We also had a selection of tasters at the Japanese booth, shown below: Wasp larvae in soy; grasshoppers in soy; silkworm in soy; wasp larvae miso; grasshopper miso and silkworm miso. Everyone who tried them today also completed a short questionnaire about what they thought of the taste of each insect food. I'm hoping to find out whether age, gender and geographical/cultural background have any effect on the peoples' reaction to the taste of traditionally prepared insect foods.
At the conference, we have also heard about the incredible potential of insects for reducing the amount of land currently devoted to protein-based crops such as soya. This is particularly important to EU countries, which are currently only 30% self-sufficient in protein overall. Due to the short generation time and population density of house flies (Musca domestica) and black soldier flies (Hermetia illucens) it is theoretically possible to produce 1000t per hectare of land per year if you choose to farm flies, a 200-fold increase on the 0.9t per hectare per year currently produced by farming soya crops. This is exciting, but what about the taste? Surely flies can't taste as good as the crickets shown in the photo above.. Crickets, too, can be farmed and yield quantities of edible protein per hectare that are far greater than those produced by protein crop farmers or even traditional livestock farmers. Methods of grasshopper cultivation are also currently undergoing development. And, as we can learn from countries which traditionally harvest wild insects, there are ways in which we can sustainably harvest fairly large quantities of wild caught insects - probably the most delicious insects of all.
In short, the opportunities are endless in terms of feasibility, but there are still many unknowns surrounding the potential ecological, health and economic impacts of a more insect-based diet. Many of these issues are specific to local areas, and require appropriate pilot research before insects are promoted as a sustainable way of improving peoples' health and/or livelihoods. One concern that may be common to all areas is the danger of repeating past mistakes that have contributed to some of the problems in our current food system, for example through the over-harvesting of insect resources, or the exploitation of small scale farmers by large scale businesses.
Finally, as for popularity among consumers, it seems that insects may well be an increasingly desired food product in future years. We heard on the first day of the conference that insect demand is increasing in several Southeast Asian countries including Thailand and Japan. As for 'the West', check out the trend in rising numbers of businesses selling edible insects in Canada and the US, shown below (taken from a poster by S Stokhof de Jong and F Dunkel, also on show at the conference):