Are Insects The Future Of Food?

Nov 17, 2016

Part 5 of the TED Radio Hour episode The Food We Eat

About Marcel Dicke's TED Talk

Entomologist Marcel Dicke wants us to reconsider our relationship with insects, promoting bugs as a tasty — and ecologically sound — alternative to meat in an increasingly hungry world.

About Marcel Dicke

Marcel Dicke is a professor at the University of Wageningen in The Netherlands. He investigates the ecology of insect-plant interactions, and researches the viability of insects as food.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

GUY RAZ, HOST:

So let's get just a little bit more creative about what's on our plates because that's what Marcel Dicke does.

MARCEL DICKE: OK. My name is Marcel Dicke.

RAZ: And you are in Wah-ga-nin-gen (ph)? Where is Vah-ga-nin-gen (ph)?

DICKE: Wageningen - it's very difficult for you to pronounce.

RAZ: Yeah. (Attempting pronunciation) - right, I can't do that, yeah.

DICKE: Wageningen is in the center of the Netherlands.

RAZ: And in the center of the Netherlands, about once a week, Marcel and his wife have what some might consider an unusual ingredient with dinner.

DICKE: And it's something that we put, for instance, over a rice dish or in the vegetables or in the salad.

RAZ: What do you buy, like, which ones?

DICKE: We have four species that are for sale in the Netherlands. That is locusts, crickets, mealworms and buffalo worms.

RAZ: Yup - bugs, which, for the record, do not taste like chicken.

DICKE: Quite often, they're a bit nutty.

RAZ: And you buy them alive?

DICKE: No. We buy them, at this moment, freeze-dried. You can bake them, or you can fry them, or you can cook them.

RAZ: Marcel Dicke is an entomologist. He studies - and eats - bugs. And he's actually written a whole insect cookbook with dishes like...

DICKE: Pancakes with mealworms.

RAZ: And for lunch...

DICKE: A quiche with mealworms in it.

RAZ: And of course, dessert.

DICKE: Chocolate topped with locusts.

RAZ: OK. Those dishes might be a little unusual. But eating insects actually isn't because a lot of people around the world do it every day.

DICKE: It's about 2 billion people on this planet, so that's about 28 percent...

RAZ: Wow.

DICKE: ...About 30 percent that do that on a regular basis.

RAZ: Even if you're not eating whole crickets or caterpillars, you are still eating insects. You just don't always know it.

DICKE: Every one of us eats insects. It's impossible to not eat insects.

RAZ: Even if we don't want to eat insects?

DICKE: Even if you don't want to eat insects. And I'll give you an example.

RAZ: OK. Yeah, please.

DICKE: Tomato ketchup? Now and then, there will be one tomato that has a worm in it. And, well, not all of those will be spotted. And so a part of them will end up in the ketchup.

RAZ: Marcel says chocolate, peanut butter, noodles - pretty much any processed food has a small dose of insects. And in the not-too-distant future, he says that we all might need to eat bugs out of necessity. Marcel Dicke explains why on the TED stage.

(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)

DICKE: The human population is growing very rapidly. It will grow to about 9 billion in 2050. How are we going to feed this world? We have a third more mouths to feed, but we need agricultural production increase of 70 percent. And that's especially because this world population is increasing, not only in number but we're also getting wealthier. And anyone who gets wealthier starts to eat more meat.

A meat effect is something that costs a lot of our agricultural production because, at the moment, 70 percent of all our agricultural land is being used to produce livestock. That's not only the land where the livestock is walking and feeding, but it's also other areas where the feed is being produced and being transported. We can increase it a bit at the expense of rainforests, but there's a limitation very soon. And if you remember that we need

DICKE: to increase agricultural production by 70 percent, we're not going to make it that way. We could much better change from meat to insects.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RAZ: So you see insects not only as a good alternative to meat but as the future of food?

DICKE: Absolutely.

RAZ: Really?

DICKE: Insects are an excellent alternative because they need much less land than producing regular livestock. And livestock is so inefficient because for 1 kilogram of beef that you will get on your plate, you need about 25 kilograms of feed. Insects are doing a much better job.

You need only about 2.2 kilograms of feed for 1 kilogram of cricket meat. So if we are going to be forced to produce food in a more efficient way, then switching from regular meat and livestock to insects is a very logical thing to do.

