Interview with FORA and TheJournal.ie – one of Ireland's leading internet publications.
Words ANYA TCHOUPAKOV
Insects: The Grossly Sustainable Future of Food
Aug 17, 2016
Many cultures already include this ingredient in their daily diets, but for most of the Western world, the very thought of ingesting it brings on a montage of involuntary facial expressions. But this one divisive ingredient may just be the future of food.
Of course, I’m talking about insects. I spoke with Lara Hanlon of éntomo, an organization purporting the value of entomophagy (the practice of eating insects) by providing information, stats, and recipes.
In an effort to understand a little better why it’s good for our global wallets, welfare, and taste-buds, here are some reasons why insects might just be our saviors.
According to the Entomological Society of America, there are over 800,000 species of insects on the planet, not to mention those not discovered yet. Already, they're used in some regional South American and Asian diets—served grilled, canned, freeze-dried, ground up into flour, baked into candy, and eaten alive. Common insects to eat include grasshoppers, crickets, scorpions, silkworms, and more. Some recipes call for some ants just chopped right in there, while others prefer to grind their insects into powder for a slightly less...obvious feel. For example, Lara makes éntomo energy bites made of cricket flour, dates, nuts, seeds, and coconut. “They’re simple to make, full of natural ingredients, and taste like toffee and cacao!” she promises.
Compared to traditional meats like beef and pork, insects often win out in terms of nutritional value. There’s almost the same amount of protein, calcium, and iron per 100g in insects as in livestock, but the fat level is much lower: 5.5g for grasshoppers versus 23.3g in beef. Plus, insects come without any of the health risks associated with red meat, like heart disease and diabetes. Crickets hold less than half the amount of calories than beef for the same serving size, while dung beetles and red ants are super high in protein and calcium. Venturing into the world of entomophagy doesn’t mean renouncing your old diet completely, but Lara says since she “began exploring edible insects as a future food source, I’ve become more conscious about my eating habits,” rarely eating red meat and avoiding processed foods as often as possible.
The human population is growing at an alarming rate, and available land for farming is dwindling. Natural resources are extremely limited already and food prices are rising. It’s not all bad—there are some exciting initiatives popping up with the shared goal of a brighter food future (Lara mentions cultured meat and urban farming in particular). But insects provide a trustworthy sustainable food source for a few key reasons: they release considerably less harmful greenhouse gases, they reproduce quickly, and don’t need very much feed or maintenance in general. In fact, according to éntomo, a pound of mealworm protein has a gas footprint 1% as large as a pound of beef. Numbers don’t lie.
The global edible insects market is already rising, and is expected to increase up to 40% by 2023. As a relatively new market, there are many growth opportunities, especially since production doesn’t require a huge amount of overhead in terms of feed (many bugs feed on food waste produced anyway, plus they get heat from the sun) and space (smaller quarters are sometimes even better for insect growth). Insects are cheaper to rear and easy to prepare, meaning the market can produce solid financial results without a huge amount of initial financing.
Even Lara admits the shift to insects took some willpower: “When I first contemplated putting insects in my mouth I was very grossed out! The concept was pretty alien to me, even though I would have considered myself an adventurous gourmand at the time.” On their own, insects have been described as crunchy, nutty, and flavorful. But when ground up into snack bars or flour, the taste is quite neutral and can be ingested basically unnoticed.
Insects for dinner?
It is estimated that by 2050 there will be over 9 billion people living on this beautiful planet — that’s 2 billion more than today! When we consider the fact that natural resources are already limited and food prices increase almost daily, how are we going to feed all of these incoming habitants? Every day news headlines warn us about health risks associated with processed foods, obesity epidemics, drought, and local food shortages. Simply put, we need a more sustainable solution to help feed the world.éntomo is an online resource that educates Western society about the values and benefits of insects as a healthy, sustainable and exciting food source for the twenty-first century and beyond. (Yes, that’s right — insects!) An on-going design and research project, it is a new food perspective that highlights the need for a smarter way of living by encouraging people to explore insects as a tasty and nutritious alternative to traditional meats such as beef and pork. If Western society wants to sustain itself — environmentally and economically — then we must consider better, newer models of food production to successfully address these wicked, wicked problems of climate changes and depleting land resources.
Why choose insects?
In response to these urgent, global issues, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) published a report titled “Edible insects — future prospects for food and feed security”, in 2013. As the title suggests, the report highlights numerous case studies that support insects as an alternative and sustainable food source for the future.
For thousands of years people have been eating insects, particularly in Asia, South America, and Africa. In Western cultures, however, it is considered taboo to dine on such ‘pests’. Insects are not only scientifically proven to provide high levels of protein, iron, and calcium, but unlike traditional livestock they release far fewer greenhouse gases, require less utilities for production such as electricity and water, and reproduce at a much faster rate. And let’s not forget to mention that they also taste delicious! So, whynot choose insects?
What to expect from éntomo
As you may have guessed, there is a considerable challenge in educating (and convincing) society about the importance of introducing bugs to our daily diet. But sure enough there is a growing interest in edible insects with media sources including The Guardian and Huffington Post regularly reporting the benefits of this alternative food supply. All across the US and EU there are start-ups producing and selling cricket protein bars, snacks and more! (Just take a look at Mophagy — our partners who supply éntomo with cricket flour so we can make delicious and nutritious treats. Wonderful.). The goal behind éntomo is to inform, engage and help create a sustainable and novel twenty-first century lifestyle. This is the beginning of a food revolution and éntomo is excited to share and explore the #foodofthefuture with you.
The Global Irish Design Challenge is a celebration of Irish design innovation that hopes to activate a global network of talent that spans the breadth of Ireland and extends worldwide.
We're delighted that éntomo has been nominated as an entry that shows the potential to be a ground-breaking project that provides an Irish solution to a global problem through design and communications!
NEED: When Design Empowers Human Potential is an exhibition that celebrates and explores design projects "from the present for future needs", that enhance what we as humans can do with technology, food, data, science and more. Curated by Logotel the exhibition will run from April 14th — 19th 2015 at Via Ventura 15 Milano. Come check out éntomo and here Lara talk about her project on April 16th, 18:30PM.
In March 2014 éntomo was taken across the world to Shenzhen, China, where it received the New Star Award at the Shenzhen Design Award for Young Talent (SZDAY). The project was exhibited and talks by Lara were hosted by SZDAY at the OCT Gallery, alongside designers and their works from Belgium, France, Columbia, The UK, Japan and China. Each recipient of the awards, through design, imagined and developed products and experiences that address the vulnerabilities and 'wicked problems' that exist in society today. Recognized for enhancing the global standard of living, the projects presented and awarded included fashion, architecture, product design, and visual communications.
In association with UNESCO Creative Cities. Find out more: http://www.szday.org/
Ana C. Day — founder of 4ento.com kindly invited éntomo to showcase at Vitafoods in Geneva last December. Make sure to check out 4ento.com who are doing amazing work with startups and projects that promote insects as food across the globe.
The lovely folk at Dezeen seem to like what éntomo is all about...