Sandhoppers for breakfast? It’s just not cricket, suggests Damien Enright.
TONS of seaweed, uprooted in the deep and carried up the beach by Storm Lorenzo, still lie shining in the sun.
Stranded above the regular high-tide line on a storm beach on West Cork’s Seven Heads, their glistening colours and curious forms catch the eye. We come across ball-shaped holdfasts of furbelows looking like the brains of extra-terrestrials, belts of glistening sugar kelp with white, sugar-sweet powder already forming as they dry, blood-red sea beech, dimpled dabberlocks and strings of thong weeds.
Also, the empty shells of casualties, cockles, and razor fish ripped out of their burrows and cast ashore.
Over this bonanza, millions of sand hoppers cavort and gorge themselves. Like shrimps and prawns, they are crustaceans, though minuscule, and I wonder could they be converted into food themselves, feeding not only the shore birds but us humans. The idea isn’t so far fetched.
If global population reaches 9.7 billion by 2050, as predicted, nothing that can be processed into human provender is out of bounds.
Crickets are currently the leading insect candidates for the future menus of mankind. Already avant garde and adventurous gourmets savour wholesome insects side-dishes to add protein to their salad fare.
Esoteric or futuristic restaurants in the big European and American cities are competing to concoct the tastiest insect main courses and desserts.
Would you eat crickets? Crickets crispy, salted, sugared, chocolate-covered, or spicy, refried crickets, crickets on the grill, crickets on skewers and dipped in taco sauce.
Deciding to give them a try, I Goggled ‘edible insect stockists in Ireland’ and found Fallon & Bryne’s Gourmet Food Hall and Restaurant in Dublin’s Rathmines.
The insects they sold came in attractive packages and looked good; I phoned to order a punnet of its grasshoppers with Greek spices.
I was disappointed to learn that these and all their insect offerings had been taken off the shelves by order of the Irish Food Authority. The authority had, no doubt, our wellbeing at heart;
however, the proscription seemed excessively conservative given that sale of packaged insects for human consumption had been passed by health authorities in the EU countries, the US, Canada etc.
We’re never going to add these nutritious, ecologically-friendly supplement to our diet at this rate. We remain a conservative country, even in modern times. How unfortunate that we had no insect-protein culture when the potato failed. Farming, say, crickets requires 30C to 40C and humidity of 40% to 70%, conditions which are ambient in Asia and Africa. Here, ecologically generated electricity will make insect farming acceptable; such enterprises are already successfully in train elsewhere in Europe and in north America.
Will things have to get entirely desperate before the west exploits the potential of insect cuisine? Insects are said to be as tasty as meat.
While taste is not the criterion, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation is promoting the use of insect food supplements as a viable answer to food shortages now and in the future. They are already life-savers for millions who live in poverty, or are undernourished as a result of wars or famines.
Entomophagy (insect-eating) is as old as history. Today, two billion humans supplement their daily diet with insects. About 2,000 species are eaten. Many species are ground into flour for baking or adding to vegetable dishes.
It is easy to understand why ecologists see them as a hope for the future as populations grow ever larger and land ever scarcer.
Insects can contain up to 80% protein; crickets about 65%. They also contain chitin and fibres that benefit gut health and all of the essential amino acids that human health requires. They are high in fatty acids, calcium and vitamin B12. Some species deliver an equal or greater amount of iron than beef.
Cricket farming produces one pound of protein at a cost of 1 gallon of water; beef farming produces one pound of protein at a cost of 2,000 gallons in irrigating crops for feed, in care and in eventual butchering.
The food requirements of cricket (vegetables, fruit, nuts) is minimal and farming requires minimal space. No forests need be burned to make grasslands, no pastures desertified or poisoned by chemicals and over-use.
Emissions of greenhouse gas is minimal; today, emissions from livestock outweigh those from motor transport. In the mid 1970s, I recall seeing a man in a street market in Thailand carrying a flat circular basket with comatose locusts laid on their backs in concentric circles. I didn’t buy any but with what I know now, I’d happily give them a try.
Overcoming our western food prejudices is not only a wholesome thought, but a practical one too.