Turning famine into feasts: Insects as the livestock of tomorrow

Consider Nordic Food Labs - the science kitchen that makes bugs a more tasty prospect.

Nordic Food Labs is a non-profit organisation in Denmark that was established in 2008. Its researchers work to combine science and food to diversify the Western palate. Their research is geared towards a global, humanitarian ethos: to some day devise a system in which “everyone can not only eat, but eat well”.

Though the food lab draws an international variety of chefs, scientists and industrial thinkers together to investigate all curious culinary avenues, the team’s most prominent intent is to make entomophagy (the practice of eating insects) more accessible to the masses.

We previously looked at how big food brands could approach the business of insect-food packaging and make it seem more appetising with attractive design campaigns.

The necessity to redress the global livestock industries is clear. Earth is projected to have a population of over 9 billion people by 2050 and simply increasing the output of cow, pork and poultry farms will not do. Currently, the meat industries of the world are responsible for an alarming amount of pollution and they are taking an unsustainable toll on the environment.

Livestock farms require much land and water and the animals that are harvested there are big contributors to greenhouse gas. Entomophagy seems to be a pertinent alternative as bugs are naturally high in protein and vitamins with few drawbacks.

Bugs have high nutritional value (with strong levels of zinc and iron) and they are easy to proliferate and farm. Some insects are even drought-resistant and require minimal water – perfect for the arid regions of the world.

Leading Nordic Food Lab’s charge to make bugs a more welcome addition to the dinner table is Josh Evans’ project ‘Discerning Taste: Deliciousness as an Argument for Entomophagy’. The Canadian researcher started this project in 2012 which soon after gained funding in 2013 from the Velux Foundation’s programme to advance sustainability and environmental conservation. Evans’ project examines the feasibility of bug-based food that has roots in local geography, culture and socioeconomic conditions – starting with Denmark.

According to Michael Bom Frøst, the director of Nordic Food Labs: “The project will involve a set of recipes and inspiration on how insects can be used in Danish and Western cuisine. The research will provide knowledge about which Danish insects can be used as food sources from both an ecological perspective and in terms of the risk of insect-borne disease.”

The largest obstacle that continues to repel insects from the Western supper plate (in contrast to the East, as multiple Asian countries enjoy insect cuisine) is the ‘yuck’ factor. Since many bugs thrive around waste and garbage, a mental connotation is made that disgusts average consumers. We attach the idea of bugs to decay and dirt, which undermines its potential as an appetising edible.

It is a negative mental profile that initiatives like Nordic Food Lab work to combat, as Bom Frøst explains:

“If it were simply a matter of sustainability, nutrition and edibility, insects would already be part of Western diets … The main barrier in the West is the lack of perceived deliciousness. The Western palate simply has no idea what insects taste like, and how diverse and delicious their flavours can be. Nor does anyone know how to prepare them to realise their delicious potential.”

He goes on to describe the necessity to start small, working with local Danish resources that could trigger a larger ripple effect for emerging countries that struggle to support its populations.

“Our main concern is to ensure that research and development are carried out always with eaters in mind. Only if we can persuade Danes and Europeans to appreciate and enjoy insects in all their gastronomic diversity can their theoretical benefits for food systems be realised. In this way, pleasure and taste become not afterthoughts or luxuries, but powerful drivers for large-scale cultural change and a deeper appreciation of the necessity of bio-cultural diversity in food systems”, he said.

In early 2016, Bugs was released – a documentary film that follows the movements of the Nordic Food Lab’s members on their different entomophagous adventures. View the trailer of the movie below for more information.