BY ROBERT NATHAN ALLEN
FOUNDER, LITTLE HERDS
While edible insects and insect-based products have seen an unprecedented surge in popular media coverage over the last few years, it’s mind-blowing to think that for all intents and purposes, this industry is less than a decade old. Maybe it seems strange or disgusting to you that somebody would eat insects, but that’s okay! Most people raised in a culture where insects are treated like pests instead of dinner have a hard time getting past the mental hurdle. I had a tough go of it myself when I had my first cricket four years ago, but I now know that the only reason I was squeamish was because of the social norms I was raised with. “Crawfish and shrimp? Sign me up!” “Bugs…that’s gross”. Funny that an insect that looks so similar to shellfish is met with such an obstinate response.
Why should we even consider eating something that our food culture deems appalling, gross or disgusting? I became interested in this untapped resource in 2012. That year, the United Nations predicted by 2050 we would have 9 billion people on the planet (that’s around 2 billion more people than the global population in 2012). By 2015 that projection had risen to 9.7 billion people by 2050. The numbers are daunting, especially when considering how overstretched and exploited our fisheries and arable land already are today, but it is interesting to note that areas like Latin America (Mexico and Brazil), Central and Southeast Asia (India, China, Indonesia) and Africa (28 countries including the fastest growing population, Nigeria) are expected to contribute the majority of this population growth. This is interesting especially when the vast majority of these countries have indigenous, traditional, and even normalized use of edible insects as a food resource. These markets are already primed as consumers for this source of protein as their population’s boom and average protein intake increases. Moreover, most have conditions amenable to insect micro-farming and a large younger generation eager to make change if supplied with the knowledge and resources to do so.
Over the next five months we’ll be exploring the idea of insects as a food ingredient, looking at different markets and product applications around the world, and peeling back the layers of potential for this underutilized resource. If you haven’t heard the buzz, edible insects like crickets and mealworms are, for the first time ever in Western cultures, now being farmed specifically for human consumption. They’re being processed into nutrient-dense and resource efficient ingredients and introduced to consumers in familiar and approachable forms like protein bars, crisps, cookies, pasta, sauces, crackers, pancake mixes and more. The numbers really speak for themselves, but if all these facts still don’t get you excited about eating insects, that’s because we usually think with our gut before we think with our head. We have to address the taboo associated with entomophagy (the practice of eating insects), and to do that we have to educate the public and the next generation to break the mental hurdle.
In their seminal March 2013 report, Edible Insects: Future Prospects for Food and Feed Security, the UN Food and Agricultural Organization states: “The case needs to be made to consumers that eating insects is not only good for their health, it is good for the planet.” As a charitable, educational non-profit organisation, Little Herds has worked to introduce the idea of entomophagy to children and the public since June 2013. We offer resources for educators, policy makers, start-ups, parents and anybody else curious about insect eating as a tool to change our global food-system for the better. We also focus on normalising the idea of insect ingredients with younger generations who may not have the “ick” factor socially ingrained yet, so that in 10–20 years insects are just another ingredient or food option like any other.
The fact is, younger generations are quickly becoming the largest purchasing power for many of the snack food segments that edible insects are breaking into. The broader food conversation happening around the world is demanding products that are healthy, sustainable and honest (values that millennials and younger generations are especially tied to). The companies introducing this idea to Western consumers know the challenges they face, and are creating innovative ways to make products familiar and approachable, but still nutritious and impactful for the planet.
Join us later this month as we head to the United Kingdom for a recap of the Woven Network’s inaugural conference on entomophagy, look at the start-ups leading the industry in the UK, assess the regulations that are hurting and helping this nascent movement and investigate the marketing strategies that are resonating with hesitant consumers to convince them to try their first bite of bugs.
Next month we’ll be reviewing the Eating Insects Detroit Conference, the first US conference specific to insects as a food and feed; the 9th Annual Austin Bug (Eating) Festival; the regulations and lack thereof in the US that makes it the Wild West of the growing insects industry; and the types of ento-products that consumers are responding most enthusiastically to in America.
Till then, stay hungry my friends.
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2019