I ate insects so you don’t have to
I once saw my cat eat a daddy longlegs in a single grotesque bite. It was exactly as unedifying as you’d imagine, and I thought slightly less of him from that day forth. And that’s saying something, given that this is the same animal that mistook my bathtub for a litter tray on three separate occasions.
But now I’m very much on his level and – SPOILER – there’s a good chance that you will be too, at some point. The headline of this piece – “I ate insects so you don’t have to” – is actually a bit of a lie. If you’ve got a few more decades left in you, there’s every chance you might have to eat bugs at some point, thanks to a burgeoning population of carnivores and climate change.
The trouble with meat
Our current farming methods aren’t sustainable, and we’re going to have to eat a lot less meat or consider drastic alternatives. One of those is eating insects, which can be farmed incredibly quickly, take up a limited amount of space and are pretty damned nutritious. Conspicuous by its absence on that list, you may notice, is the phrase “great tasting”. That’s the beauty of the trading standards act.
At New Scientist Live this weekend, I had a chance to taste the future for myself. On Thursday I walked past the stand, took a few photos of the delicacies available (“BBQ bamboo worms”, “Chilli flavour chapulines”), and I choked. Figuratively, that is. I’ve volunteered for some unusual things so I can write about them later (iPad life drawing, stripping off to retrieve a drone and having laser eye surgery, to name but three), but seeing these bowls of insects laid out like crunchy nibbles at the world’s creepiest party left me feeling unspeakably anxious. Perhaps it’s because the stand was run by a pest-control company.
That company is Rentokil, and the people running the stand – or Pestaurant as they call it – were completely open about it being more about PR than seeking a Michelin star. But it’s PR with a serious point: “Two billion people around the planet supplement their diet with insects on a day-to-day basis. They’re very high-protein, low in calories, high in vitamins and minerals – so they’re actually very good for you,” the man co-running the stall tells me.
I know from listening back to the transcript of our conversation that I spent 20 minutes at the Pestaurant. In that time, I ate eight species of bug, interspersed with a lot of small talk while I tried to put off sampling the next course. “It’s not as bad as everyone thinks,” the lady laying out the mealworm flour brownie at the other end of the table chimes in. “People put it off and put it off, and then they eat them and they’re like ‘oh is that it?’”
The most important meal of the day
“These crunch with very little resistance revealing an earthy flavour that’s hardly spectacular, but none too off-putting. Given my fear going into this, this feels like winning the gastronomic lottery”
Suitably buoyed, I tuck into what was to be my breakfast for the day: a small helping of buffalo worms. She’s right: there’s nothing to this. “It’s like eating grain, really, isn’t it?” I say, confidently turning to the next course: a handful of meal worms, more typically used to feed chickens and as fishing bait in the west.
I’m slightly perturbed by the way these specimens seem to wriggle on the spoon, but I’m told that these are definitely dead: they’re freeze-dried and shipped from the Netherlands. These, too, crunch with very little resistance, revealing an earthy flavour that’s hardly spectacular, but none too off-putting. Given my fear going into this, this feels like winning the gastronomic lottery.
Everything is going great until I hit the BBQ bamboo worms. The lady behind the counter tells me they’re a bit like Wotsits in texture, but the overpowering nature of the BBQ seasoning – imagine a significantly more concentrated BBQ mini cheddars taste – leaves me wondering what kind of flavour they’re trying to hide. That, combined with the gritty post-crunch texture forces me to gag for the first time, but I manage to avoid getting the ExCeL Centre’s cleaners involved.
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