History & Culture

Take a bite of insects

Arnold van Huis loves to eat locusts seasoned with pepper and spice, has tried out termites and crickets and has tried out a cake filled with lake flies in East Africa. He researches entomophagy, a branch dealing with eating edible insects at the Wageningen University in the Netherlands and has authored Edible insects: future prospects for food and feed security, a study published in 2013 by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and an edible insect cookbook, that has been downloaded more than seven million times. He was in Bengaluru for a conference organised by Atree

He says, “I was involved in pest management and was educating students in Niger, with a special focus on locusts in 1995. During a sabbatical, I took time out to study the influence of insects on various aspects of life in the region. I learnt that many of these communities consumed insects and considered it a good source of protein. In many areas, locusts were sold for higher prices than the grains we were supposed to protect. I learnt that people in the tropics are wary of telling western that they eat insects. It started off as a hobby, but soon evolved into serious research. I have visited locusts farms in Thailand and tried out a wide range of insects across the world as part of my research.”

The entomologist points out, “At current levels, we will soon run out of space to rear livestock, which also consumes a lot of water and other resources. Insects do not need many resources and can provide the same level of protein that poultry, beef and fish can provide. There are more than 2,000 varieties of insects that can be consumed.”

The 71-year-old adds, “For human consumption, the processing is important — how to rear the insects, what kind of organic waste to grow them on alongside changing consumer attitude. It is about getting people to try out edible insects once to get rid of taboo associated with eating it. Insects can be consumed, used as fodder for livestock and used to produce manure for plants as well. Insects must be considered a delicious source of food.”

The genial scientist says, “There has been some change in attitudes related to eating insects as food in the Netherlands. I think it is very important to break the perception that insects are only meant for consumption by poor people. We have held discussions with former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the need to popularise insect food. Insects have made an appearance in the menu in Noma in Copenhagen, that has been declared one of the best restaurants in the world, after we talked to the chef.”

To make insects palatable to a wider group of people, van Huis feels it is important to hide the insects. “For instance, in the Netherlands, we have bug burgers at stores.”

Interest in the field, especially in the West has increased tremendously over the past few years. “It was considered a peculiar habit of poor people in tropical countries. That has changed. It is seen as something that is fairly normal. In the Netherlands, more and more people are trying out insects for food.”

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Printable version | Jun 20, 2021 4:30:20 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/Take-a-bite-of-insects/article17097378.ece

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