The human population currently stands at approximately seven billion people but the United Nations predict that in 2050 it will reach a staggering 9.6 billion – that’s an increase of 40 percent.

This swelling of the human population will heap more strain on our ability to produce enough food.

The United Nations also predict that one third of all the food we produce is wasted due to poor infrastructure, our desire for food that consistently looks and tastes the same and overbuying. Campaigners have also warned that we are relying too much on intensive farming to feed the world.

This includes crops like soya, wheat and maize, but perhaps more worryingly livestock – currently the global appetite for meat means that 312 million tonnes of it is eaten every year and critics argue that this hunger for protein is far from sustainable. The United Nations say they have a solution. They suggest that insects are the answer to the future of global food security.

Eaten by hundreds of millions of people around the world – especially in Africa and Asia, insects are said to be the food of the future and eating more of them will provide us with a low fat source of nutrition and reduce the pollution caused to the planet by rearing livestock.

Simon Parker is joined in the studio by

Shami Radia, co -founder of the company Eat Grub. Eat grub source and sell edible insects and host insect food events.

Seb Holmes, Eat Grub’s head chef. Seb works with Shami to create a host of interesting new insect recipes.

An on the line by

Philip Lymbery, CEO of the organisation Compassion in World Farming. Their aim is to highlight issues surrounding intensive farming around the world. He is also one of the authors of Farmageddon: The true cost of cheap meat.

 

Soundbites

What impact is intensive farming and the intensive farming of traditional livestock having on our environment?

PL: “Industrial agriculture, intensive farming is having an enormous impact on the environment, and this is something which I explored in a recently published book ‘Farmageddon: The True Cost Of Cheap Meat’ which shows how putting animals in large numbers – caged, cramped and confined on factory farms doesn’t actually save land. It means that animals are in a concentrated place where potential pollution builds up. And the animals’ feed is grown elsewhere on ghost acres – vast areas of land that are often cultivated in monocultures; single crops often using artificial fertilisers, pesticides and the like which bring its own environmental damage.”

“It’s worth recognising that in Europe most of the artificial fertilisers are used to grow animal feed and it costs us – the tax payer, 50% more to clean up the environmental pollution from the use of that artificial fertiliser than the monetary value that the entire farming industry gets from it...”

Does this not show that we have an insatiable appetite for meat and protein, and could insects, as the UN suggests, be the answer?

“My current understanding is that I can certainly see how insects could play their part in a diverse food system. One thing that we have to understand is that industrial farming of animals is far from efficient. It is very inefficient in that we are growing on vast areas of land cereals and soya to feed those animals and those animals then waste it. They waste 70% of the food value in conversion to meat, milk and eggs. This is madness given that so much of the Earth’s land surface is covered by pasture, and if the animals were on that pasture then they could convert stuff we can’t it – grass and marginal lands, into stuff we can eat.”

“As it is, we are taking up a land area equivalent to the entire European Union to grow feed for industrially reared animals, globally. That is an awful lot of land being used in a most inefficient way…”

Are insects the answer? You’ve invested heavily into your business – you obviously feel they are…

SR: “What we are doing at the moment, in terms of the concentration of the way we are farming animals, is unsustainable. The world doesn’t have the resources – the land, the water, the feed to fulfill the needs of the growing population. But at the same time, I think insects provide a decent alternative because you can farm them in such smaller spaces and they require a lot less resources. For example, the inefficiency of using the feed, to convert that into traditional livestock protein, beef requires 12 times more feed in terms of producing the equivalent amount of protein as crickets do. So, crickets are much better in converting feed into protein and then producing the equivalent, gram for gram, in protein.”

What is it like in terms of trying to convince people to eat this?

SH: “They [insects] are really easy to cook with. It’s actually very-very nice. For me, at first I found it a bit hard to get my head around, as many people do with insects, but as soon as you start cooking with it, it becomes just another ingredient with its own flavour, with its own ways of using it, and it’s a really great product! I’ve never thought of it as something that’s going to completely take away meat from people’s diet – it also accompanies it well.”

