Bug-tasting creates a buzz around low-carbon eating

by Laurie Goering | @lauriegoering | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 7 December 2015 23:38 GMT

A gourmet bug tasting at Development and Climate Days, on the sidelines of U.N. climate talks in Paris, Dec 6, 2015. TRF/Laurie Goering

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"Insects are not gross. They are great for our planet. We are going to need to eat insects in the very near future."

Pierre Thiam, a famed Senegalese chef with a new top-rated cookbook, is on stage blending ingredients and frying delicious-smelling fritters of black-eyed peas. But his “snack of the future” has two unusual additions: pulverized dried mealworms and crickets.

“Insects are not gross,” he says with a broad smile and a flourish of his spatula. “They are great for our planet. We are going to need to eat insects in the very near future.”

Actually 2 billion people already do - from Mexicans who relish roasted grasshoppers and ant larvae tacos to Thais who munch a handful of fried crickets with a cold beer.

Bugs on the dinner plate are a lot kinder to the environment than most animal protein alternatives.

Producing a kilogramme of beef takes 10 kilogrammes of feed, and 22,000 litres of water, by the time you take into account irrigation to grow the grain to feed the cow, U.N. experts say. And then there’s the cow’s own not insubstantial methane emissions.

As the world tries to curb climate-changing emissions, in an effort not to roast the planet itself, that means more of us – sooner than we think – may need to scale back on meat and give new sources of protein a try.

“What are the lines we’re willing to cross in the pursuit of zero poverty, zero emissions?” asked Pablo Suarez of the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, one of the organisers of a gourmet bug tasting at Development and Climate Days, on the sidelines of the U.N. climate talks.

Insect-studded cuisine, it turns out, is not nearly as scary as you’d imagine, particularly when the bugs are ground up and not staring back.

While bugs are probably not – at least intentionally – on the shelves at your local grocery, commercial producers of insect foods, from pasta to cookies, are gaining a hold in the market. One French firm, Jimini’s – get it? – offers everything from crunchy paprika crickets to sesame and cumin mealworms.

And as chef Thiam dished up his fragrant fritters, it was a throng – not a trickle – of people who rushed up to the stage for a taste. Most emerged smiling or at least chewing reflectively. A few even licked fingers, or nabbed seconds.

The fritters were followed with lemon cookies with no evident taste of mealworms, and bright yellow and pink macaroons topped with small dried crickets. Then came the mealworm chocolates, bowls of crunchy dried mealworms and finally straight-up dried crickets.

Not everyone made it all the way through the escalating insect offers, but Saleemul Huq, director of the Dhaka-based International Centre for Climate Change and Development, managed a smile as he crunched up a whole dried cricket.

“I could get used to this,” he said.