



PESTIVAL 2013 Insects could be the planet’s next food source... even if that gives you the creeps


With Pestival 2013, we have the opportunity to open our eyes to something that could save the planet but if ignored we may end up being dipped into the molten fondue of life by the fondue fork.

Tracey McVeigh The Observer 2nd March 2013


runchy, full of protein and to be found under a rock near you. Insects have long been overlooked as food in all but a handful of places around the world – but now they are crawling closer and closer to our plates. This spring will see a drive towards removing the yuck factor and putting insects not just on experimental gastronomic menus but also on supermarket shelves. In April there will be a festival in London, Pestival 2013 – a Wellcome Trust-backed insect appreciation event where the consumption of creepycrawlies comes high on the agenda. It will feature a two-day “pop-up” restaurant by the Nordic Food Lab, the Scandinavian team behind the Danish restaurant Noma, which brought ants to the table for a sellout ten day run at Claridge’s hotel in Mayfair last year. Noma has been named the world’s best restaurant by Restaurant magazine for three years running. Its chef, René Redzepi, says that ants taste like “seared lemon rind” and a purée of fermented grasshoppers and moth larvae tastes like a strong fish sauce. Bee larvae make a sweet mayonnaise used in place of eggs



“If you like mushrooms, you’ve eaten so many worms you cannot imagine.”

and scientists are constantly coming up with new ways to use little creatures. In March a BBC documentary will feature food writer Stefan Gates searching out and eating deep-fried locusts and barbecued tarantulas, but behind all the gimmicks and jokes about flies in the soup there is a deeply serious message. Many experts believe there is a clear environmental benefit to humans eating creepy-crawlies. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has been funding projects since 2011 aimed at promoting the eating and farming of insects in south-east Asia and Africa, where an estimated two billion people already eat insects and caterpillar larvae as a regular part of their diet. Last year the FAO published a list of 1,909 edible species of insect and, with sponsorship from the Dutch government, plans a major international conference on “this valuable food source” this year.

Insects are plentiful – globally, for every human there are 40 tonnes of insects – so there is not too much chance of them being endangered, and they are unlikely to have been dosed with chemicals. “I know it’s taboo to eat bugs in the western world, but why not?”, Redzepi has said. “You go to south-east Asia and this is a common thing. You read about it from all over the world, that people are eating bugs. If you like mushrooms, you’ve eaten so many worms you cannot imagine. But also we eat honey, and honey is the vomit of a bee. Think of that next time you pour it into your tea.” He said that the basic premise behind Nordic Food Lab was: “Nothing is not edible.” Insects are critical to life on Earth and, with more than a million species, are the most diverse group of creatures on the planet, yet they are misunderstood, reviled and often put

to death with one squish by humans just because they are there. Over the next thirty years the planet’s human population will increase to nine billion. Already one billion people do not get enough food. The increase will mean more pressure on agricultural land, water, forests, fisheries and biodiversity resources, as well as nutrients and energy supplies. The cost of meat is rising, not just in terms of hard cash but also in terms of the amount of rainforest that is destroyed for grazing or to grow feedstuff for cattle. There is also the issue of methane excreted by cows. The livestock farming contribution in terms of greenhouse gas emissions is enormous – 35% of the planet’s methane, 65% of its nitrous oxide and 9% of the carbon dioxide. Edible insects emit fewer gases, contain high-quality protein, vitamins and amino acids, and have a high food conversion

rate, needing a quarter of the food intake of sheep, and half of pigs and chickens, to produce the same amount of protein. They emit less greenhouse gases and ammonia than cows and can be grown on organic waste. China is already successfully setting up huge maggot farms. Zimbabwe has a thriving mapone caterpillar industry and Laos was given nearly $500,000 (£330,000) by the FAO to develop an insect-harvesting project. It’s already big business in the UK, though not always official: last week a man was detained by Gatwick customs as he stepped off a flight from Burkina Faso with 94 kilos of mapone, worth nearly £40,000, in his luggage. A study by FoodServiceWarehouse. com suggested that swapping pork and beef for crickets and locusts could help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 95%. But perhaps the fairest thing about eating worms and insects comes when we are dead – then they get a chance to nibble their own back.





The UN Food & Agriculture Organisation is taking seriously the farming of creepy-crawlies as nutritious food.


The inevitability of having to put insects into our diet is likely to anger the old guard, leaving us forked by their picthforks.

