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Let Them Eat Bugs

Mon, 02/28/2011 - 5:29am
LINDSEY COBLENTZ, Associate Editor, Food Manufacturing

By LINDSEY COBLENTZ, Associate Editor, Food Manufacturing

Lindsay-CoblentzFood prices are on the rise again, the polar icecaps are melting and the rainforest is burning. These problems have plagued the earth for years, but now one scientist claims he has one simple solution for all of them: eat bugs.

Dutch Professor Arnold van Huis has dedicated himself to convincing the world to eat insects. He gives lectures, tastings and cooking classes, highlighting the benefits of an insect-rich diet through recipes like chocolate pralines with buffalo worms … Mmm, tasty.

According to van Huis, bugs offer more protein than beef, cost less to raise and consume fewer resources. While that’s all well and good, I’m not sure I could get past the psychological turmoil of such a diet. When I see a spider in the house, I can’t even kill it myself — I usually make my husband do it. So I’m fairly certain that putting a slimy, crunchy bug in my mouth — even just once — could scar me for life.

Obviously, revulsion at the thought of eating bugs is more of a cultural issue than a health concern. Insects-as-food may be a taboo concept in America and Europe, but serving bugs is certainly nothing new in locations like Latin America and Asia. People have been eating bugs for centuries, and really we’ve probably more to fear from food-borne infections than from bugs in our food.

Even so, I don’t think Americans or Europeans will ever be completely comfortable with the idea of a crunchy insect as an appetizer. In fact, we Americans go to great lengths to keep bugs out of our food supply. The Food and Drug Administration even has its own guidelines that spell out how many bugs can be in food products. For instance, peanut butter is considered to be a victim of “insect filth” if there is an average of 30 or more insect fragments per 100 grams. (Interestingly, the FDA’s Defect Levels Handbook lists insect filth as having only an “aesthetic” significance, with no possibility of health hazards.)

Despite the cultural avoidance of insects, van Huis and others are committed to convincing us to eat bugs. Famous British chef Heston Blumenthal is known to concoct strange dishes like snail porridge. His most recent creation? A mealworm pizza that he served to children at Alder Hey, Europe’s largest children’s hospital. According to Blumenthal, the kids loved it.

For Americans, insect dinners will probably remain confined to silly childhood dares and reality TV shows. But when you really think about it, what reason do we have to banish bugs from our plates? There appears to be no logic to what we put (and don’t put) in our mouths. For example, seventy percent of consumers are still scared to eat Gulf seafood, months after the food was declared oil-free. Meanwhile, two-thirds of America is overweight due in large part to what they eat.

The food industry has the opportunity to really impact what America eats. Despite the bad press the industry often receives, many manufacturers are taking steps to help consumers make logical eating choices. Companies like Kraft, ConAgra and General Mills took the initiative to lower the sodium content of many of their products even before the government released its new dietary guidelines, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture is working to make nutritional information available on many meat and poultry products.

In the end, it is up to the consumer to decide what’s for dinner. Maybe with a little guidance, the food industry may be able to help shoppers make sensible food choices, and we can all avoid that next diet book: Let Them Eat Bugs.

Would you ever eat bugs? What is your company doing to impact what America eats? Feel free to share via lindsey.coblentz@advantagemedia.com.

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