At the Brussels airport last week, en route to Glasgow, I struck up a conversation with a young Flemish woman about edible insects, as one does. I was on my way to the Glasgow Science Festival to be a part the Society of Biology’s event, ‘Can Eating Insects Save the World?’ The woman told me about a young daughter of a friend of hers who wanted to buy some edible insects at one of the city’s big grocery stores.
“The vegetable and mealworm spread?” I asked. I had four Green Kow-brand jars, two carrot-based, and two tomato-based, carefully packed in ice in my checked luggage.
“Whole mealworms,” the woman replied. “My friend’s daughter heard about them at school, and was curious to try them.”
Although insects are eaten in other parts of the world, such as Thailand, most of us have been brought up to regard them as dirty, dangerous, and downright disgusting. They are simply not part of Europe’s food culture. Unless you count Casu Marzu, a traditional Sardinian sheep milk cheese that contains live maggots.
But, recently, in Brussels at least, the insects have landed.
According to an article last year in Flanders Today, “Entomophagy, or the eating of bugs, is widely regarded as one of the most promising solutions to increasing environmental pressure, worldwide food insecurity and the rising cost of animal protein.”
In December 2013, Belgium was the first country in Europe to legalize insects as food when the Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC) published a list of 10 insects approved for human consumption, including super worms, African grasshoppers and mealworm larvae. Bugs are rich in protein, vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids, and are very tasty. Cooked mealworm larvae tastes like pistachio, apparently.
But how would these wee, edible beasties go down in Glasgow?
There was a lively, festive atmosphere during the tasting that followed the screening of the documentary, “Can Eating Insects Save the World?” Most of the guests seemed happy, if not downright eager, to try the buffalo worm fudge, mealworm and vegetable spread canapés, and other insect snacks. I saw one woman put a few of the little crickets on top of one of the canapés, in the same way you might press a few gumdrops onto an iced cupcake—and then she popped the whole thing in her mouth.
I personally think it will be a long time before edible insects become mainstream in Europe. More likely, I think, will be the wholehearted acceptance of meat from animals that are fed insect protein, as highlighted by Rhonda Smith, another panellist during the Glasgow event, who is involved in the PROteINSECT project.
But you never know. There appears to be a growing enthusiasm for edible insects in Belgium, the UK and beyond. Maybe, as Craig MacFarlane, of Bugs for Life, who was also on the panel during the event, suggests: just add insects to your favourite recipes, like he does, with Spaghetti Bugonese.