Damian Carrington The Guardian 1st August 2012


aving the planet one plateful at a time does not mean cutting back on meat, according to new research: the trick may be to switch our diet to insects and other creepy-crawlies. The raising of livestock such as cows, pigs and sheep occupies two-thirds of the world’s farmland and generates 20% of all the greenhouse gases driving global warming. As a result, the United Nations and senior figures want to reduce the amount of meat we eat and the search is on for alternatives. A policy paper on the eating of insects is being formally considered by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. The FAO held a meeting on the theme in Thailand in 2008 and there are plans for a world congress in 2013. Professor Arnold van Huis, an entomologist at Wageningen University in the Netherlands and the author of the UN paper, says eating insects has advantages. “There is a meat crisis. The world population will grow from six billion now to nine billion by 2050 and we know people are consuming more meat. Twenty years ago the average was 20kg, it is now 50kg, and will be 80kg in 20



“More than 1,000 insects are known to be eaten by choice around the world, in 80% of nations.”

years. If we continue like this we will need another Earth.” Van Huis is an enthusiast for eating insects but given his role as a consultant to the FAO, he can’t be dismissed as a crank. “Most of the world already eats insects”, he points out. “It is only in the western world that we don’t. Psychologically we have a problem with it. I don’t know why, as we eat shrimps, which are very comparable.” The advantages of this diet include insects’ high levels of protein, vitamin and mineral content. Van Huis’s latest research, conducted with colleague Dennis Oonincx, shows that farming insects produces far less greenhouse gas than livestock. Breeding commonly eaten insects such as locusts, crickets and meal worms, emits 10 times less methane than livestock. The insects also produce 300 times less nitrous oxide, also a warming gas, and much less ammonia, a pollutant produced by pig and poultry farming.

Being cold-blooded, insects convert plant matter into protein extremely efficiently, Van Huis says. In addition, he argues, the health risks are lower. He acknowledges that in the west eating insects is a hard sell: “It is very important how you prepare them, you have to do it very nicely, to overcome the yuk factor.” More than 1,000 insects are known to be eaten by choice around the world, in 80% of nations. They are most popular in the tropics, where they grow to large sizes and are easy to harvest. The FAO’s field officer Patrick Durst, based in Bangkok, Thailand, ran the 2008 conference. Durst helped set up an insect farming project FAO project in Laos which began in April. This involves transferring the skills of the 15,000 household locust farmers in Thailand across the border. “There were some proponents of a bigger dairy industry in Laos to improve

a calcium deficiency”, says Durst, whose favourite is fried wasp – “very crispy and a nice light snack.” “But this is crazy when most Asians are lactose intolerant.” Locusts and crickets are calcium-rich and 90% of people in Laos have eaten insects at some point, he says. Durst says the FAO’s priority will be to boost the eating of insects where this is already accepted but has been in decline due to western cultural influence.

One of the few suppliers of insects for human consumption in the UK is Paul Cook, whose business Osgrow is based in Bristol. However, no matter how they are marketed or presented, Cook is not convinced they will ever become more than a novelty. “They are in the fun element. But I can’t see it ever catching on in the UK in a big way.”

He also thinks such a boost can provide livelihoods and protect forests where many wild insects are collected. “I can see a step-by-step process to wider implementation.” First, insects could be used to feed farmed animals such as chicken and fish which eat them naturally. Then, they could be used as ingredients. Van Huis adds: “We’re looking at ways of grinding the meat into some sort of patty, which would be more recognisable to western palates.”




A MATTER OF CIRCUMSTANCE We can save the world by eating bugs and drinking urine.


Even more of a wild card then the fish fork, the tea fork is even more sinister with it’s longer, sharper prongs; a more devastating impact being the result. If we do not start to consider insects as an eating option, we may feel it.

Erin Biba Wired 23rd August 2012



t’s only a matter of time before Earth’s growing population faces a critical shortage of potable water. Luckily, science has a foolproof solution. A process called reverse osmosis can convert wastewater into H20 that’s as pure as the distilled stuff – cleaner than what we usually drink. There’s just one problem: persuading people to drink liquid that used to be urine. After all, humans tend to pooh-pooh (pun intended) anything they find disgusting. That repulsion response evolved to help us avoid ingesting things that are potentially dangerous (rotten food grosses us out for a reason.) But if humanity is going to survive, we may have to learn to overcome the ick factor. University of Pennsylvania professor Paul Rozin (nicknamed the King of Disgust) has been examining this issue for decades. In a 1986 study, he asked students to drink a cup of juice and rate it. Once that was done he put a cockroach into a cup of the same juice, stirred it around a bit before removing it, and asked them to drink. The bug was dead, and he assured them that it had been sterilized. But not surprisingly, almost no one wanted a sip.


“A cockroach in your drink is gross, but a grasshopper on a stick could be lunch.”

