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Grasshopper burgers are on the menu

Insect burgers will soon be on sale in Switzerland. But they may not be for everyone

Coop Switzerland posted this photo on Twitter. The Coop will be partnering with Essento to offer insect-based burgers.

In Sunday school we kids were taught that John the Baptist ate grasshoppers and honey. “How gross,” we thought. We didn’t know that John the Baptist was way ahead of his time.

Folks find it repelling when I tell them of the piles of dried caterpillars and grasshoppers for sale at Zambian food markets. Well, while better known as a continent behind the developed world, for once Africa is ahead of us. Insects and caterpillars — and fly and moth larvae! — are the food of the future. The very near future too.

Coop Switzerland just announced the launching of a new line of food products made from insects — the insect burger and insectballs. I thought I wasn’t seeing right. I’m getting used to all the vegan, not just vegetarian, products on grocery store shelves. I almost feel I have to apologize for enjoying a good piece of red meat. This insect trend isn’t just about poor animals that get killed so that I can enjoy dinner though. I’m told it’s about saving our environment, about the future of our earth for our children, about being able to produce enough food for a growing global population.

So I did some research on the Internet. Next time you have a grasshopper infestation, think about them as free food. Grasshoppers contain between 15 and 20 per cent protein, depending on the type and stage they are in. They’re supposed to be crunchy and tasty if fried. If it’s protein you’re after though, thick fat caterpillars, like the ones on the market in Zambia are king.

One hundred grams of caterpillars provide 20 per cent protein and lots of iron and vitamin B, according to Charles Bryand, “How entomophagy works,” at Insects and caterpillars require at least four times fewer resources to produce than meat. As the world population continues to expand, I can see how that could become more important. I even found a site that teaches you how to grow them yourself.

But are they safe for chickens?

On December 16, 2016 the Swiss Department of Food Security announced that the new food security law coming into effect on May 1, 2017 declares grasshoppers, mealworms and crickets safe for consumption by and sale to human beings.

While insects are deemed safe for humans to eat, at the same time the Swiss parliament was given the mandate by the government to set up research projects investigating the safety of insects and larvae for animal feed. Isn’t research usually done on animals first then on humans? The discrepancy has to do with the fact that Switzerland is fairly autonomous in its food safety laws, but when it comes to animal feed it must comply with European Union laws. The EU won’t be releasing insects and worms for the consummation of animals for some time. There are too many technicalities within the existing laws. In those, worms and insects are still treated as pests, for example as signs of poor hygiene in butcher shops.

So in the meantime the Swiss will join the Zambians in enjoying a feed of caterpillars and grasshoppers. Our cats and dogs will too, but our chickens may not have worms in their feed. Should they be forbidden to pull them out of the grass too? Now we’re in a quandary. Chickens with access to grass (and worms) demand a higher price…

For me, larvae conjure up images from my childhood, of hordes of thick fat white fly larvae crawling around the not-quite-burned-enough carcass of the cow Dad butchered in summer. I’ve decided that I will turn vegetarian and cook with lentils and chickpeas as the Indians do before I will eat larvae. I’ve tasted cold fried caterpillars and wasn’t duly impressed. On the other hand, I’ve often thought that grasshoppers fried crunchy with honey would be worth a try! But as long as there still is good and affordable meat on the market, I intend to enjoy it.

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