It’s a library with a difference. Of all things food. “Since food is so interconnected with various aspects of life, art spaces prove to be a vibrant test bed for ideas for the future,” says researcher Elizabeth Yorke, who, along with Anusha Murthy, co-curated a food systems collective called ‘The Library of Edible Issues’. While the project is part of ‘The Food Lab’, a culinary arts residency programme by the Serendipity Arts Foundation, what’s interesting about the library project is that it has books and zines across various topics ranging from agriculture to food culture. The library takes one through live conversations and collaborations, taking a step closer towards solving some major food-related issues that affect us every day, like agriculture, human labour, environmental sustainability, politics, trade, ethics, policy, culture and business. A few pertinent topics raised are: What does ‘plant-based’ mean in a country that has a large vegetarian culinary repertoire? How do we understand sustainability in the Indian context? Who is responsible for preserving our culinary culture? What influence does technology have on the way we eat?
According to Yorke, it’s the starting point for some tough conversations and social interactions to create positive changes in behaviour and have a positive impact on larger food system issues. “So something like insect eating addresses a variety of issues including sustainability,” she says.
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Well, there is a new generation of insect-based food to help tackle issues of sustainability in the food chain. Take, for instance, the husband and wife team of entomologist (insect scientist) Dr Sarah Beynon and chef (food wizard) Andy Holcroft in the UK (Wales). The couple is doing something similar. The aim is to bring sustainable and delicious food. The Bug Farm, their brand, and Grub Kitchen, UK’s first full-time edible insect restaurant, offers cricket cookies, buffalo biscuits and more. For instance, the biscuits have buffalo insects paired with spiced orange essence and laverbread foraged from Pembrokeshire’s wild shores, and packaged in a home compostable, bio-based sleeve in a reusable cardboard tube.
The ingredients are insect meals and the founders claim on the website: “Without wanting to sound morose, we cannot continue to eat the way that we do today. In 2013, a report was published by the UN FAO urging us in the West to adopt the practice of eating insects as a sustainable food source. By 2050 there will be almost 10 billion people on Earth, and to feed them all, we will require 70% more food, 120% more water and 42% more crop land. By 2050 meat production is predicted to double and, to meet current environmental targets, impacts of livestock on the environment will need to halve compared to what they are today. There is a global need for alternative protein sources, and insects are packed full of the stuff!”
All this throws light on nutritional efficacy of insects. Insects do contain function oils such as omega-3 fatty acids, including linoleic acid (LA), alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) and lauric acid, which could reduce dependency on unsustainable fish oils. Insects are more sustainable to farm than other livestock, and entomophagy, which is technically termed as eating insects, is also good for the environment.
Edible insects like a mealworm of crickets, beetles, caterpillars and more does sound like a diet full of exotic dishes. But entomophagy is common in many cultures around the world, with bugs on the menu as a delicacy or just a regular part of everyday diet. In fact, up to 80% of the world’s nations, particularly in tropical areas, eat insects. Nagas in Nagaland consume river snails cooked with dal. Then there are some Chinese eating habits, in particular the consumption of wildlife, which was also a major cause of the Covid-19 outbreak in 2020.
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In a paper titled ‘Edible Insects: Future Prospects For Food And Feed Security’ by Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, insects are often considered a nuisance to human beings and mere pests for crops and animals. Yet this is far from the truth. Insects provide food at low environmental cost, contribute positively to livelihoods, and play a fundamental role in nature.
However, these benefits are largely unknown to the public. Contrary to popular belief, insects are not merely “famine foods” eaten in times of food scarcity or when purchasing and harvesting “conventional foods” becomes difficult; many people around the world eat insects out of choice, largely because of the palatability of the insects and their established place in local food cultures.