In their mind, the cup was contaminated. So Rozin took a brand-new, clean cup and poured fresh, uncontaminated juice into it. This last cup of juice scored lower ratings. The repulsion was so intense that it tainted unrelated objects.

canned, frozen, and dried food products are allowed to contain a certain amount of bug parts, mold, rodent hairs, larvae, and mammalian feces. Apple butter, for instance, may contain up to five whole insects per 100g.

A cockroach in your drink is gross, but a grasshopper on a stick could be lunch. Crickets are extremely high in calcium. Caterpillars are a fantastic source of iron, thiamin, and riboflavin. In 2010 the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization said that humans should start farming and consuming insects to stave off the hunger and extreme demands placed on the environment by meat production. (Farming insects generates one-tenth the methane that livestock produces for an equivalent amount of foodstuffs.)

It’s not impossible to change society’s mind about what’s revolting, but it’s definitely difficult. According to the King of Disgust, we aren’t likely to make dramatic changes in what we eat until circumstances are dire.

Most Western cultures won’t even consider chomping on bugs for a meal. Never mind that every day we unwittingly eat insects and other things people generally consider nasty. The FDA calls it the defect action level –

However, Rozin says, you could desensitize people over a long period of time. “Marketing can do a lot of this”, he says. “Overcome the disgust memory. It’s a basic form of psychotherapy.” The trick to introducing these worldsaving techniques, he says, will be a gradual acculturation. That method worked wonders in Singapore, where access to fresh potable water has become a serious concern. To solve the problem, the public utilities board created NEWater. Four treatment plants

throughout the country take sewage, filter it through several membranes, and expose it to ultraviolet light to make it safe to drink. Now 30% of the country’s total water demand is met using reclaimed (i.e. recycled) sewage. The program’s success was due in part to a dedicated communications team that conducted a massive public education campaign, which included a TV documentary. But Singapore also made the decision to release the cleanedup wastewater into reservoirs, where it got re-treated along with regular tap water. This extra step was hygienically redundant but psychologically vital in helping Singaporeans accept NEWater as a fact of life. Bugs of the world, watch your backs: Slowly and purposefully, that ick factor can be overcome.



WILD BEES CONTRIBUTION TO CROPS Loss of wild pollinators serious threat to crop yields, study finds.


If we fail to pay attention to the necessity of wild bees to our food production, the result may be a constantly burning sensation that set ourselves free from.

Damian Carrington The Guardian 28th February 2013


he decline of wild bees and other pollinators may be an even more alarming threat to crop yields than the loss of honeybees, a worldwide study suggests, revealing the irreplaceable contribution of wild insects to global food production. Scientists studied the pollination of more than 40 crops in 600 fields across every populated continent and found wild pollinators were twice as effective as honeybees in producing seeds and fruit on crops including oilseed rape, coffee, onions, almonds, tomatoes and strawberries. Furthermore, trucking in managed honeybee hives did not replace wild pollination when that was lost, but only added to the pollination that took place. “It was astonishing; the result was so consistent and clear”, said Lucas Garibaldi, at the National University in Río Negro, Argentina, who led the 46 strong scientific team. “We know wild insects are declining so we need to start focusing on them. Without such changes, the loss is destined to compromise agricultural yields worldwide.”



“The ongoing loss is destined to compromise agricultural yields worldwide.”

Pollination is needed for three-quarters of global food crops. The decline of honeybee colonies due to disease and pesticides has prompted serious concern. Jason Tylianakis, at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, described them as “the species charged with protecting global food security.” The new research shows for the first time the huge contribution of wild insects and shows honeybees cannot replace the wild insects lost as their habitat is destroyed. Garibaldi said relying on honeybees was a “highly risky strategy” because disease can sweep through single species, as has been seen with the varroa mite, and single species cannot adapt to environmental changes nearly as well as a group of wild pollinators. “The studies show conclusively that biodiversity has a direct measurable value for food production and that a few managed species cannot compensate for the biodiversity on which we depend”,

said Tylianakis, who was not part of the research team. Garibaldi’s team, whose work was published in the journal Science on Thursday, warn: “Global degradation of natural services can undermine the ability of agriculture to meet the demands of the growing, increasingly affluent, human population.” Garibaldi said: “Without wild pollination, you will not get the best yields and the best agricultural land already farmed, so it is very important to get the maximum yield.” He added that, across the world, the yields of crops that needed pollination were rising significantly more slowly than crops that did not. Wild pollinators perform better than honeybees because they deploy a wider range of pollinating techniques, such as “buzz” pollination. They also visit more plants, meaning much more effective

cross-pollination than honeybees, which tend to carry pollen from one flower to another on the same plant.

plants flowered and when bees were active, a finding consistent with climate change, according to the researchers.

