Public awareness of the environmental impact of large scale agriculture, specifically meat production, is increasing every day. The fact is, if we don’t change things now, we run the risk of hitting a tipping point in temperature increases which could unleash a series of devastating natural disasters, making a lot of the planet uninhabitable. Add to this that we are on the verge of a food security crisis, with The UN projecting that the demand for animal products, and consequently animal feed, is going to double by 2050.
Anteater, a Christchurch startup, understands the danger the planet is in and they are taking it upon themselves to be part of the solution by introducing, normalising and distributing a new, sustainable source of protein for human consumption. Can you guess what this new source of protein could be? It’s insects.
To be fair, insects are not actually a new source of protein for humans, people have been eating them since the beginning of time, with an estimated 80% of the world’s current population already regularly consuming them. It is true though, that they are not very common (or appealing) in the western world, so Peter Randrup and Bex De Prospo from Anteater are on a quest to change not just the way people eat, but the way they think.
Anteater’s current offering includes ants, huhu grubs, locusts and cricket powder (used as a substitute for traditional flour in such things as tortillas), which they distribute to high-end food producers and restaurants in New Zealand. This is, for them, the first step to mainstreaming entomophagy (insect consumption), introducing the New Zealand public to this viable, sustainable alternative to factory meat.
It turns out, not only are insects a more sustainable form of protein (because they need much less feed and water than livestock, take up less space, emit less methane and can even consume agricultural waste), but they are also really good for you. They are rich in a variety of vitamins and have a very high protein content, with levels comparable to beef and milk. House crickets, for example, contain approximately 21 grams of protein per 100 grams of cricket, while ground beef contains about 26 grams per 100 grams of meat and powdered whole milk contains about 26 grams of protein per 100 grams.
Eating our small, many-legged friends could still be a grey area for ethical vegetarians however, though it’s good to note that they do live out their full life cycle and during harvesting they are frozen – which as they are cold blooded, is essentially just falling asleep. In terms of the economic viability of insect farming, as with anything, scale is key. At the moment production costs in Western nations are high (Anterater’s ants are currently coming in at $20 per gram, locusts are $2 each and cricket powder is $25 per 100gms) because demand is relatively low, but as more and more people get switched on to this alternative lunch option, mass production will be able to drive down the cost – as Anteater is currently working on doing.
Anteater’s greatest challenge though, is going to be convincing your everyday mum, dad and uncle joe that insects are indeed a delectable addition to the menu. Education and awareness is key here, and perception shifts take time. But as Bex points out, until last century lobster was considered peasant food and most Western countries used to find the idea of sushi completely unpalatable. Consumers are becoming more educated around what is in the food they eat and its nutritional and ethical consequences, with food trends increasingly leaning towards healthier and more environmentally conscious options. So given insects’ glowing list of credentials, it’s not too much of a stretch of the imagination to envisage them gracing dinner tables sooner rather than later.
Anteater’s fare has already had some juicy successes, serving up ant canapes at the screening of Ants on a Shrimp: Noma in Tokyo at the New Zealand international Film Festival earlier this year and already stocking restaurants around the country. According to Bex, the public response has been fantastic, with nobody yet refusing to try some tasty ants and those who did agreeing that they were pleasantly surprised by their unique and complex flavour.
Partnering up with established businesses and chefs to get insects under punters’ noses is only the first step though, in the long term Bex also hopes to be able to find out how to best utilise the business model to help feed people around the world. She hopes to adapt existing insect-farming models to produce kitset farms which can be sent to residents of impoverished regions and allow them to cheaply and efficiently produce protein sources at home.
As is becoming increasingly clear, the time for change is now. Science is telling us we need to reconsider the way we are doing things in order to maintain some hope of a sustainable future. Where we live, what we do and what we eat needs to be revolutionised and if anything, we are on the precipice of a massive opportunity to change things for the better. So why not swap out a couple of servings per week of chicken or beef for some locusts (with a crackling-like texture and nice prawn flavour) or some hu-hu grubs (peanut butter-y goodness)? The future of the human race may indeed depend on our willingness to do as Indian Jones would do and look past the eek factor.
For those in New Zealand who want to try Anteater’s products, they are currently on the menus at Mexico (nationwide), Antoines (Auckland), Roots (Lyttleton) and Vault 21 (Dunedin) with a number of special events coming up through the back end of this year. Head here to give them your thoughts on everything bugs in a quick survey. Keep an eye on the Facebook page for updates from the Anteater team.
Image credits, left to right: Coverjunkie.com, Jessalyn Aaland, Kevin Bothua, Hannes Hummel