Food & Drink Muse

Lovely Grubbly: Adding Insects to Our Diets

Jodie Sheehan explores the rising trend of insect-eating, with company EAT GRUB crawling to the top of the market

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Image Credit: Timku

If asked, the majority of people in the Western world would be pretty reticent about eating insects and grubs, if not point blank refuse to do so. Our culturally inscribed norms about what is and isn’t food for human beings is contradictory to say the least, but there’s no doubt that crickets, meal worms and grasshoppers do not generally make the cut.

But why not? For more than two billion people across the globe, most commonly in Africa, Asia and South America, insects are an integral part of the people's diets. Our Western distinctions between what counts as food and what is considered off culinary limits are arbitrary. We eat chickens, pigeons, partridges, and ducks but generally avoid crows, robins, peacocks and owls. We eat pigs, cows and sheep, but many of us would never dream of killing dogs, cats or guinea pigs for meat. Our cultural narratives endow some of these animals with the statuses of pets or creatures of beauty, as things to love or admire, while other animals are deemed less worthy of this treatment. The contradictions continue – rabbits for example, cross-over into both categories. Many people will both cherish them as their beloved extra family member, and also order them at a restaurant served up on a plate.

Once we come to terms with the arbitrariness of our animal-eating rules, incorporating insects into our diet starts to seem less radical. Not only does it make sense to eat insects for health reasons, but it is also one effective way to improve the current state of our food industry, which is in dire need of sustainable reform if we are to continue to survive on this planet.

EAT GRUB is an innovating new brand of sustainable food, which aims to integrate insects into Western diets as a staple, transforming the current Western food culture. The company was founded in 2014 by two friends, Shami and Neil, who quickly found chef Sebby Holmes who helped them develop great tasting insect foods to sell.

The idea first came to Shami when he was working for Water Aid in Malawi during termite season when he saw how eager the community were to gather these insects. Pops Reid, the Marketing and Account Executive at EAT GRUB, explains how “Shami tried it and loved it. Then after researching the benefits that come with eating insects both for you and the environment, he and Neil set to work creating EAT GRUB.”

Indeed, the benefits of swapping out meat for insects in our diets are huge. On average, to produce 1kg of protein, beef produces 2,850g of greenhouse gases, while poultry and pork produce 300g and 1,130g respectively. This is compared with just 1g for crickets. Similarly, for 1kg of protein, crickets use just 1 litre of water while poultry uses 2,300 litres, pork uses 3,500 litres, and beef uses up a whopping 22,000 litres. Rearing insects is many times more resource-efficient than traditional meat production, which uses 70% of the planet’s cultivable land. Since insects can be farmed vertically, only 15 square metres are required to produce 1kg of protein compared with the 200 square metres required for beef production.

With such high protein yields, it’s no wonder that insects are incredibly good for you; they can be up to 69% protein depending on how they are prepared. What’s more, they contain all nine essential amino acids – the amino acids that we must take in through our diet because our bodies cannot synthesize them sufficiently – as well as large amounts of important minerals such as iron and calcium.

With so many advantages to eating insects, as well as an increasing awareness about the necessity of making big changes to our current food system, EAT GRUB have noticed that the public responses to their products are starting to level out in terms of adversity compared with support. “Of course we came face to face with many ‘icks’ and ‘ewws’ at first, as we expected,” Reid explains. “However, as climate change and mindful diets are getting more coverage in the press, attitudes towards all different kinds of foods are changing. It helps having a product that stands out; you have either heard of it or you haven’t, and we have plenty of information and snacks with great flavour to sway those who haven’t.”

Since their launch, EAT GRUB has gained more and more interest. Reid comments on their recent successes: “This year has been a turning point for us, with huge mainstream retailers like Sainsbury’s stocking our grub as well as food chains like Abokado – it really give us the social proofing we need to take the idea of eating insects from an ‘ick’ or a novelty to a serious alternative in the future of food. We’ll be at Lunch and Taste of London spreading the grub love too.”

Reid largely holds the poor representation of insect food accountable for the Western aversion to it, identifying films and TV shows like ‘I’m a Celebrity’ as two of the main culprits. She also notes that social hierarchies can play a role, with the “We have beef, why do we need to eat insects?” attitude being difficult to quell.

And how do we combat this unwarranted culture of aversion? “We have great tasting products; we lead on this,” Reid explains. “The battle is to get a consumer to get it into their mouths. Once that has happened, it’s most of the battle won.”

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Sam Posted on Thursday 19 Sep 2019

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