Saturday, January 24, 2015

Micro-round-up on news about insects as food (entomophagy)

One of my favorite posts at Mental Masala looks at the history and psychology of "insects as food" in European and closely-related cultures and U.S., Canada, and Australia. (A quick summary:  These cultures have a long history of associating insects with disease and filth, which makes them unappetizing.  In addition, not many large insects that are good for eating are endemic to the temperate climates.)

Though Americans in general aren't too excited about eating insects (entomophagy), people who write and talk about food -- journalists, bloggers, radio show producers -- are certainly excited by the idea and so quite a bit of writing about insects as foods appears across the media landscape.  Generally, the pieces are enthusiastic and forward looking, and I have spotted three basic themes:  1) an entrepreneur has a new insect-containing product (like protein bars made containing cricket flour), 2) insects can feed the world (sustainable, easy to raise, nutritious, etc.), 3)  attempts to make insects more palatable to Western eaters. (Note that I wrote one piece about the attraction of insects to editors and writers in 2012.)

I have been haphazardly keeping a collection of articles for many months now, and thought a round up and commentary would be worthwhile (if for no other purpose than to help me organize them).

"Lovely Grub: Are Insects the Future of Food?" by Emily Anthes is one of the best overviews of recent developments and future prospects for insects as food that I have seen. She covers the areas of sustainability and eater psychology, of course, but then takes the article into the often ignored areas of food safety and regulatory approval.  mosaic (10/14/14)

New Products that Contain Insects (and Related Initiatives)
A short profile of two companies that are using crickets in their products: Bitty Foods and Exo.  Crickets have an relatively high level of protein, about 13 grams of protein per 100 grams of crickets vs. 25 grams of protein per 100 grams of chicken or beef, but can be farmed on less land with lower greenhouse gas emissions.  Bitty sells baking blends that contain cricket meal, as well as cookies that use the insect-fortified flour.  Exo uses cricket flour as way to stand out in the crowded energy bar field.  A bar has about 300 calories and contains the equivalent of 40 crickets.  The Salt at NPR (8/15/14)

The airline JetBlue and the food company incubator AccelFoods formed a partnership to offer some edgy snacks on certain flights, including cricket protein bars, at Quartz (10/9/14)

Designers from Sweden's Belatchew Arkitekter propose insect farms called "Buzz Buildings" for major intersections to provide sustainable protein production. CITYLAB at The Atlantic.  (6/13/14)

Massachusetts' contribution to the United States of Sustainable Food is an insects as food company.  Six Foods is producing "Chirps," chips that include cricket flour for a protein and sustainability boost. The company is also connected to the cricket farm in Ohio that is the subject of the New Yorker’s “Big Cricket” (see below).  Grist.   (9/8/14)

The Insect Economy
Big Cricket Farms, a new venture in the Rust Belt city of Youngstown, Ohio is trying to figure out how to raise crickets on a large scale so they can used in foods for people.  The 'mini-livestock' doesn't need much:  80-90 F ambient temperature, about 90% relative humidity, water, and a diet based on grain and vegetables.  At the time of the article, Big Cricket Farms was raising almost six million crickets, with a potential population of twenty-million (which would provide about six tons of protein powder each month).  The New Yorker (9/16/14)

After taking a bite, contributor Elettra Wiedemann discovered that some of the delicious cookies she sampled at a food conference contained crickets (from Bitty Foods). Her curiosity takes over and she digs into the subject.  One of her resources is Kevin Bachhuber of Big Cricket Farms. Bachhuber says that aversion to insects as food is part of the "depersonalization of our food supply," and most of the meat we buy doesn't look at all like an animal. [ed. note: This is true to some extent, but countered by the prevalence of cricket flour as a leading ingredient.  Another counter might be the popularity of ribs and chicken wings, which have plenty of bone and clearly comes from an animal.]  Munchies at Vice (8/14/14)

Demand for insects for human consumption in Thailand has created a boom for the insect farmers.  Over 20,000 farms are registered with the government, primarily small family farms, with combined revenues in the multimillion-dollar range.  Some farmers are finding crickets less risky than rice farming: rice provides just one harvest a year while crickets provide six, and cricket farming is less reliant on the weather. Insect farmers share with and learn from a local  cooperative and experts from Khon Kaen University.  Exports to Europe and North America are starting to grow, mostly for cricket powder, though the best sellers are novelty items.  AP at Huffington Post (8/25/14)

Raising Insects to be Animal Feed
Ed. note:  This sector of the insect innovation industry has a lot of sustainability potential. Fish farming isn’t going away, so imagine if instead of draining the oceans of forage fish so they can be ground into fish meal for aquaculture, we could supply fish farms with some sort of insect-based food, with the insects raised in a sustainable way. (One of my pieces at Ethicurean has more details about forage fish and aquaculture.)

EnviroFlight is trying to raise black soldier fly as a sustainable source of animal feed (especially for aquaculture).  The fly larvae increase in weight by a factor of 5,000 in a few weeks, and they can be fed "pre-consumer" waste, e.g., cast-offs from food manufacturing facilities like chicken-nugget breading or spent brewing grains.   I first discovered this on KQED's Quest TV program, but unfortunately I haven't found the video on-line, only a short write-up of the piece at QUEST. And that's too bad, because the section showing the mating house with Barry White playing to set the mood was amusing. (04/1/14)

The PROteINSECT project is a team of researchers from around the world that is investigating whether fly larvae could be a suitable component of pig, poultry and fish feed. Larvae are high in protein and can be grown on waste products like food scraps or animal manure. The project is looking at methods of raising insects, their nutritional characteristics, and safety (e.g., heavy-metal residues, veterinary medicine residue, allergenicity).    Munchies at Vice. (9/15/14)

Raising black soldier fly larvae on fruit and vegetable scraps as a source of animal feed. The Regina Leader-Post (12/3/14)

Behavior Modification
SexyFood makes eating weird edible bugs, like rhino beetles and black scorpions, a desirable luxury "experience."  Co.Exist (11/3/14)

Insects as the Food of the Future
Stephen Colbert on a United Nations report about insects as food (warning: autoplay on some browsers) (5/15/13)

Grist on the same U.N. report (5/15/13)

Random link from the archive: Recipe: Ersatz South Indian rice with yogurt

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