Ethnos

Waiter, there are many flies in my soup!

Al Don Bugito's di San Francisco... patatine e vermi fritti

At Don’s Bugito’s in San Francisco … fries and fried worms

Eating insects. Surely it’s a disgusting picture for most of us (Europeans). In fact, we tend to undermine them and judge “backward” the societies that (still) eat them. (Pre) judgments that might come from those who consume animals that can suggest the same disgust, such as snails, oysters, prawns and shrimps… Yeah, the insects make us sick just because of “the disgust in considering such a particular food that for a long time isn’t part of our diet”, says one of the most important ethologist in Italy, Enrico Alleva.

An insect-free diet is, in fact, only for a few. “They are regularly eaten by 80% of the world’s population” – in Peru, for example, they consume the larvae of the “palm weevil”, the one that’s threatening the palms in Roma and other parts of Europe with extinction – “but today they are still seen as a novelty”, says Thomasina Miers, winner of Masterchef UK (first edition): since 2013 she has introduced this alternative protein source in its Mexican restaurants chain. The best plate of Wahaca are, in fact, the chapulines, fried grasshoppers with shallot, garlic and chipotle chili, served with queso fundido and corn tortillas.

La Masterchef Thomasina Miers che mangia il suo "Chapulines fundido"

Masterchef Thomasina Miers eating her “Chapulines fundido”

And so it is, in spite of everything, that the bug-food sector is marking a rapid rise from 2015, driven, on the one hand, by scientific research that has long been revealing some benefits, and on the other, by a certain culinary trend that from the big metropolis is influencing entire countries, even Europeans, such as England. Edible insects – there are more than 1,000 types in the world – are already available online at just £4 and 50. Packs of beetles, grasshoppers, giant water bugs… up to less known species like the queens of the weaver ants, or more scary like the zebra tarantula of Thailand, to end up with fine products like cricket flour and mix-snack of pupa (some types of chrysalis).

There is the thrust of large organizations, such as Fao, and finally the political one. In 2015, the European Parliament approved a proposal for a simplification of the procedures, date back to 1997, for a marketing authorization in the EU of “new foods” “(Novel food). So, not only insects, but also algae, nanomaterials and new dyes will be able to end on the tables of Europeans, subject to approval by the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa). Put it like that insects and algae are the least disquieting foods…!

The biggest obstacle to the take-off of the bug-food industry is, therefore, the disgust.

Confezioni di "antipasti": vermi, grilli e cavallette

Packs of “starters”: worms, crickets and grasshoppers

To overcome the block in Italy is online L’Entomofago, “the first specialized information organ”, a new voice about a class of animals (and its fans): foodie stuff. “A part of the universe overwhelms us by number and variety, attends our homes and our gardens. But we ignore it, it repels us, we have studied products of every kind to keep it away from us. Yet insects are not only a resource for the environment, in a broad sense, they are also food and nutrition for humans (and animals)”, writes the director Lorenzo Pezzato in his first editorial.

“As human beings, we need essentially two things for survival”, continues Alleva interviewed by the director, “water and proteins. We are currently consuming too much of the first to produce the second, and entomophagy can definitely be a response in this regard, seen the high protein content of the insects and considering the saving in terms of water used for their breeding”.

But beware, intensive farming should never be considered: “Like vertebrates, also edible insects can be carriers of infections, especially when they are raised in large numbers. All the traditional intensive farms, those we are not yet used to seeing as a potential risk in this regard, are instead the site of infections that are controlled and eradicated with relevant costs for the National Health Service. We all remember, for example, the bird flu and the mad cow disease…”

Lecca-lecca agli... insetti, distribuiti gratuitamente come parte di una promozione avvenuta a Londra già nel 2013

Insect… lollipops, free distributed as part of a promotion that took place in London already in 2013

But did you ever eat them?” “I have eaten insects more than once, of course abroad”, says Alleva, “I find myself quite open to new experiences and so the curiosity has always been much more intense than the instinctive motion of disgust and repulsion, also because I had read a lot about it. And I must say that I have a positive memory… ”

We suggest you the Enrico Alleva’s full interview on L’Entomofago and see you next week with another “anticipatory” article we wrote in 2014 on Pagina99, The fried weevil, or about the “methods of struggle” to the invasive species…

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