The truth about insects on the plate

We’ve tasted them for you, what with cultural taboos and sustainable food

Belgian pasta Aldento, made with dehydrated larvae

Belgian pasta Aldento, made with dehydrated larvae flour. It was one of the dishes tasted inside the pavilion of Belgium at Expo 2015

«Eat insects? How disgusting!», my mother yells. Then she puts herself together and fishes from her memory: «Your granddad loved cheese with worms; it was a delicacy at the time». Please forgive this personal digression yet it well represents the cultural short circuit that many Italians experienced a few weeks ago, when the European Parliament approved at first reading the text ruling the sales of so called novel food.

Newspapers were flooded with horrifying pictures of grasshoppers ready to be eaten. Yet what does truly hide behind these sensational titles? We tried to understand this a few days ago, participating in one of the last meetings held at Expo 2015, inside the pavilion of Belgium.

Andrea Mascaretti and Marco Ceriani

Andrea Mascaretti and Marco Ceriani

«We’re here – explained Marco Ceriani, CEO of Italbugs in Lodi and pioneer in entomophagy in Italy – because Belgium is the most developed country in terms of environmental sustainability». The theme is a very hot one: the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation certified that the earth is not capable of feeding the 9 billion people who, it is estimated, will live here in 2050. «This is no surprise – comments Andrea Mascaretti, creator of Società Umanitaria’s Edible Insects project in Milan – Two thousand years ago we were a total of 300 millions, we’ve already exceeded 7 billions…».

Scary numbers: «80% of the fish we eat is farmed, fed with soy – continues Ceriani – Hens eat fish flour, pigs eat tallow, that is cattle fat, mostly, while we needed an EU law to forbid that the latter would be fed with their own carcasses». In other words, it’s an infernal mechanism, «Belgium offers us an alternative way». That is to say: the FAO indicates that there are 1,900 edible species of insects.

One of the dishes at restaurant Bugs & Lunch in Gent, Belgium

One of the dishes at restaurant Bugs & Lunch in Gent, Belgium

Will these become our diet? «The idea according to which ham is to be forbidden, in favour of grasshoppers, is misleading. Insects can be added to our menu, with fish and meat, they will not substitute them», points out Liesbet Minne, of Flemish firm Bugs World Solution Food. This is not an imposition but an option based on some assumptions.

1) Science guarantees the consumption of insects is healthy; 2) men have always eaten them: ancient Romans used them to make a broth; 3) «They’re saying insects is “the food of the future”. I was discussing it with a Chinese and he smiled: “This is no future at all, their consumption is our tradition”», reminds Ceriani; 4) insects and crustaceans are relatives. The former disgust us, the latter don’t: it is a pure food taboo.

Some will object: perhaps it is a taboo, but why eliminate it? Mascaretti: «Food policies are dictated by multinationals, whose policies, however, are not sustainable. Today 800 million people are starving». 70% of the world population has always enjoyed insects, points out Minne, yet meanwhile between 2 and 3 billion people are changing their diet, following the Western model: «In China or India the elderly eat insects, their grandchildren want steak», explains Ceriani. From 1961 to 2010 the consumption of meat has increased by 600%.

Croquette filled with beetroot and crickets

Croquette filled with beetroot and crickets

This is why the WHO warns us not to exceed its consumption. «Crickets are excellent, plenty of vitamins, minerals, phosphorous. Flour worms taste like banana and hazelnut», says Minne, who one year ago opened an insect restaurant, Bugs & Lunch, in Gent and as of the next 18th November will sell new products in some Belgian supermarket chains, such as croquettes filled with beetroot and crickets.

Cécile Flagothier explains how Goffard Sisters produces a pasta branded Aldento made with larvae flour, «they have a special hazelnut taste». The point is: we need to find valid alternatives to meat, perhaps more familiar for us, such as legumes. And people must be able to taste what they want, including insects. And hope that in the meantime a global “steak war” will not explode.


Carlo Mangio

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