The AAA meetings are starting tomorrow here in Chicago!
I launched my insects-as-food survey
at the end of last week just in time for these meetings. I am hoping that people will be interested in talking with me more about the project and will help by participating and by spreading the word.
To facilitate participation, I am planning on:
- Wearing the button pictured below. The button is of course a conversation-starter for those who have not heard of the survey, but for those of you who might be looking for me, I should be relatively easy to find. Even if you are not necessarily looking for me, the button serves as a reminder to go and take the survey!
In addition to talking research, I hope to talk more about the prospect of insects featuring more prominently in our Western diets. I will be bringing with me a limited supply of Chapul bars. Here is a description of the company and their product from their site:
- I will have a tablet with me ready to access to the survey. You can take it then and there with me available to answer any questions. The whole thing takes about 5 minutes, 10 tops.
Chapul Bars are delicious, all-natural bars with protein from crickets-one of the planet's most amazing, energy-efficient creatures. No soy. No dairy. Just our innovative flour made entirely from crickets...inspired by native techniques used for centuries in the American Southwest and Mexico.
Each Chapul flavor is inspired by a culture where insects have historically formed part of a healthy diet, and we donate 10% of all chapul profits to water conservation projects in those regions.
It's simple...Learn from our ancestors, choose a sustainable diet, and make the world a better place. Simple, but revolutionary.
Just from their description you can tell why I am very interested in their efforts. I will have all three of their flavors: 1) Peanut butter, chocolate, 2) Dark chocolate, coffee, cayenne and 3) Coconut, ginger, lime.
If you are interested in trying a bar, contact me here and we will arrange to find each other at the meetings!
I am looking forward to a great conference! Hope to see you there!
A nice piece
about University of Wisconsin professor, Gene DeFoliart (1925-2013).
DeFoliart started his insects-as-food work back in 1974 and has been the leading researcher on the topic ever since, taking his work beyond academia
in effort to promote a change in attitude in the Western World.
Furthermore, DeFoliart believed in open-access research and was publishing his latest book
for free on his personal website. Although he was unable to finish the project, his bibliographic account remains one of the most comprehensive sources on the use of insects as food by people across the world.
October 16th was world food day, so I thought I would share this map showing insects consumed around the world.
As someone who studies the role of insects as food over the course of human evolution, I am faced with a dilemma not faced by many: When to use 'entomophagy' and when to use 'insectivory.'
Entomophagy is defined as the practice of eating insects, usually reserved for people. Insectivory is "feeding" on insects, usually reserved for animals.
In my dissertation and subsequent work on our hominin ancestors, specifically South African robust australopithecines, I chose to use insectivory regarding their behavior, following the vernacular of primatologists whose work was essential in creating my models. Although the suffix -ivore is meant to imply specialization such that over half of the diet comes from that resource, primatologists discuss the degree of folivory, frugivory, insectivory, etc. across species that do not specialize on those resources, blurring the lines of the definitions.
One of my next projects, which I will be presenting at the AAA meetings in Chicago next month, investigates patterns of insects-as-food across different human populations of foragers and horticulturalists. When referring to their insect consumption, I obviously use the word entomophagy.
I am now working on a book project that includes a theoretical reconstruction of the role of insects across all of human evolution. In order to fill in the gap between australopithecines and people today, I am going to pay particular attention to Homo erectus and Neandertals. I actually do not think Neandertals ate many insects due to the lack of biodiversity in northern latitudes (which is also an interesting extra piece to the puzzle as to why entomophagy is not favored in the United States and Europe..). However, I would readily credit any insects consumed by Neandertals as entomophagy, likely due to my stance that Neandertals are are not a distinct species different from modern humans. Neandertals are people, too!
That leaves Homo erectus, a species with hallmark increases in both brain and body size which make them seem much more human-like. Is it the degree of insectivory or the degree of entomophagy that I am trying to reconstruct for these hominins?
In all honesty, I dislike the term entomophagy. It reminds me of other –phagies, such as geophagy and coprophagy, which are terms that describe the inclusion of things in the diet that would not generally be there under normal circumstances. In this light, I believe entomophagy retains stigma. Although insectivory reduces the practice to animal-like feeding, it is at least a normal behavior and one that is often critical for receiving adequate nutrition at that.
