"Delightful Insects" by Dr. V.B. Meyer-Rochow

We are very happy to share with you our first guest post. And for a first one... It's someone ! We are lucky to share Dr V. Benno Meyer-Rochow´s essay. But first of all we want to describe him in a few words. For his friend Florian, he has always been a role model with his ideas well ahead of his time and with his adventurous mindset. 

Dr. Meyer-Rochow is a New-Zealand scientist and adventurer who travelled and taught all around the world. To name but a few places, from Papua-New Guinea, Antarctica, to Japan, North-Korea, Bolivia and Brazil to Finland and hundreds of more places, He is hooked to scientific endeavour (and has a lot of fun with it!). To date he has already published more than 400 studies. And he's one of the real pioneers in the field and wrote his first scientific paper on edible insects in 1973 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition followed by an article in 1975 titled "Can insects help to ease the problem of world food shortage?" for the journl "Search" of the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science.

His other passion is writing short stories and bio-essays and you can perhaps  imagine how many interesting stories and anecdotes he must have gathered since his firsts research ventures as a high school pupil in 1962. We will share with you some of his incredible stories on a regular basis and if you want to read more of them, you can follow his weekly bio-essay on his blog.

Although Bodenheimer (1951) in Israel, Bergier (1941) in France and before them Holt (1885) in the UK had written about the widespread use of insects as human food, I was probably the first in 1975, who suggested in a publication for journal “Search” of the Australia New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science that food insects could play a role in global food security. At that time my views were ridiculed and the article was considered a joke by many. But now 50 years later, insects as a food for humans have arrived: restaurants that serve insects exist in some of our cities and big international organizations invest time and money to develop this “resource”; people who traditionally consumed insects are no longer pitied and looked down upon, but fawned over and visited to disclose information on traditional insect uses.

Worldwide more than 2,000 species of insects are considered edible- and not just that: insects, with few exceptions, are highly nutritious consisting of easily digestible fats and valuable proteins. They contain relatively small amounts of carbohydrates, but significant amounts of minerals and vitamins and although their chitin cuticle may be difficult to digest, chitin provides roughage for the gut and is credited with anti-neoplasmic activity. Some species like crickets or mealworms can easily be bred in captivity requiring a fraction of the space larger animals like cows, sheep and pigs need. Many of the edible insects could be reared on food useless to humans, representing waste.

The biblical ‘manna’ which sustained the “Children of Israel” during their 40 year track to reach Canaan was but the sugary secretion of a scaly insect and to this day locusts are considered ‘kosher’. Some of my friends go a step further and (in disagreement with some rabbis) argue that locusts stand for insects generally and therefore all insects should be considered kosher. Fact is that in tropical countries insects occur in such numbers that it is easy to see how it makes more sense to use rather than to destroy them with pesticides and traps, just to save some plants, which from a nutritionist’s view are less valuable than the insects they’ve been saved from! In fact, often edible insects are far more expensive than traditional meats and therefore anything else but an ‘emergency food’ for the poor.

Fifty years ago I recommended to an adventurous traveller to try tasting insects in countries in which they were then still available as food, for example Thailand, Laos, or in Japan as “inago” (grasshoppers slightly fried in soy sauce). Although the grasshoppers look as if they would hop off your plate at any time, they are actually delicious and healthy.

Insects as human food undoubtedly have a future, for they need not be served looking like insects but can be turned into a paste, a sausage, or become part of a salad. Who, for instance, sees the pig in a “hot dog” or “frankfurter”? Who thinks of the goose when enjoying a “foie gras”? Who gives it a thought that by slurping up an oyster a live creature is being ingested? And who would have predicted the phenomenal popularity of “sushi” these days, when earlier you could have heard some Europeans cry “I’m not a cat”? I am convinced that I was right with my prediction in 1975 that insects can help to ease global future food shortages. However, while insect consuming people are no longer seen as poor and starving and not having anything better to eat than insects (the view held by many of western cultural background 50 years ago), the business of turning food insects into profit is increasingly sidelining the very countries we in the west have learned from   - and that I find a little sad.

Dr. V. Benno Meyer-Rochow