Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Food Security: Guests Bug Out at the Dutch Embassy

Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.             (

Guests Bug Out at the Dutch Embassy

by Kylee Zabel

Cicadas, grasshoppers and other bugs tend to, well, bug a lot of people. But for others, those pesky critters are mouth-watering treats.
The growing hype over eating insects as tasty, ecologically friendly snack alternatives prompted the Royal Netherlands Embassy in Washington to host a discussion on the trend, featuring speeches from three experts in entomophagy (the study of the human consumption of insects) and entomology on June 26.
The talk was capped off not by the usual embassy fare of bite-size sandwiches or salmon crostinis, but by mealworms, crickets and cicadas — including the Brood II cicadas making all that noise in the Washington area this summer.

Photos: Kylee Zabel
The Dutch Embassy in Washington recently held a discussion on insects as a sustainable food source for people.
According to Marcel Dicke, chair of the Department of the Laboratory of Entomology at Wageningen University, consuming insects could, in some ways, replace meat consumption. He said some edible insects have more omega-3s than meat products such as chicken, pork and beef and are generally higher in calcium, iron and zinc.

“We’ve always been told that we should not be involved with ‘creepy crawlies,’” said Dicke, “but eating insects offers many advantages.”

Professor Michael Raupp of the University of Maryland removes wings from cicadas before consumption.
One of the main ones is the environment: Raising insects doesn’t require large swaths of land, unlike traditional livestock farming. The land-clearing process that is often used to expand production is minimal and insects require considerably less farm feed than large mammals. Insects also emit fewer greenhouse gases than livestock, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

The chance of contracting diseases from eating insects is significantly less than with meat consumption, added Dicke. That’s because insects are not as closely related to humans as are warm-blooded mammals, so the probability of disease transmission is low.

Guests at the Dutch Embassy snacked on a few bug bites, including cicadas.
Insect farming may sound like a bizarre pastime, but soon it may become a modern-day necessity. According to Dicke, 70 percent of agriculture land is being used for livestock, with the demand continually increasing and space shrinking.

Enter insect farming.

Insects enjoy being together in greater densities than livestock do, and farmers can produce more insects than livestock at a faster rate. As a result, Dicke and the other experts believe it is an industry with definite possibilities.

Daniella Martin of prepares the asparagus to be paired with the sautéed cicadas.
“As the world’s population continues to grow and our natural resources and land available for farming decrease, we must find alternative food sources,” said Dutch Ambassador Rudolf Bekink. “Insects could provide a nutritional alternative for people without the massive use of natural resources."

They may be good for the earth, but do bugs actually taste good? Of course, it depends on the person eating them, but plenty of people around the world see insects not only as a sustainable food source, but a delectable one as well.

Alida Maandag, left, prepares the guacamole to be paired with crickets as her husband, entomologist Marcel Dicke, empties chopped mealworms into pancake batter.
Daniella Martin, bug blogger for the Huffington Post and host of the insect cooking and travel website, was first attracted to entomophagy during anthropological studies in Mexico, where she purchased a bag of chapulines, or fried grasshoppers, from a street vendor.
“All of the sudden a bunch of kids surrounded my table and started grabbing the grasshoppers out of the bag and eating them,” she recalled.

While Martin said she was exactly bowled over by the taste of the chapulines, the kids obviously liked them. And thus her fascination with insect cuisine began.

“This just isn’t some weird, antiquated practice,” said Martin.

To prove that point, guests got to sample the insects for themselves. Mealworms, crickets and cicadas were on the menu, along with a raisin-mealworm pancake.

Michael Raupp, professor of entomology at the University of Maryland, suggested that guests who were new to insect snacking start with the mealworms.

“Mealworms are the best starter bug because they have a nice, nutty flavor,” he said.

Crickets are paired with guacamole.
However, the experts warned that you shouldn’t just go willy-nilly eating any bug that flies (or crawls) your way.

Though Raupp prefers to eat cicadas uncooked, he cautioned that not all bugs are edible. For those interested in cooking up a few insects at the next family barbecue, Dicke has co-written an insect cookbook called “Het Insectenkookboek,” the English version of which is scheduled to be released in spring 2014.

So if eating insects is good for the planet and for you — and actually tastes (relatively) good — why has the trend not taken off in the United States as it has in other countries
Dicke attributes this lack of insect popularity to a class stigma, as people with high living standards typically don’t rely on alternative food sources such as insects and therefore equate eating insects to barbarism.

Alida Maandag samples a tortilla chip topped with guacamole and a cricket.
But now, societies are eating insects simply because they like the taste — not because bugs are survival necessities. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, more than 2 billion people make roughly 1,900 different insect species parts of their daily diets.

And the trend is slowly creeping its way to the United States. Chapul Edible Insect Bars, founded by native Coloradoan Pat Crowley, offer cricket protein bars in three varieties, each of which was featured at the embassy discussion.

Still not convinced? Well, you may be consuming insects without even knowing it. Currently, the Food and Drug Administration allows specified insect and insect-part amounts to be in your orange juice, canned fruits, peanut butter and noodle products, just to name a few products. Each person consumes about 500 grams of insects per year, said Dicke.

Kylee Zabel is an editorial intern for the Diplomatic Pouch.

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