Please don?셳 get me wrong, I am not a fervent entomophagist; I am just passionate about edible insects as a new food industry.
But, how is this going to happen? For centuries we혻have혻eaten혻the big animals, and forgotten that we can eat also the small ones.혻How혻can혻we혻come to혻realise that insects do not necessarily have to be혻??i>untouchable??
Let us consider this scenario: you혻go혻to the supermarket around the corner from your home and find혻some silkworm flour cookies or pasta made from crickets (like the brand my company manufactures).혻How would this make you feel?
Undoubtedly, for first-timers, an emotional혻response, possibly a strong one, would혻be triggered.혻What happens next?
My guess혻is this:혻many people would혻buy that edible insect product to find that it tastes혻good and is not in any way혻strange.혻Their experience혻helps them to혻cancel혻out that혻gigantic taboo,혻just like혻that.
At a very reasonable cost?봟oth emotionally and economically?봶e turn the corner. Because we have done so in the comfort of eating something familiar, like pasta, cookies or energy bars, it won?셳 feel to be in any way disgusting, especially with crickets and cricket flour. Crickets are exactly like shrimps, just cleaner.혻Logically, it shouldn?셳 be a big deal.
In this example, the consumer does not really see an insect; he just eats something that?셲 made from it.혻To overcome something as deep as an혻instinct?봞n instinctive aversion to the contents of a product?봶e need to do so softly.혻That is why I do not like to put photos of insects on my packaging. Yet among the community of “ento-preneurs??and their혻supporters, this kind of representation is very common, like showing someone혻munching on혻a tarantula or chowing down on혻a water bug.
This, I think, is an obstacle.혻The experience with processed edible insect food is extreme as a혻concept, but it does not have to be extreme혻visually.혻By avoiding the visual impact, even my mother (a혻very traditional Italian mum) had no issue in eating a product made partly from crickets.
Since edible insects hit the media two years ago, discussions have혻sometimes focused on eating whole insects, sometimes raw.혻However, as Ophelia Deroy and colleagues wrote in ??i>The insectivore?셲 dilemma, and how to take the West out of it?? a 2015 research paper: ??i>The first thing to stress here is the importance of혻cooking and recipes: there is all the difference in the world between eating a raw insect and consuming a cooked one.??/p>
Add혻insects to familiar food products like cookies, pasta혻and혻chips,혻and you get a “disgust inhibitor?? this혻is혻the way혻to go, since혻the concept of혻edible insects makes혻total혻sense, though people rarely discuss this혻rationally.
North America and Europe abandoned insects as food혻a혻long time ago,혻for reasons that do not exist혻anymore.혻For example, in the past, insects were associated with pests혻that destroyed혻crops. Think ??i>Vegetable destroyers!??If혻this혻were a movie,혻the bugs혻would혻play혻the role of the bad guy for sure.
I asked Jenny Josephs, a research psychologist, her opinion on the matter. She said:혻??i>The main reason some of us might experience a ?쁸uck??effect when approaching edible혻insects is that we have no experience of eating them. It is not in our culture. So we categorise insects as things that bite, sting or crawl on us, or as things that infest our food.??/p>
We tend to혻generalise from one type of insect to another as we haven’t grown up to be taught that insects taste good, or that they are a suitable source of food, she added.
??i>I believe that insects will be a common혻and widely accepted ingredient in many food dishes in years to come. Early adopters, for example, seem to enjoy insect food for its taste and many benefits. They are often excited to tell혻others혻that this once ?쁲trange??idea is actually pretty good and that they are the ones to help set a future trend.??/p>
The culture clash with insects may also have economical roots.혻In혻many혻Western countries, cows혻have been traditionally viewed as혻economically혻convenient to rear for meat, whereas wild insects were not혻such혻a good option혻comparatively.
Yet today,혻cattle is the혻main혻cause of pollution and the least sustainable food in혻the world,혻which혻we know to be혻scientifically혻true. Insects in the tropics are large and plentiful.혻How things have changed.
So how혻do we혻make people aware of this? One thing is for certain: logic is not enough. If we혻try to혻rationalise with혻consumers,혻some may even argue that we should be farming혻rabbits and cats for food instead of cattle, as혻they are almost biologically identical. Behavioural change is not driven by logic.
I believe that curiosity, instead, is혻more혻powerful. The attraction혻to혻experiencing혻and being a part of혻a great cultural leap may혻push people to purchase edible insect products, even if they cost혻more혻initially.혻Soon, production혻will scale up, and this will push down costs and allow혻the superior nutritional properties of insects혻혻play the혻starring role in competing with other foods.
We need to make insects of interest and challenge people to eat them. That would hopefully go some way to taking away the dilemma from the insectivore, and win hearts and minds in the West.
This article has been published by Food Navigator on 25 April 2016.