11.12.2015 12:44

COP: Tasting the Change

Would you switch your dinner from steak to mealworms to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? That was the question confronting participants in the Development and Climate Days at the COP on Sunday. With a theme of Zero Poverty, Zero Emissions, the side event had promised provocative sessions on emissions and poverty reduction. But I hadn’t quite anticipated the plate of fried grasshoppers...

COP: Tasting the Change
Louisa Whitlock, delegate for the Red Cross
Pierre Thiam

(Development and Climate Days)

The fact is that the quantity of emissions caused by livestock farming is enormous: 7.1 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent a year, making up 14.5 % of global greenhouse gas emissions, and this is increasing as the global demand for meat rises. The average annual meat consumption worldwide is 41.9 kg per capita, but this masks a very broad spectrum: in Austria, it’s more than 100 kg per capita. In India, it’s 4. If we are serious about limiting global greenhouse gas emissions, those of us in high-consuming countries need to change the way we think about eating meat.

One way is to think seriously about eating more insects. Insects are not only highly nutritious, but results in 100 times less CO2 emissions than the equivalent amount of beef. It’s less resource-intensive in other ways, too: raising a kilogram of crickets requires only 1.7 kg of feed and 1 litre of water, compared to 10 kg of feed and 22,000 litres of water for a kilogram of beef. In parts of the world with high meat consumption, switching over to insects could have a significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions and water consumption.

But will this actually catch on in countries full of dedicated carnivores? Two billion people around the world already regularly (and intentionally!) eat insects. However, for those of us who don’t regularly reach for a handful of deep-fried crickets to accompany our drinks, cultural taboos can be difficult to overcome. It’s all very well to present people with a list of the health and environmental benefits of insect consumption, but if the first instinctive reaction is one of disgust, it’s difficult to persuade people to experiment further.

Pablo Suarez of the RCCC is aiming to overcome these barriers by launching the Taste the Change challenge at the COP. The 200 people present were challenged to taste a variety of edible insect on camera, along with their full reaction, and then challenge three other people to do the same. I have to say, the audience did not initially look entirely convinced of the wisdom of this idea. Fortunately, he had come prepared with a support team who were armed with a variety of culinary delights to convince us to change our minds.

To whet our appetites, Senegalese chef Pierre Thiam was on hand to provide some cooking suggestions. “Cook insects just as you would meat or seafood”, he said, adding  ginger, chilli, and peanuts, along with a large handful of crickets and mealworms, to his fritters. For dessert, I was rather taken by the use of cricket flour in biscuits and crackers, as well as macarons elegantly topped with a dried cricket.

Observing the reaction of the room towards the variety of buggy delicacies on offer was fascinating. Some dived in happily, and were later observed prowling the tables on the lookout for any escaped macarons. Others approached with rather more caution, preferring to experiment with the safely innocuous-looking cricket-flour crackers. For a few people, the psychological barrier was still too much, and they politely demurred. “It’s bugs, I just can’t!” muttered someone on my table.

Personally, it takes more than a few dried grubs to get between me and free chocolate,  and the fritters smelled (and tasted) good enough that I was able to ignore the occasional leg sticking out of the batter, but coming face-to-face with a very grasshopper-like fried grasshopper was another matter. There was absolutely no way to pretend that I wasn’t eating an insect.  Still, in the name of research I felt obliged to try. It wasn’t bad exactly – crisp, interesting texture – but I wasn’t thrilled by the way that the legs stuck in my teeth. For my environmentally-friendly beer snacks, I might stick to the thyme-infused mealworms instead, which are crunchy and salty and very addictive.

I came away from the event fully convinced of the edibility of insects, armed with a packet of cricket-infused pasta, and ready to introduce my unsuspecting family to the joys of sustainable protein consumption as part of our Christmas celebrations. But a future staple of the Austrian Red Cross canteen? It’s possible my colleagues will take some persuading.

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