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Insect-Eating Meme Now Even Meme-ier!

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When the collective conversation turns to how we will feed the planet in the years to come, the subject of entomophagy invariably comes up.

This week, the TODAY show featured a segment called: “Pan Fried Crickets: Food of the Future?”

“There is currently a major cultural taboo against eating insects in the West," Jonathan Fraser, a student at London's Royal College of Art and an entomophagy devotee. "They have many negative connotations that are simply not true: People see them as dirty, gooey and unsafe. They certainly don’t see them as an exciting new food!”

The TODAY segment was merely the latest installment of a larger movement that has gained quite a bit of traction recently.

In August, Dana Goodyear of the New Yorker delved deep into the past, present, and future of bug eating, which are "now appearing on the menus of high-end restaurants in North America and in grocery stores in the Netherlands" as "a growing number of scientists, entrepreneurs, and chefs are arguing that they represent a sustainable, humane source of protein that we’d be foolish to overlook."

"Food preferences are highly local, often irrational, and defining: a Frenchman is a frog because he considers their legs food and the person who calls him one does not," she wrote. "In Santa Maria Atzompa, a community in Oaxaca where grasshoppers toasted with garlic, chile, and lime are a favorite treat, locals have traditionally found shrimp repulsive."

"They would say, 'some people' eat it, meaning 'the coastal people,'" anthropologist Ramona Perez told Goodyear, before pointing out that "when she made a scampi for a family there, they were appalled."

The same week, Daniel Fromson of The Atlantic also weighed in with a look at insects-as-food, noting that "with worldwide demand for meat expected to nearly double by 2050, farm-raised crickets, locusts, and mealworms could provide comparable nutrition while using fewer natural resources than poultry or livestock."

Explained Fromson:

Crickets, for example, convert feed to body mass about twice as efficiently as pigs and five times as efficiently as cattle. Insects require less land and water -- and measured per kilogram of edible mass, mealworms generate 10 to 100 times less greenhouse gas than pigs.

Insects not only convert feed more efficiently than pigs, a Cape Town, South Africa company called AgriProtein maintains insects can also feed pigs more efficiently.

From the AgriProtein website:

Industrial Farming of chickens, pigs and fish relies on protein from two sources, land-based soya plantations and marine fishmeal. Agricultural protein requires vast amounts of land and water, while the sea caught alternative has material consequences for marine life. Increases in global food demand, and environmental issues have caused prices of both protein sources to soar in recent years.

Using fly larvae fed on abundant waste nutrient sources, AgriProtein has developed and tested a new large scale and sustainable source of protein. The bioconversion process, takes 'free' waste materials, and generates a valuable commodity.

Convincing animals to eat insects may be an easier task than getting humans to give it a try. But, according to the New Yorker's Goodyear, "children are often seen as the great hope of entomophagy, because of their openness to new foods, but even they are not without prejudices," after which she describes a stinkbug-and-kale salad which kids didn't particularly enjoy -- because they don't generally like kale.

Which insects kids will willingly eat is something to which University of Chicago student Matthew Krisiloff has given considerable thought.

Krisiloff hopes to commercialize edible insects through his start-up venture, Entom Foods.

He told The Core, Chicago's student magazine, that, while he has not yet settled on a specific bug to promote, reporter Carrie Golus notes that one possibility "is the long-horned grasshopper, which reportedly tastes like a hybrid of butter, bacon, and chicken and is a beloved foodstuff in Uganda. Another is the giant prickly stick insect; at eight inches long, this creature could supply a lot of meat."

“We’re obviously going to avoid the super-stigmatized insects, like cockroaches and flies,” Krisiloff said, “which wouldn’t have substantive meat on them anyway.”

While it's not likely you'll be ordering a McMillipede Happy Meal anytime soon, some entrepreneurial souls are hoping bugs will be the next sushi -- which faced tremendous resistance when it was introduced to the US by Noritoshi Kanai in the 1960s.

However, one would have to eat 1,000 grasshoppers to take in the same amount of protein as in a twelve-ounce steak. Which is one reason Tom Turpin, a professor of entomology at Perdue University, pointed out, "If there were insects out there the size of pigs, I guarantee you we'd be eating them."
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