No more discarding a dish if you find an insect in it as bugs are the food of the future, writes Geeta Padmanabhan

The on-screen salad looks delicious. Appetising, really. The camera zooms in, and you hear the anchor: “It is insect salad.” All it needs is to be wrapped in a French-sounding name. Insect consumption, however, has a name: Entomophagy.

“Bugs are food of the future. Beetles, caterpillars and wasps could supplement diets as an environmentally-friendly food source if only we could get over the disgust,” said UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in its recent report Edible Insects: Future prospects for food and feed security. “The main message is: ‘Eat insects’,” said Eva Mueller, Director, Forest Economics, FAO at the press conference. “Insects are abundant and are a valuable source of protein and minerals.” Two billion people are already eating insects and find it delicious and nutritious, she said. “Insect consumption is part of our daily life,” added Gabon’s Forestry Minister Gabriel Tchango. Gabonese consider beetle larvae and grilled termites as delicacies, they contribute 10 per cent of the animal protein consumed. People in India eat termites.

Low carbon footprint

Insect farming helps food/feed security, argues FAO. Insects reproduce quickly, have high feed-conversion rates. They leave a low carbon footprint (low methane emission). And hey, Danone (yoghurt) and Campari (drinks) already use insect dye to colour their products. China, South Africa, Spain and the United States use it as feed ingredient. The larvae of the black-soldier fly, the common housefly and the yellow mealworm supplement soy, maize and fishmeal as livestock feed. The report concluded: “History has shown that dietary patterns can change quickly, particularly in a globalised world. The rapid acceptance of raw fish in the form of sushi is a good example.” Will the food industry “Raise the status of insects” by putting them in recipes, on restaurant menus? And you, are you ready to pop a mint-laced bug for a light snack?

In Sydney, at cook-cum-owner Kylie Kwong’s restaurant Billy Kwong, you can order whole roasted crickets, cricket-and-prawn wontons and a stir-fried cricket dish with blackbean and chilli. Her sales pitch: “Roasted crickets taste like dried shrimps, roasted wood cockroaches taste like chocolate and coffee beans!” On Saturday mornings at her stall at Eveleigh Markets, she serves steamed sticky rice parcels with warrigal greens, macadamia nuts, goji berries and crushed roasted crickets. A gentle introduction to eating insects, she said.

Her crickets were fed organic vegetables in a farm run by an entomologist, she claimed. “In my Chinese heritage we’ve been eating insects for thousands of years, just like indigenous Australians (who travel to the Alps to feast on bogong moths), so it's a wonderful cultural, historical, sociological story I tell my customers.” To deal with the ‘yuck factor’, just remember most insects are crustaceans, like prawn, crayfish, yabbe. “The Chinese call insects ‘prawns in the sky’.” Most of us eat a quarter of a kilogram of insects by accident each year anyway, writes Susan Lawler, HoD, Department of Environmental Management & Ecology, La Trobe University, Australia, in the website, Conversation. If you eat organic, your rate of insect consumption is much higher, she says. With insects, you get more protein for less feed, grow food from waste, save water, reduce risk of disease. No swine flu, bird flu, mad-cow disease. Factories are already growing insects to produce protein powders to enrich food items. The only downside she found is that eating insects collected in the wild puts you at risk of consuming pesticides.

“It’s time to think of becoming insectarians,” said Kousalya Nathan, Lifestyle & Anti-Aging Consultant. Chefs might lose their jobs if diners found un-ordered insects in the soup and we discard “buggy” groceries, but the time has come to make a delicacy out of them. In India, going insectarian sounds far-fetched, but this is eco-nutrition, she insisted. “That said, we must look at this scientifically by initiating Genomic-validated research on its compatibility with South Asian genes before advocating it.”

Non-vegetarian may accept entomophagy, believes clinical nutritionist Dr. Varsha, adding, “Baden Powell’s manual for Girl Guides/Boy Scouts instructs us to use a handful of ants if we forgot to bring salt.

In Cairns, Australia I watched my tourist guide pop in green translucent ants after snipping of their head, in Chennai I saw an oriental eat a live cockroach outside Madras High Court. Fascinating, but revolting!”

What was exotic is getting to be universalised, she said. “Sad, the greed of the human race is destroying the flora and fauna indiscriminately. The cause of running out of known food sources is exploitation and there will be nothing to prevent its repetition in this sector also.”