Earlier this year Delhaize, one of the main supermarket chains here in Belgium, announced that they were launching a range of food products containing insects. Obviously this attracted some publicity as eating insects is still a bit of a fringe activity in the west.
There are undoubted benefits: environmental, economic, health. But for many people the ick factor remains high. Is this because we’re used to seeing creepy crawlies in our houses and gardens, flying around or wriggling through the dirt? Do we still think of them as dirty (you know, as compared to pigs) and disease-ridden? A friend who doesn’t like crustaceans says that she sees them as sea insects, which is understandable to an extent. Yet most people make a distinction and somehow prawn cocktail is a thing but cockroach cocktail is not.
It does appear to be a mainly western attitude, as various peoples across Africa and Asia eat various kinds of land-based invertebrates without batting an eyelid. When we visited Thailand the markets were full of stalls selling insectile snacks, and we even tried one. It’s started gradually making inroads here, and in noma earlier this year we had a dish containing ants, but it’s still a novelty, and you still feel a bit daring for even considering it.
I think one of the other barriers to acceptance is the visual aspect. Many bugs are simply eaten au naturel or fried, so what you pick up and put in your mouth still looks very much like a bug. This needn’t be the case. If we seriously want to get our protein from this source rather than the much more wasteful and environmentally damaging cattle farming methods, there’s no reason we can’t grind it up and mix it in with other ingredients.
Which is pretty much what Delhaize have done with their new spreads. The packaging advises you to spread it on toast or sandwiches:
The ingredients. Note that it’s almost 80% tomato, with only 6% “vers de farine’ (mealworm, the larval form of a species of beetle).
As I said, presentation is everything.
I got my daughter to take this one as proof that I’d actually put it in my mouth.
The verdict? You’d never know it contained anything other than tomato, at least not by the taste. I’d be perfectly happy to have more bugs in my food if this is the case.
For more on this topic, Stefan Gates made an interesting documentary for the BBC last year, which you can see in full here:
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