Rebranding bugs

From gross to the future of food

Tom Hoare
Words by Tom Hoare, 26.01.2022

Rebrand bugs? What are you even on about?

Insects. They’ve got a huge role to play in the future of our species. And currently, we don’t see them in the most positive light.

That’s because they’re disgusting.

Disgust is thought to be an evolutionary mechanism designed to stop us ingesting harmful stuff like faeces or rotten meat. Also, your ancestors probably gave bugs a wide berth because some insects (like certain arachnids, for example) are genuinely dangerous. So it’s understandable to find bugs unappealing. Unfortunately, particularly in the west, our cultural upbringing has alienated us from our insect counterparts even more, which makes what I’m about to say next harder to stomach.

Oh god, what is it?

Insects can be delicious.

No. I’ve seen I’m A Celebrity and that’s not true.

Yes. According to the UN, an estimated 2 billion people do eat insects as part of their regular diet.

Well, I don’t know anyone that eats insects. And I bet Ant and Dec don’t.

Did you know that in the US, there’s a quota of how much insect matter can be legally present in your food? In the UK and Europe things are a bit stricter. But the chances are you’ve been eating bits of insects for years without realising – it’s impossible to totally remove them from the food supply chain.

Wut, actually? I’ve just been sick in my mouth a little.

Don’t worry. There are over 2100 edible species of insects found around the world. In many cultures, insects are even considered a delicacy. As a food source, insects also have lots of other benefits. They’re readily available, high in protein, and easy to farm with minimal impact on the environment. This might be handy with the world’s population projected to hit 9.6 billion by 2050.

I still don’t wanna eat them though.

This is a very typical western attitude. In Europe, the ice age killed a lot of our edible bugs hence why eating insects isn’t anything like as common as it is in Asia for example. And then we had the whole Christianity thing of insects being deemed an “unclean food” – looking at you, Leviticus.

But bugs are unclean, aren't they?

Insects can be unclean, yes, but using this as an out-and-out rejection of bugs as a food source is highly illogical. For example, cheese is essentially mould, and many of the crustaceans we eat are basically sea insects. Lobsters were considered dirty and undesirable until the 19th century. Then people were like, hol up – this red snappy thing is delicious.

What does insect-based food actually look like?

For starters, it rarely looks like actual insects. The most common type of edible insects are mealworms and crickets, which are ground into a fine powder. This means they can then be made into whatever your heart desires. Similar to plant-based food, the possibilities are endless.

So how are you gonna get people to eat bugs?

Hypnotherapy – no, just kidding. In the pet care industry, brands like Grub Club are already flying the flag for insect-based pet foods thanks to their sustainable and nutritional credentials. And as insect protein becomes more widely accepted, it’s only a matter of time before you’re tucking into some delicious cricket crackers, for example, or grasshopper crisps.

Uhhhh sure, whatever.

I knew you’d come round. Great chat!