“I’ve made many dishes using pork and beef, and the insects, and the buffalo worm, salts and flowers as well. It’s a good way of incorporating these things together and providing a more sustainable way of living. And it actually tastes nice!”

Do you think that the future of using insects would be to supplement the desire for protein and for meat?

SH: “I think it has many-many uses. I think there are going to be people, who will happily eat insects on their own, and there already are, and they have been doing it throughout history. For us in the West, I think, definitely, it is something that is going to happen. People are going to eat them on their own, people will mix them together, there’s absolutely no reason why not.”

PL: “What I really like about what Shami and Seb are doing is that they’ve got new and interesting ways to not only feed people but also challenge the notion that we need factory farming. When you look at it, in the cold light of the day, factory farming is perhaps the most inefficient and unnecessary way of producing food, of producing protein. It’s been the biggest cause of animal cruelty on the planet…”

“I think one of the things that we also should hone in on is that we do live in the world of plenty. The current food system globally produces enough food for up to 14 billion people already. That’s more than all the people now, and in foreseeable future. The trouble is, we waste so much of it. We waste it by throwing stuff away in our homes, in manufacturing and so on. But also the biggest single area of food waste on the planet is this thing of growing human edible crops and then feeding them inefficiently to factory farming.”

“So again, what I really like about Shami and Sebastian’s idea here is that they are challenging that failed notion from the twentieth century with new and interesting culinary ideas.”

Photo: A dish made of grasshoppers was tasted at the London VoR studio. 

Are we consuming more meat because more meat is there or do we have more primal desires to eat all this meat – what’s going on?

PL: “In my opinion what’s driving this desire for meat is factory farming and the whole consumptive marketing industry that goes around it. And let’s be clear, if the whole world’s population, as it stands, will eat as much meat as in America, then we would need not just this planet, but probably a couple of others too to sustain ourselves.”

“Business as usual, going on as we are at the moment, isn’t the way forward…”

“The other thing is that we waste so much food! Not just vegetables and human edible crops to factory farms, but meat as well. In Britain alone we waste the equivalent of 110 million animals. Globally, we waste the meat equivalent of 12 billion farm animals reared, slaughtered and the just put in the bin. That is something which must change!”

SH: “I completely agree! And that’s part of the reason why when Shami came to me with Eat Grub it interested me so much. I’ve worked in the catering industry all my life and now in London, where it’s a busy place, and just naturally, so much food goes to waste. It’s just crazy!

“Just to see and know that some people don’t even blink an eye… And when you come in and start at the bottom of the chain in the kitchen, and you cook with this food, and it has to be thrown away, and there’s almost nothing that can be done to change that – it’s almost routine now.”

SR: “Insects are a lot less fussy when it comes to food, and the vegetable waste could easily feed insects and they can convert that into to protein. I think one of the key things here is that the West is one of the biggest consumers of meat whereas insects are eaten all around the world as a supplement to people’s diets, and often not as a kind of necessity but even in some cases as a luxury. I think it’s about changing the mind-set of people in the West where they are fixed on beef, pork, and chicken. Getting them to realise that there are other more sustainable sources of protein, which from Grub’s point of view as well, whilst the sustainability and the nutrition is important, it’s not what is going to get people eating insects, it’s the taste.”

SH: “Every attempt so far has been gimmicky but by us applying it to a very popular cuisine at the moment – Thai street food in London, and putting it across in a different way, we are trying to come across as more educational – try this and see what you can do, and that’s why we sell them [insects] wholesale as well. We’re trying to teach people how to use them at home.”

How are things going to develop?