(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)

DICKE: Now, there's a big if, of course, and that is if insects produce meat that is of good quality. Well, after all kinds of analyses and in terms of protein, of fat, of vitamins, it's very good. In fact, it's comparable to anything that we eat as meat at the moment. And even in terms of calories, it's very good. One kilogram of grasshoppers has the same amount of calories as 10 hot dogs or six Big Macs.

(LAUGHTER)

DICKE: So we have to get used to the idea of eating insects. Some might think, well, they're not yet available. Well, they are. There's entrepreneurs in the Netherlands that produce them. And maybe by 2020, you'll buy them just knowing that this is an insect that you're going to eat.

So why not eat insects? You should try it yourself. A couple of years ago, we had 1,750 peoples all together on a square in Wageningen town, and they ate insects at the same moment. And this was still big, big news. I think soon it will not be big news anymore when we all eat insects because it's just a normal way of doing.

RAZ: Professor Dicke, I see one pretty significant problem with all of this.

DICKE: What's the problem that you see?

RAZ: It's gross, they're disgusting. How could you eat an insect?

DICKE: Yeah, that's the thing that comes to mind most often. And if you rethink it very seriously, you look at an insect - you take a locust or a cricket and you take away the wings and the legs and then you put that next to a nice shrimp - if you look at them, they're basically the same. And even from a biological point of view, they're very close relatives. And so if you love to eat shrimp, then why would you not love to eat locusts, which in some countries even are called the sky shrimps.

RAZ: I mean, I so want to make this work in my life and in the lives of the people listening. But - (laughter) but I can't even - I'm trying to be mindful and imagining biting into a locust. And it's just - I can't get there.

DICKE: Well, then for you at this stage, it might be an alternative to eat pasta in which the crickets have been ground and they're distributed into the pasta.

RAZ: Yeah, yeah.

DICKE: So you won't see anything...

RAZ: Yeah, yeah.

DICKE: ...But you'll eat a fortified pasta with cricket meal. I understand that it takes a while to sort of get over this. But when the first sushi was being on the markets in the United States, eating raw fish was not something well accepted. Now you can eat sushi anywhere.

RAZ: Yeah.

DICKE: So there's all kinds of foods that maybe initially might not have the odds, right, but still make it.

RAZ: So if - if actually, you know, let's say we could get over this sort of cultural aversion in the West to eating lots of insects and let's say that we just ate so many insects that it really reduced our consumption of chicken and beef and pork and, you know, lamb, what would happen?

DICKE: I think we would have a world population that would be able to sustain everyone with animal proteins. And it would ideally be also so that we would eat less meat. But it would be good if we at least replaced part of it by new meats. And with this, I think, what we would see is that our dinner table would be much more diverse. And I think you shouldn't look at it as how do we overcome this gross factor? No. How can we make life even more enjoyable by having a more variety of what we eat?

RAZ: Marcel Dicke, he's the head of the laboratory of entomology at - let me try this - Wageningen University in the Netherlands. You can see his entire talk at ted.com.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HAM 'N' EGGS")

PHIFE DAWG: (Singing) Drop the beat so I can talk about my favorite tastings, the food that is the everlasting. See, I'm not fasting, I'm gobbling, like a dog-gone turkey. Beef jerkey, Slim Jims I eat sometimes. I like lemon and limes. And if not that, I get the roti and the soursop. Sit back, relax, listen to some hip-hop.

Q-TIP: Gum drops and gummy bears tease my eyes, a sight for sore ones and some bore pies. And other goodies that are filled with goop, with fried apple roots. Delectable delights controls my appetite.

RAZ: Hey, thanks for listening to our show about food this week. If you want to find out more about who was on it, go to ted.npr.org. To see hundreds more TED Talks, check out ted.com or the TED app on our production staff at NPR includes Jeff Rogers, Brent Baughman, Meghan Keane, Neva Grant, Sanaz Meshkinpour, Casey Herman and Rachel Faulkner, with help from Daniel Shugin. Our internet is Camilo Garzon. Our partners at TED are Chris Anderson, Kelly Stoetzel and Janet Lee. I'm Guy Raz, and you've been listening to ideas worth spreading right here on the TED Radio Hour from NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.