I have not settled on an answer for Homo erectus. On one hand, using insectivory allows me to prolong the use of my preferred term and I do not think there is any offense to be taken through implication that Homo erectus are not people. On the other hand, removing stigma from entomophagy, the word and the practice, is necessary in promoting insects as food, so the more it is used, the more “normal” it may seem.
This year's Hult Prize goes to McGill University's team Aspire
for their "Insects feed the world" project.
The Hult Prize
is the largest student competition aimed at solving the world's social challenges. In partnership with the Clinton Global Initiative, the 2013 challenge was proposed by former President Bill Clinton for student groups to create solutions for the "Global Food Crisis
Key issues of the Global Food Crisis highlighted by the program:
- Nearly one billion people in the world are hungry and suffer from malnutrition. That’s one out of every four children
- There are more hungry people in the world, then the combined populations of the US, Canada and the EU.
- A poor family in a poor country spends over 70% of its income on food, leaving very little to spend on energy, education, housing, healthcare and other critical needs
- Global demand for food is expected to double in the next 25 to 50 years. Existing modes of food production and patterns of consumption cannot meet this demand
- The global economy actually produces enough to feed everyone. Yet more than one-third of the food generated for human consumption is lost or wasted
- Hunger is one of the world’s most solvable challenges
- The global food system needs to be redesigned to yield more, healthier food, while reducing cost and ecological footprint
- New business models are required around food security. These must yield greater access to markets, new approaches to distribution, and especially local sourcing. More locally produced food would bolster its quality and its workers’ livelihoods, while reducing waste and improving resilience to extreme conditions
- Agriculture accounts for 70 percent of the world’s use of increasingly scarce water supplies
- Deforestation for food production generates more greenhouse gases than all forms of transportation combined
Six regional finalists (London, Dubai, San Francisco, Boston, Shanghai, and online) competed for the one million dollar prize. The ultimate winner was McGill University's Aspire. Here is their mission in their own words:
"Apsire learned through research during the summer that food insecurity is not an issue of lack of food. The vast majority in urban slums do not go hungry. But they lack access to affordable nutrition. Many suffer from malnourishment and nutrient deficiencies despite being overweight or obese. Therefore, the problem of food security in urban slums is not one of food being expensive per se, but of nutritious food being unavailable or overpriced compared to cheaper, less nutritious offerings.
Our disruptive social enterprise, Aspire, aims to improve access to edible insects worldwide. We develop and distribute affordable and sustainable insect farming technologies for countries with established histories of entomophagy, or insect-consumption. Our farming solutions stabilize the supply of edible insects year-round, drastically improving and expanding the economic ecosystem surrounding insect consumption in the regions serviced. Not only do our durable farming units create income stability for rural farmers, they have a wider social impact by lowering the price of edible insects. This is central to our mission of increasing access to highly nutritious edible insects amongst the poorest, and therefore neediest, members of society."
Other projects included creating idiot-proof paper strips for planting seeds, but the other standout was Sokotext
, a project that uses the power of mobile phones to aggregate demand in the slums and unlock wholesale prices for micro-entrepreneurs. This is a big win for the McGill team and for the insects-as-food movement. To win such a prestigious award, and in the face of tech-savvy competition, is especially encouraging to me. I believe this group will do well and go far.
I am not sure how regularly I will be posting on the blog. I expect that I will write one or two pieces a month, but one can never predict when something will come along that just elicits comment. Today is one of those days.I found an article with the title "Can sleek packaging normalize insect snacks?
Designers try to make the idea of eating a bug more appealing in anticipation of a growing global population." I was excited. YES! That is exactly what we must do!I imagined that they would be taking pointers from Apple iphones or Voss water. I was told once that the key to Apple's design success that
many other companies now utilize is a focus group of 30ish year old women. As a 30ish year old woman, I thought, that makes sense. We have great taste. We are going to want things to look classy and grown up and be innovatively functional. So in my head, these insect snacks are going to be just that. Man, was I wrong.Yes, I waited till now to give you the link
. Now you can go and check it out for yourself.
