Lovely grub: Are Insects the Future of Food?
Emily Anthes braves locusts, beetles, mealworms, and more as she asks whether eating insects is the answer to feeding ever more humans and livestock.
At first, my meal seemed familiar, like countless other dishes I’d eaten at Asian restaurants. A swirl of noodles slicked with oil and studded with shredded chicken, the aroma of ginger and garlic, and a few wilting chives are placed on the plate as a final flourish. And then, I notice the eyes. Dark, compound orbs on a yellow-speckled head joined to a winged, segmented body. I hadn’t spotted them right away, but suddenly I saw them everywhere – my noodles were teeming with insects.
I can’t say I wasn’t warned. On this warm May afternoon, I’ve agreed to be a guinea pig at an experimental insect tasting in Wageningen, a university town in the central Netherlands. My hosts are Ben Reade and Josh Evans from the Nordic Food Lab, a non-profit culinary research institute. Reade and Evans lead the lab’s ‘insect deliciousness’ project, a three-year effort to turn insects – the creepy-crawlies that most of us squash without a second thought – into tasty, craveable treats.
The Food Lab operates from a houseboat in Copenhagen, but Reade and Evans are in the Netherlands for a few days, and they’ve borrowed a local kitchen to try out some brand new dishes. I, along with three other gutsy gastronomes, am here to taste the results.
We take our seats at a long, high table as Reade and Evans wheel in a trolley loaded with our meals. We each receive a different main course. I get the Asian-style noodles and fixate on the bug I can see. “That’s a locust,” Reade says. “[It] was alive this morning. Very fresh.” But he’s much more excited about another, hidden ingredient: fat extracted from the larvae of black soldier flies (or, to put it less delicately, maggot fat). The whole dish has been stir-fried in it.
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