A second new study published in Science on Thursday showed more than half the wild bee species were lost in the 20th century in the US. It made use of a remarkable record made of plants and pollinators at Carlinville, Illinois between 1888 and 1891 by entomologist Charles Robertson. Scientists combined that with data from 1971-72 and new data from 2009-10 to discover the changes in pollination seen over the century as widespread forest was reduced to the fragments that remain today.

Laura Burkle, at Washington University in Montana, who led the work, said: “There are two sides to this coin. These pollination systems are incredibly robust to environmental change, it is almost miraculous that they continue to pollinate given the land use changes. But the system is also incredibly compromised and further degradation will have serious impacts.”

They found that half of the 109 bee species recorded by Robertson had been lost and there had been a serious degradation of the pollination provided by the remaining wild insects, with their ability to pollinate specific plants falling by more than half. There was an increasing mismatch between when





Decline of honey bees now a global phenomenon, says United Nations.


If we continue to ignore the global decline of bees, we will be clamped down with the loss, much like the grip of the pickle fork.

Michael McCarthey The Independent 10th March 2011



he mysterious collapse of honeybee colonies is becoming a global phenomenon, scientists working for the United Nations have revealed. Declines in managed bee colonies, seen increasingly in Europe and the US in the past decade, are also now being observed in China and Japan and there are the first signs of African collapses from Egypt, according to the report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The authors, who include some of the world’s leading honey-bee experts, issue a stark warning about the disappearance of bees, which are increasingly important as crop pollinators around the globe. Without profound changes to the way human beings manage the planet, they say, declines in pollinators needed to feed a growing global population are likely to continue. The scientists warn that a number of factors may now be coming together to hit bee colonies around the world, ranging from declines in flowering plants and the use of damaging insecticides, to the worldwide spread of pests and air pollution. They call for farmers and landowners to be offered incentives to restore pollinator-friendly habitats, including key flowering plants near crop-


“The scientists warn that a number of factors may now be coming together to hit bee colonies around the world.”

producing fields and stress that more care needs to be taken in the choice, timing and application of insecticides and other chemicals. While managed hives can be moved out of harm’s way, “wild populations (of pollinators) are completely vulnerable”, says the report.

Declines in bee colonies date back to the mid 1960s in Europe, but have accelerated since 1998, while in North America, losses of colonies since 2004 have left the continent with fewer managed pollinators than at any time in the past 50 years, says the report.

The report lists a number of factors which may be coming together to cause the decline and they include:

bees and other pollinators,” said one of the lead authors, Dr Peter Neumann of the Swiss Bee Research Centre.

1. Habitat degradation, including the loss of flowering plant species that provide food for bees;

“The way humanity manages or mismanages its nature-based assets, including pollinators, will in part define our collective future in the 21st century,” said Achim Steiner, UN Under Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director.

Now Chinese beekeepers have recently “faced several inexplicable and complex symptoms of colony losses in both species”, the report says. And it has been reported elsewhere that some Chinese farmers have had to resort to pollinating fruit trees by hand because of the lack of insects.

2. Some insecticides, including the socalled “systemic” insecticides which can migrate to the entire plant as it grows and be taken in by bees in nectar and pollen;

“Society is increasingly investing in ‘industrial-scale’ hives and managed colonies to make up the shortfall and going so far as to truck bees around to farms and fields in order to maintain our food supplies.

“The fact is that of the 100 crop species that provide 90% of the world’s food, over 70 are pollinated by bees.” “Human beings have fabricated the illusion that in the 21st century they have the technological prowess to be independent of nature.” “Bees underline the reality that we are more, not less, dependent on nature’s services in a world of close to seven billion people.”

Furthermore, a quarter of beekeepers in Japan “have recently been confronted with sudden losses of their bee colonies”, while in Africa, beekeepers along the Egyptian Nile have been reporting signs of “colony collapse disorder” – although to date there are no other confirmed reports from the rest of the continent.

3. Parasites and pests, such as the wellknown Varroa mite; 4. Air pollution, which may be interfering with the ability of bees to find flowering plants and thus food – scents that could travel more than 800 metres in the 1800s now reach less than 200 metres from a plant.

“A variety of factors are making these man-made colonies vulnerable to decline and collapse. We need to get smarter about how we manage these hives, but perhaps more importantly, we need to better manage the landscape beyond, in order to recover wild bee populations.”

“The transformation of the countryside and rural areas in the past half-century or so has triggered a decline in wild-living



Forked Issue 3 – Insects  

Re-thinking food.