Go Eat a Bug! Seriously

WEBSITEento_cubes2_1259“Most of the world already eats insects,” says Arnold van Huis, entomologist at Wageningen University in the Netherlands and collaborator with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. “It is only in the western world that we don’t. Psychologically we have a problem with it. I don’t know why. . . .”

These comments from van Huis appeared in The Observer, in 2010. Two years later, it seems that we westerners are not much closer to wide-scale acceptance of edible bugs. In a post last month, I had fun writing about entomophagy, but for people like van Huis, the eating of insects is a very serious topic.

It’s a serious topic for the folks behind the Ento project, too. If they have their way, insects will be an accepted part of our menus and shopping lists in the next ten years. Seriously.

The team behind Ento is made up of four postgraduate students at London’s Royal College of Art and Imperial College London. They are Aran Dasan, Jacky Chung, Jonathan Fraser, and Julene Aguirre-Bielschowsky, working with Kim Insu, a chef-in-training at Le Cordon Bleu.

They’ve put together a video, explaining their goals and methods, embedded below. In it, they lay out reasons for why we should all be eating insects, including the following:

  • The rapid growth in the world’s population requires us to look into alternatives for meeting the increasing demand for sustainable foods.
  • Compared to cattle, edible insects can provide nine times the amount of protein for the same amount of feed.
  • Insects are also lower in fat than beef.
  • Raising insects uses much less energy and space than traditional livestock and produces far less greenhouse gases.

But even with this information, and even though over 1000 different insects are already being eaten in 80% of the world’s countries, we in the West have a general disgust at the thought of eating bugs. Van Huis, a westerner himself, understands this. “It is very important how you prepare them,” he says. “You have to do it very nicely, to overcome the yuk factor.”

That’s where Ento comes in. They have developed a “roadmap,” consisting of 6 steps for introducing edible insects into the mainstream, culminating in the year 2020:

2012: Travel to festivals and markets WEBSITEento_entobox-closeup_1259to grab the attention of “adventurous eaters”
2013: Create the first Ento restaurant, serving insects in the form of innovative “entocubes”
2015: After opening more restaurants, market entocubes in “takeaway entoboxes” for lunch
2017: Sell a line of “ready meals” in supermarkets
2018: Introduce Ento ingredients for use in cooking
2020: Sell fresh insects as an accepted staple in the supermarket meat aisle

This seems like a rather aggressive plan, so I asked Fraser how things are going so far. He tells me that they are in the process of developing the roadmap above into a business plan. “Festivals and markets will still be a major goal for us in 2013, but we have also added event catering and pop-up restaurants to our plans.” All this to create a buzz about Ento. “Primarily we want as many people as possible to experience our food in a fun and social context,” he says.

So when will the first Ento restaurant be open for business? “As we improve our recipes and refine the Ento brand, a London restaurant will be our next major milestone,” says Fraser. And at this point in the progress, the restaurant opening is still on schedule: “We can’t reveal much about it at this stage, but it is in the works for later next year.”

And even though the group sees overcoming westerners’ aversion to entomophagy as a major obstacle, Fraser believes that once eating insects becomes more popular, then will come the biggest challenge: keeping up with demand. “At the moment we use external suppliers to source our insects, and currently the infrastructure base is quite small,” Fraser says. “This is why we proposed the creation of an adaptable network of urban farms that could meet the growing demand requirements as insects become accepted by more and more western eaters.”

The Ento team’s 10-year plan seems rather aggressive, but in an article in the design magazine Core77, they point out that something similar has happened before: Just three decades ago, they write, “tourist guides warned British tourists about the strange and off-putting Japanese habit of eating raw fish.” But now, sushi has become a global phenomenon.

Maybe, with the help of these creative students, it won’t take quite so long to get us eating bugs.

(Damian Carrington, “Insects Could Be the Key to Meeting Food Needs of Growing Global Population,” The Observer, July 31, 2010; “Case Study: Ento, the Art of Eating Insects,” February 27, 2012)

[photos from Ento, used with permission]


Waiter, What’s This Maggot Doing in My Soup?

As a boy growing up in rural Missouri, I was very interested in insects and ended up with a rather sizable collection of mounted specimens that I took to the local 4-H fair. Later, when I became a 4-H leader to a younger friend nearby, I passed on what I’d learned. I remember once, after running out of ideas, spicing things up with a snack of deep-fried insects. As I recall, we ate grasshoppers, bees, and possibly cicadas. Little did I know that I could have been on the brink of a future career.

If you travel much outside the US and Europe, you run a good chance of running across insects served up as snacks or side dishes. But if people like China’s Li Jinsui have their way, edible insects will become a global main course.

As reported in Le Monde, Li runs an “insect factory,” which has as its focus the housefly—in particular, the immature housefly, or maggot. You can read the entire article here, but if you need some coaxing, let me whet your appetite with some quotations. Where else can you read such phrases as this?

China’s Maggot Factories Hoping to Feed the World (the headline)
Li says he can deliver about 150kg of maggots a day . . .
As he walks into a room filled with two million flies . . . , and
With the price of wasp larvae on the rise . . .

For Li, raising insects for human consumption isn’t just a novelty. He’s hoping to educate his countrymen, develop his business, and become “the industry’s world leader.” One obstacle that he has to overcome on the maggot front, though, is to figure out how to raise his flies on a diet of rice. That’s because housefly maggots typically feed on animal feces, which makes them unsuitable for human consumption.

Sounds like Li has a lot of educating and persuading to do.

But he’s not alone. There’s a whole movement devoted to “entomophagy,” or the eating of insects. It touts the health and environmental benefits of insect eating and presents it as an effective solution to the problem of feeding a rapidly growing world. For more information, check out these interesting sites:

Also, at NOVA’s “Bugs You Can Eat,” you can follow a couple American journalists, Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio, as they trek around the world trying a variety of insect and spider dishes. With a twist on the “tastes like chicken” meme, Menzel describes deep-fried tarantulas in Cambodia, saying,

If day-old deep-fried chickens had no bones, had hair instead of feathers, and were the size of a newborn sparrow, they might taste like tarantulas.

And finally, if you’re in the States and want to get your taste buds ready for the insect-eating future, go to HOTLIX to order some “larvets,” hand-dipped chocolate crickets, or other varieties of insect candy. Or go to Hollywood location scout Scott Trimble’s Entomophagy, inspired by “the seeming lack of a concise smartphone-friendly list of American restaurants that serve insect options on their menus.”

Who knows, maybe someday you’ll ask, “Waiter, what’s this fly doing in my soup?” and his answer will be “Why, adding flavor, protein, and pizazz, of course!”

(Harold Thibault, “China’s Maggot Factories Hoping to Feed the World,”  Worldcrunch, October 1, 2012, translated from “Des Usines d’Insectes pour Nourrir les Chinois,” Le Monde, September 28, 2012;

[photo: “Fly larva,” by Susannah Anderson, used under a Creative Commons license]