SR: “I think sushi is probably quite a good example. 10 to 15 years ago it didn’t work when it was first introduced in the UK, and it was about how it was marketed by companies like Yo! Sushi, who came and made an experience of it. I think that’s what we are trying to do at Grub. We understand that people want to try it in terms of the novelty, but what we are trying to move people away from ‘I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here’, where they eat an insect, it explodes in their mouth. It’s not how it is! I guess what we look for is someone to come to our restaurant, try the food, think it was excellent, and actually think I’m going to try that again. If we’ve done that then we’ve succeeded.”

Let’s go into trying some of the stuff which you brought in – why don’t you describe to us what we’ve got here and what we’re about to try?

SH: This dish is essentially sweet, it’s like having a toffee, but it’s based on a traditional Thai dish called a miang, which is a mixture of fresh ingredients. The sauce is made of coconut, peanuts, palm sugar, chili, and tamarind. Tamarind is essentially a sour element to the sauce, which is normal, but I’ve done this one dried. So, instead of using tamarind, I used buffalo worms which are naturally sour. So you make a powder out of them, mix them through, and this is with shallots, fresh lime and some fish sauce-roasted grasshoppers just to balance out the sweetness.”

It certainly, and I’m going to dive in and grab one now, smells like anything else I would get from a Chinese or Thai restaurant. I think I’m going to go for it.

SH: “Think of it as a toffee! So you might like to eat it in a couple of bites, it’s a sweet snack. Have a squeeze of lime if you want!”

SR: “You’ve got a smile on your face.”

It really is good, it really is. I don’t know how to react… If it was packaged up and no one would have told me there’s a cricket in it – is there a cricket in it?

SH: “Buffalo worms.”

SR: “And grasshoppers...”

PL: Personally I’m vegetarian, so it wouldn’t be the kind of thing that I would naturally go for in a restaurant, but my organisation – Compassion in World Farming, is not a vegetarian society and it’s very much a broad-church organisation. And one of the things I can say is that a decent food, that is humanely reared, in a way which is environmentally friendly tends to taste so much better. This is something that people have told me all around the world…”

“I can certainly relate to the experience you’re having in the studio where food which is much lighter, in terms of resources on the land, is likely to taste that much better.”

SR: “In terms of the way you treat animals that you’re eating you want to try and keep their environment as natural as possible. I think that’s the difference when we are talking about eating meat. A cow shouldn’t be kept in a pen where it can’t even turn around and I think that’s what a lot of vegetarians struggle with, whereas with insects their natural habitat is a small space. They don’t need a lot of space to enjoy a natural life and I think you can achieve it with farming insects, whereas you can’t achieve that with the intense farming of pigs and cows and chickens that Philip was talking about.”

PL: “I think that it’s very much in the right direction. In Europe we have got legal recognition, at long last, for farm animals as sentient beings – a legal recognition that pigs, chickens, cows and so on have the ability to feel pain and suffer. There’s no news there, I think, for most of us, particularly pet owners. We know it instinctively. So the legislation has finally caught up with that reality.”

“I do like the idea that insects could play a part of the diet of the future. Anything which gets us away from the inefficient and unnecessary madness of the factory farm has got to be a good thing.”

Photo: VoR

SR: “I think it is a risk because humans seem to be naturally greedy. But, again, with insects – they require so much less land and resources than our traditional sources of protein do, that I think there’s less risk of us destroying the planet or using up our resources if we start moving towards farming alternative sources of protein. And plus, they don’t release any carbon emissions. They don’t release any methane. They wouldn’t contribute to global warming as cows do.”

SH: “The nutritional benefits are actually really high. They are low in cholesterol and very high in protein. They are a great little snack on the go, and they are very easy to work with as well! It’s the same as any ingredient. You can make complicated recipes. You can make simple ones. You can simply fry them or roast them, and have them either on their own or with salt and pepper – just like a potato, it’s very easy to use but less preparation than a potato.”

They definitely taste very good, but is it going to be all about trying to shift perceptions?

SH: “It’s challenging preconceptions, yes.”

(VoR)