What’s wrong, you’ve barely touched your grasshoppers

3 minute read

The ick factor will make it hard to switch at scale to insect protein, but you should see some of the things people already eat.

Search for “world’s most disgusting foods” online and the internet will not disappoint.

There are plenty of lists like this, and readers, before clicking, please consider yourself warned – the items named and pictured range from merely disgusting to quite upsetting.

Your Back Page scribe, while travelling in Japan’s Kii peninsula in November, ate a (cooked) sea snail purely for the amusement and/or horror of our companions.

It wasn’t worth it. In fact, we now regret not only eating the sea snail, we regret even mentioning eating the sea snail.

By contrast, chapulines, or Mexican fried grasshoppers, were no trouble at all.  

A snack bar made of crickets, which we tried in Canada, was a piece of cake.

Compared with Cambodian fried tarantulas, or Sardinian casu marzu (maggot cheese), or Swedish surströmming (fermented herring), insects of the kind projected to supplant meat in the human food supply are pretty easy to stomach.

So we think the subjects of this British survey, presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Venice this week, are frankly sooks.

Dr Lauren McGale from Edge Hill University recruited 600 participants with a wide age range, three-quarters female and had them complete a Food Disgust Scale questionnaire for insects. She asked their willingness to consume insects and how sweet, savoury, crunchy or slimy they thought insects would be to eat.

A disappointing 13% said they’d be prepared to consume insects regularly, while 40% were unsure and 47% were a hard no.

The younger the participants, the less enthusiastic they were – which is a pity, as they’re also more likely to face an entomophagic future.

One reason is of course environmental. The Back Page likes to keep things light and bright so when deciding what to bring you today, we skated over the headlines “246 million more older adults will be exposed to dangerous heat by 2050”, “The summer of 2023 was the warmest in 2000 years” and “Heatwaves lead to more than 150,000 deaths a year” – but it’s hard to deny that some unpleasant changes are in the offing.

But this was presented at an obesity conference, after all.

Dr McGale said insect proteins were not only cheaper and easier to farm than traditional livestock, with a lower environmental impact; they could also have health benefits.

“Insects are a potentially rich source of protein and micro-nutrients and could help provide a solution to the double burden of obesity and undernutrition,” Dr McGale said.

Paradoxically, food disgust ratings were significantly higher for powdered insects than whole ones, yet willingness to consume the powdered version was also higher.

Co-author Dr Maxine Sharps from De Montfort University said insect flours had already been successfully incorporated into processed foods in some countries.

“But if insects are to be a mainstream part of the Western diet, the disgust factor is one of the most important challenges to be overcome,” she said. “After all, there may be eventually no choice with climate change and projected global population growth.”

Send crunchy story tips to penny@medicalrepublic.com.au.

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