Eating bugs may be a solution to our global food supply problems, but getting people onboard with the idea is not proving as simple as some might have hoped.
Although people in the West are increasingly aware of insects as a source of food, the majority are just as resistant to the idea as they were when it was first suggested.
This is despite the idea of insect cuisine now being covered on a regular basis, as UK-based insect food startup Ento’s co-founder, Aran Dasan, explained: “The greatest change that we have noticed is that more people have heard of insects as a food for human consumption – news programs and websites are running stories quite regularly now.”
But so far any hopes that this would translate into greater acceptance of the idea have not proved true: for now at least, eating bugs still remains a distant concept for many westerners.
This is certainly the experience of Ento. “The challenges when we first introduce our food to anyone still have remained about the same,” said Dasan.
Despite this, Dasan believes that the best approach to helping people understand and appreciate the value of eating insects is “a friendly safe introduction, in a comfortable environment, accompanied with lots of information about why it’s a great idea and of course with delicious and beautiful food!”
Creating insect cuisine that is appealing to westerners is a core focus of Ento’s business, and the majority of the company’s products involve preparing insects so that they are not immediately recognisable as bug-based.
These include cricket and caterpillar pâtés, grasshopper dumplings and honey caterpillar canapés, which all look decidedly non-buggy and a long way from the insect street foods found across Asia.
This approach may well be key to bringing bugs to the western diet, but unless this food is regularly available and a visible part of normal diets, it will struggle to move away from novelty.
Dasan believes that in order for bugs to reach mass acceptance as food in the West, there needs to be “continual exposure to insects presented as beautiful and exciting food.”
However Ento is still in the process of scaling up, and Dasan describes the company’s main challenge as “the small scale of our supply chain”.
This is the classic chicken and egg situation: people need to see bugs as food far more to get used to eating them, but supply can only increase if people are interested in eating insects.
Insects have a much lower carbon footprint than animals such as cows and sheep and can be cheaply generated in large numbers. They also contain high levels of protein, meaning they are an ideal way to tackle rising food costs and protein shortages.
In a world where we are facing the prospect of meat being an occasional, rather than a daily meal, insects may be one of the best options to bridge the protein gap.