Entomophagy, Environmental Impact and Standing Ovations – The Third and Final day of the Insect Conference

The last day of the conference started with a deep dive (or rather, a fun dive) into the human psychic concerning eating habits in general and insect eating in particular. The “yuck factor” – the disgust many feel by the thought of eating insects that has been heavily discussed these days – Paul Rozin thought was associated with the fact that we are disgusted by all animals and the few animals we are OK with eating, we mostly only accept eating the muscles of. He identified some ways in which novel food could spread. In the sushi model, the wealthy and powerful start a custom we other mortals like to imitate in an attempt to be like them. In a more hidden approach, insect components are smuggled into existing food without attracting much attention. Nobody will notice that the wheat flour in their favourite biscuit has been replaced by cockroach meal.  The Nordic Food lab – young cooks trying to spread the insect eating habit through the sushi model by deliciousness – stressed the important fact that insect eating per se is not a sustainable practice; the production systems with which our food is produced plays the most important role regardless of what food you consume. The nutritional value of insects, both for food and feed purposes, were discussed in one session while sustainable business models for cricket farming in Africa was discussed in parallel session. In a presentation about traditional ways of preparing different cricket in Zimbabwe species demonstrated how complicated the preparation of insect food can be; if not prepared properly these crickets could become not only inedible but plain toxic.

In the afternoon, we listen to several talks about the environmental impact of insect production systems. The main negative impact with current practices of insect production is the energy use, because of the heating required for rearing. The positive impacts were a considerable reduction in land use and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. In these scenarios the insects were fed vegetables and not a waste product. If these studies were performed using a waste stream as a substrate for the larvae production, who knows what the results would have been?

We are a little surprised at how many entrepreneurs that are already operating within this field, operating in the grey zone of current legislation.

The two main organisers of the conference: Arnold van Huis (Wageningen UR) and Paul Vantomme (FAO) received – in our opinion well-deserved – standing ovations when closing the conference.

Cecilia Lalander and Stefan Diener (on the right) at the Conference "Insects to Feed the World"

I (Cecilia) had no idea that so much was being done for promoting entomophob, entomophatty, entomorphology aaargh.…eating insects. It is clear that shifting into this type of protein production alone is not the solution of our future problems. Many new problems arise and other ethical considerations have to be made with these systems. What is clear is that these systems have enormous potential that we should explore further. I (Stefan) was so glad to see that the work we have done over the past years has eventually been taken up and this topic has gained such a strong momentum.  And I was of course also very flattered that people read my publications.

Overall it was a great conference to attend. Now we have to go to bed because tomorrow we will visit a big mealworm factory outside of Wageningen and we (some more than others) are looking forward to having mealworm burgers for lunch. Yummy!

Day One at the City of Insects

Day Two with Grasshopper Salad

Cecilia Lalander, Institutionen för energi och teknik, Sveriges landbruksuniversitet, Sweden

Stefan Diener, Department for Water and Sanitation in Developing Countries (Sandec), Eawag, Switzerland