Getting over our 'Ick' Mindset to Solve World Hunger

In this 8-part series, Marloes, a former research biologist, attempts to uncover the truth behind the latest superfood trends and their surrounding hype.

This week, she ponders whether insects could be the superfood to save the world.

If you think you taste only with your tongue, think again. Our mind has a massive influence over whether we enjoy our food or gag with disgust. Once we train our brains that eating one kind of food is ok but another is not, its tough to undo that preconception. Now imagine society as a whole. Our collective eating habits are deeply engrained by our culture, no matter how independent we like to think we are. Those rashers of crispy bacon? Delicious to many in the west but abhorrent to Muslim or Jewish cultures. How about a plate of fried insects? Many of us would wrinkle up our noses at the thought of crunching through so many legs, while many locals in Eastern, African and South American countries laugh at us for being scaredy-cats.

Taste is culture. It took quite a bit of personal pep-talking for me to eat my first handful of crickets in a Thai night-market to overcome my biased idea of how they would taste (fortunately, exactly like smokey bacon, as it turned out!), so I understand the mass rejection of insects as credible cuisine. Which is a tragedy, as insects are an excellent food source, and could be the answer to solving the problem that a burgeoning world population and its ever-growing hunger presents.

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A woman eats fried scorpions in May on Wangfujing Street. It’s said that scorpions lower body heat and detoxify the body.
Image credit: Wang Jing / China Daily

  There are almost 2000 species of insects that can be eaten by humans, and they are in almost inexhaustible supply- even if we ate millions. Apart from getting around the ethical conundrum (you need to crunch through a lot of little lives in comparison to eating, say, a cow; although many aren’t that bothered if Mr Spider is squashed, nor does this argument hold if one considers the number of individuals in platefuls of seafood such as prawns, Spanish Chopitos etc), it’s mainly our engrained collective sense of ‘ew’ holding the food-revolution back. Many studies have been done on why we find creepy crawlies so, well, creepy (and eating them even creepier) and all reach the same conclusion. If I ask you what’s disgusting about a big mouthful of maggots, you may answer that the texture will make you gag- but what is so different about slurping down an oyster, or a plateful of mussels? Perhaps it’s all those legs? A tasty little prawn has ten…Culture is the true root of our disgust. We can’t put our finger on it, insect eating (aka entomophagy) is just kinda icky.

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This little girl tries her first mealworm marshmallow. Initiatives such as the workshops held by Bugs For Life educate young and old that insect eating is more than ok, its delicious!
Image Credit: Bugs For Life

Edible insects are perhaps the only superfood that could, potentially, save the world. Yes, really, watch the BBC documentary here. When compared to farming traditional livestock, insects require much less space and food (due to the fact that they heat up externally), have a rapid breeding cycle and need very little looking after. It’s not an exaggeration to say that if the global population started replacing traditional meat sources with these critters, it would change everything . All we need to do is get over our ‘ick’ mindset.

 To sample edible insects in London try to Wahaca’s infamous grasshoppers or the Love Bug Salad at Archipelago. Hire the Ento team to serve unusual nibbles at the office or your next event, and read Laithwaite´s wine matching guide to learn how to balance out the taste of tarantula with a Chardonnay. Grub´s up!