We cannot help but wonder which type of salt may be considered most appropriate for the new menu items coming soon to a table near you; but seriously, get ready:
With meat prices expected to soar, agricultural entrepreneurs believe invertebrate livestock can provide the protein we need. But will the mainstream ever be ready to eat mealworms?
It could be the tumbledown, moss-covered drystone walls marking the boundaries of land that has been farmed since the arrival of the Norse settlers. Or the gentle meanderings of the river Eden through the shadows of the Cumbrian fells. Or the proximity of the Settle-Carlisle railway line. All in all, Thringill Farm seems an unlikely setting for a 21st-century food revolution.
Yet just past the 17th-century farmhouse, an incongruous sound offers a clue of unusual goings-on. From behind the large wooden door of a heavily insulated room in the corner of an outbuilding comes the distinctive rhythmic chirping of crickets. The mating call, more usually heard in the Mediterranean than in the Pennines, reveals the location of the UK’s first edible-insect farm.
Inside the room, the temperature jumps noticeably. Some 70 large plastic storage containers are lined up on wooden shelves, three high to the ceiling, each containing house crickets (Acheta domesticus). Dressed in black jeans, sweater and trainers, there is something bee-like about entomologist Howard Bell as he moves rapidly from box to box, checking on the progress of his half a million or so charges.
“I’m quite excited at the moment because the population is growing by about 60,000 a day,” says Bell, whose family have owned Thringill, just south of the ancient market town of Kirkby Stephen, since 1963. “We’ll be around a million in 10 days and by the summer we’ll have a standing army of 2m.”
That might seem like a lot of bugs. And you might think that most people’s squeamishness about the idea of eating them would be a disincentive to farming them. But with at least five other insect farms either in development or under consideration in England, these pioneering mini livestock could soon be joined by a great many more. Some believe this marks the birth of a new industry that not only offers struggling farmers a new income stream, but also could help put our diets on a healthier, more sustainable footing.
First, the bad news, of which there is plenty. By 2050, the number of human mouths to feed is predicted to rise above 9 billion, up from about 7.4 billion today, and demand for meat is expected to grow by 44% on 2014, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
Inconveniently, the planet will stay the same size. The livestock sector already uses about a third of Earth’s croplands to grow feed, and a third of all fish landed from the seas, while generating close to a fifth of our greenhouse-gas emissions – more than the world’s planes, cars and other forms of transport combined. Meat prices are predicted to rocket. Henning Steinfeld, of the FAO, has said beef will become “the caviar of the future”…
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