The energy and enthusiasm was tangible. As one presenter, D Imrie-Situnayake of Tiny Farms, pointed out, entomophagy as a 'movement' or current topic has a good deal of momentum behind it right now. In the same presentation he explained to us the concept of open-source technology: His company shares their design for a home mealworm farm online, completely free-of-charge, for anyone who would like to try breeding mini-livestock at home. There's also a forum to help members with any problems they might encounter when starting up a breeding colony. It was inspiring to hear, and he's intending to upload open source plans for a cricket farm fairly soon, too. Perhaps I should do the same for wasps?! Mealworms can be used in human food (the picture below shows ) and also as pet food.
( The photo above shows the Kreca stall at the conference - a successful example of mealworm farming. Kreca are a company based in the Netherlands who farm several insects, including mealworms, for human consumption.
The photo to the right is one example of how to cook with mealworm… but for some healthier insect foods that also use mealworms, try Ento, a UK-based start-up company. )
Paul Rozin, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who works on the psychology of disgust, began the day with a really interesting keynote speech addressing the the question, Why do we develop feelings of disgust towards (animals such as) insects?
The emotion of disgust is not found in human children below 4-5 years of age. ‘Disgusting’ is an adjective that we associate not only with taste and appearance but also with a sense of contamination …it’s never used in association with foods made from grain or vegetables, only from animal food products. And is it rational? Paul described a study in which participants were invited to take a second sip of juice after a cockroach had fallen into their drink… and, again, after a sterilised cockroach had fallen into their drink. Needless to say the cockroach has then been taken out of the drink, in both cases. Yet the participants refused a second sip, suggesting that their sense of disgust was strong enough to override empirical data. As Rozin put it, the drink 'had been cockroached'.
If insects are as ‘healthy’ as we are led to believe, why is it that we have maintained this irrational cultural barrier toward accepting them as food?
Well, firstly, it’s not just ‘us’. A number of human cultures worldwide, even prior to Western influence, rejected insects as food. Others, incidentally, rejected livestock, and others still rejected cultivated plant foods. And today, all around the world, people continue to make these decisions, in alignment with personally, tribally, or culturally imposed boundaries.
And there’s basically nothing wrong with this – except that, following an unquestioned hegemony perpetrated by a cultural and financially stable majority can at times act as a wave of support to a system that is irresponsible in its attitude towards long term environmental concerns, patronising in its attitude towards short term economic concerns, and downright stupid in its closed-minded attitude towards the rapidly changing nature of global society.
So, a couple of questions, to close this unexpected outpouring of frustration at the closed-mindedness and inequality that definitely exist but are perhaps not relevant to anyone reading this blog: When will be the next time that someone from another part of this diverse world offers you something that is part of their local food system, some animal product that doesn't fall into the ‘food’ category in your culture? Perhaps you’ll be at a friend’s party, perhaps on holiday and browsing the local food stalls, pr perhaps nowhere more exotic than at the local restaurant down the street… Wherever you are, remember that this is a part of a place that they identify with and want to share with you. And expressing your disgust before you even try it may well be akin to rejecting their identity before you know anything about them.