Lesson of the Day: ‘How the Lab-Grown Chicken Is Made’

Melting ice sheets, rampant wildfires, devastating floods. Climate change is a global emergency. The food system? It causes as much as a third of global greenhouse gas emissions, and unless we make major adjustments to the food we eat and how we produce it, we’re cooked. One of those dietary changes we need to consider might even make you a little squeamish. “And we’re going to finish it off with some whole grasshoppers.” Yeah, we’re talking about insects, specifically eating them. We know what you’re feeling: Repulsion, right? For most Americans, insects are signifiers of filth that need to be exterminated, not consumed. Our supermarkets, rather than promoting insect-eating, devote a significant amount of shelf space to products that eradicate them. Fortunately, tastes can change. Foods that were once considered disgusting are now ordinary fare, even a luxury. We’ll come back to these guys later. But the problem is way bigger than just taste, it’s existential. A growing number of chefs, researchers, and are urgently working toward a common entrepreneurs goal: getting us to eat more bugs. “I don’t think there’s an insect. I wouldn’t eat.” Here’s the problem. A growing middle class around the world is driving up the demand for meat, milk and eggs, and that will mean more livestock farming leading to more deforestation and other environmental harm and an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. “The paradox today is that our planet, on the one hand, is rapidly growing in both population and appetite. At the same time, it is shrinking in critical resources required to produce food. And unless this paradox is resolved, we are heading on a very concerning collision course.” And that’s where edible insects come in. They offer a sensible alternative to animals we typically eat. To understand this, we paid a visit to — “Entomo Farms is North America’s largest cricket producer.” — a cricket farm in Norwood, Ontario. “A lot of crickets.” This is Darren Goldin, who founded Entomo with his brothers. “I don’t think that there is a single, silver-bullet solution to the crises facing our planet, but I think insects are a very important piece of the solution.” Research into edible insects is still in its infancy, but the early evidence of their environmental advantages is very promising. Pound for pound, some species of insects produce far fewer greenhouse gas emissions and require far less water and land to raise than some conventional livestock. Insects are also very efficient at converting what they eat into body mass. That is high-quality food for us. They’re also really good for us. “Crickets are fantastic because of their nutritional makeup. The protein is very digestible by the human body. The mineral and vitamin content is super high. The chitin, which is the exoskeleton of the cricket, is a super beneficial fiber.” That’s some good eating. Too much too soon? Well, here’s a little secret. If you live in the United States, you’re chowing down on bug all the time. You just don’t know it. The Food and Drug Administration permits limited quantities of insect parts to slip into foods during the manufacturing process. What that means is — “There are going to be beetle parts in your flour or processed grains.” Do you drink coffee, eat chocolate, how about potato chips? They might all contain bug, but not everyone finds this gross. The United Nations estimates that some two billion people around the world have traditional diets that include insects. Termites. Grasshoppers. Crickets.” By some accounts, more than 2,000 species of them. “Locusts. Bamboo worms. Cicada. Bee pollen.” [INTERPOSING VOICES] “Mealworms”. Scorpions.” Insect eating has historically been more common in tropical countries where bugs are generally larger and more abundant, thus, they supply more protein and are easier to hunt. But that doesn’t fully explain our disgust. “When you’re wanting to understand why we have strong aversion to the idea of ​​eating insects, you have to look at cultural explanations.” This is Julie Lesnik, an associate professor of anthropology at Wayne State University in Detroit. Her research has focused on the evolution of the human diet. “So if we look at the Age of Discovery, if we think of Columbus and other explorers leaving Europe in the 1400s, when they travel to the tropics and encounter people eating insects, what we see in their journals, in their letters is that they these describe people as beast-like. And so we have this association of eating insects as being this animalistic behavior, and that’s been used against the peoples around the world that have had insects as parts of their diets.” The point is, culture, not taste, often defines what’s edible, but that doesn’t mean we can’t change. Remember this guy? The lobster offers a fabulous lesson in rebranding. During the colonial era, lobsters were reviled by some as bottom feeders, suitable only for indentured servants and prisoners. Farmers ground them up to fertilize fields. Fishermen used their meat to bait more profitable catch like mackerel. According to one account, indentured servants in colonial Massachusetts took their masters to court because they were so repulsed by the amount of lobster they were fed. They won. The result? They only had to suffer three lobster servings a week, but by the late 19th century, the lobster’s makeover was well underway. It spread aided, in part, by improvements in refrigeration and by vacationers to New England who acquired a passion for it. A century later, the $30 lobster roll. Still not convinced? Until a few decades ago, sushi was not common outside of Japan. Now, of course, it’s a worldwide delicacy. Shrimp are cousins ​​of locusts and grasshoppers. In fact, bug-eating advocates refer to these as land shrimp and these as sea crickets. But while shrimp are widely eaten in the West, locusts and grasshoppers are despised. See the double standard? It’s all in your head, not in your mouth. Venture capital and government funding is now surging into the edible insect sector. Startups like Entomo are transforming crickets and other bugs into a wide range of products for humans, pets and livestock. But if many insect farms have looked a lot like, well, farms, things are about to get pretty high-tech. In London, Ontario, the Aspire Food Group is building a state-of-the-art cricket breeding facility. “We have invested well over $40 million US on research and development, both looking at the biological aspects of farming and running hundreds of experiments in different trials in different conditions.” Mohammed Ashour is pretty far from a traditional farmer. He’s the CEO of Aspire. “We are expected to generate approximately 27 million data points on a daily basis on everything from temperature, to humidity, to certain types of gases and certain types of sounds to really understand the various parameters that affect and govern the growth of crickets.” In other words, they’re building an 11-story computer that will be raising billions of insects at a time. “Upon completion, it will be one of the most formidable and sustainable and scalable protein-production systems on the planet.” While saving the planet and ourselves are pretty solid rationales for eating more insects, that argument on its own may not carry the day. “Ultimately, what it’s really going to come down to, it’s got to taste delicious. Red peppers, shallots, sweet potatoes, corn, locust, Korean gochu peppers, little lime. Delicious, nutrient-dense and sustainable.” Joseph Yoon is a chef based in New York City who has dedicated himself to the culinary exploration of edible insects. “’This is a delicious locust succotash, Brood X cicadas, flamed with sake. This cicada nymph kimchi just perfectly complements this egg. Oh, the fennel is popping as well. So you could have everything from lemony, citrusy black ants, nutty crickets, cheesy super worms, the minerality of the vespula flaviceps, or the vegetable nature of the cicadas. What does it taste like when boiled or roasted or fried? How does it taste in American food or in Asian food? Sauteed or fermented? All you need is a little imagination.” “We are now a lot closer to bridging the gap between the promise of crickets and how it translates commercially in the market as a better-for-you, highly affordable protein source.” “We don’t need to cut down any more forests. We don’t need to destroy any more natural ecosystems. We have what we need, not only to feed the current population, but to feed the growing population into the future.” “What we need to do as adults is rein in our disgust response so that the kids around us can grow up with this as a viable food source for them.” “I have no doubt that insect protein will be integrated globally in just a matter of time. I mean, it’s inevitable. It’s smart. It’s efficient. It’s delicious.” Because remember, what’s loathed today might be loved tomorrow. Just ask the lobster. “Bug appetit.”

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