Christmas dinner in 2020: crickets in cranberry sauce
As you sit down for Christmas dinner, you may want to consider what will be on the table in 2020. Insects perhaps. Don’t be too surprised: you already consume half a kilo of these critters every year.
When you go out shopping for your Christmas dinner on December 23, 2020, you will probably opt for grasshoppers, instead of shrimp. You will toss your tried and true turkey in favour of a real delicacy: juicy dragonfly larvae and beetle caviar. This is 2020 after all, and insects are the most environmentally friendly and varied source of animal protein available.
Of all animals known to man, 80 percent roam the earth on six legs, but we have still only discovered about a sixth of all the insect species in existence. Measured by biomass, insects are also to be had in abundance. For every human walking this planet there are 200 to 2.000 kilograms worth of insects, crawling, hopping or flying around.
This is not our planet, it is the insects’. They saw the dinosaurs come and go. They bore witness to the rise of man and if we prove stupid enough to engineer our own extinction, insects will be around long thereafter.
Insects make this planet one that you and I can live on. Every apple, banana, orange or tomato you eat is the product of sexual favours granted to plants by insects that enable them to bear fruit. One third of all our crops can only exist thanks to the complimentary pollination services provided by insects. In addition, our waste - even our bodily remains - is cleaned up by flies and beetles, free of charge. Insects are also a source of nutrients for some birds, which in turn are food to larger birds and humans.
Mankind already feasts on insects. In almost all countries outside of Europe and the US, bugs are on the menu.
The European and American diet may need to be revised. Soon it will become impossible to meet the global demand for animal protein. The limits of our productive capabilities for pork, chicken and beef have been reached. The production of meat comes at a high ecological price, it causes the destruction of vast swaths of tropical rain forest and the emission of greenhouse gasses. The world population is growing and if living standards keep increasing, per capita meat consumption will as well. The worldwide meat supply will prove insufficient soon enough. As a consequence, the price of meat will rise and alternatives will become more attractive. This is where insects come in.
Our attitude towards eating of insects has been shifting slowly in the last few years. In 2005, the former Dutch minister of agriculture, Cees Veerman, pointed out the need for alternative sources of animal protein. In 2006, a research group studying insects at the University of Wageningen [of which the author is a member] propagated the consumption of insects through a science festival dubbed “Wageningen – City of Insects”, which drew more than 20,000 visitors. Two years later, the Dutch annual conference for the hospitality industry Horecava saw insects passed off as foodstuffs, heralding the era of commercial insect consumption. Several Dutch restaurants already serve insects, as does the ministry of agriculture’s cafeteria.
If insects are to be effectively marketed as human grub, they will first need to rehabilitated in the public mind. Their current reputation as dirty, nasty creatures that are to be avoided at all costs can only be changed if society learns more about the cleanliness and beneficial properties of insects.
Considering the rapid improvement of edibles insects’ image in the last few years, I am optimistic a lot more can be achieved in the next decade. Prepared foods, including tomato soup, peanut butter, apple sauce and chocolate already contain insect ingredients. Maximum amounts of insect content allowed are determined by Dutch food authorities. Drawing on their figures, you probably consumed about half a kilo of bugs last year.
In addition, you also eat products that contain insect based food dyes, like cookies, pies, ice cream, pudding, fish, cakes and candy.
Soon, insects will be making visible inroads into our diet, perhaps as delicacies in restaurants or parts of sauces. By 2020, we may look back on the Western menu of today with surprise, when we find it devoid of insecty goodness.