There is no way a focus group of adults was consulted on this design. That packaging only evokes memories of terrible generic food from our childhoods. Even generic product packagers today have come to realize that the simple black lettering on a white label is a horrible idea. Why would you try to promote a risky product that way? Terrible, terrible marketing.
In May of this year, the FAO released an extensive report - 201 pages, to be exact - titled "Edible insects
Future prospects for food and feed security."
Present-day consumption of insects is minimal in developed countries but the United Nations voiced their support for insects as a sustainable food source for feeding growing populations. In order to move forward with the agenda, the FAO laid out a few tasks that are immediately at hand:
- Further document the nutritional values of insects in order to promote insects more efficiently as a healthy food source.
- Investigate the sustainability and quantify the environmental impacts of harvesting and farming insects compared with traditional farming and livestock-raising practices.
- Clarify and augment the socio-economic benefits that insect gathering and farming can offer, with a focus on improving the food security of the poorest of society.
- Develop a clear and comprehensive legal framework at the (inter-)national level that can pave the way for more investment, leading towards the full development (from the household scale to the industrial scale) of production and trade in insect products for food and feed internationally.
From my own work I can say that what is necessary is more than just getting nutritional values from some insects that people eat, but getting standardized
values from as many of the nearly 2000
recorded edible insects as possible. I also believe that understanding how
insects are consumed around the world, as well as over the course of human evolution, is information that consumers value when making educated decisions about their diets. I expect that there is a "paleo diet" fad to be had with insects.
The biggest push for insect cultivation is that it is a more environmentally-friendly to raise these "mini-livestock" than it is to tend our current go-to sources of protein cattle and pigs. We need more hard evidence. The truth is that we don't have an example of insect-rearing on the industrial scale, so we can't compare it to what we know after decades of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs, or feedlots). More research needs to be done to model the environmental impacts of mass-rearing insects.Another area that may hold even more potential is the use of insects in feed for our current livestock. We currently feed everything corn. And more corn. Maybe some animal byproducts in there for protein. Why not insects? Eating bacon raised on insects may be an easier sell than eating the insects themselves.
Cows should be fed grass, but pigs are omnivores. Future studies need to investigate the nutritional values of pork from grain-fed pigs versus pork from pigs with insect-based feed. I imagine there would be improvement, possibly similar to the omega-3 fatty acid
story in grass-fed vs. grain-fed beef, but how much better is yet to be seen.
The other two tasks are outside of my area of expertise, but it makes sense that promoting insects is the development of a new agri-business, and with that comes the social and legal impacts. I expect the legal implications are the same as with any food business interested in a worldwide market, but it is something that needs to be understood before the insects-as-food movement can really take hold. Socially, the first big question is cost to the consumer. Are we talking dollar menu or gourmet menu? Are we talking grocery shopping for ramen or for steak? Additionally, how is that cost going to effect the social implications of choosing to utilize the resource? It all comes down to marketing. Insects are not cheap, primitive and disgusting.. insects are accessible, innovative and exciting!
Research out of Wageningen University, Netherlands has been at the forefront of understanding insects for human consumption. Dr. Yde Jongema has compiled the most extensive list
of edible insects, counting nearly 2,000 different edible species and graduate student Joost van Itterbeeck just wrote an article
featured on sciencealert.com.au that is making its way around the Internet.
Van Iterbeeck describes five of the most promising insects for consumption in the western world. Mealworms, the larval forma of the mealworm beetle, are especially interesting in regards to cultivation for human food because they are one of the edible insects known in temperate climates and they have long been cultivated as bait and pet food. Apparently, the Netherlands has started the movement to mass-rear
the insects for human food and research is finding that when processed, the texture and taste has been well received by western customers.Way to go, Netherlands!
The blog for this site is still under construction, but look out for these upcoming posts:
- Entomophagy Paleoanthropology: Termites in the diet of robust australopithecines at Swartkrans
- Why we need standardized methods in insects-as-food analysis
- The UN said what? A statement by the Food and Agriculture Organization supporting the prospect of insects as food and feed