THE FACT OF THE MATTER
My psychologist friend from Magherafelt has invited me around to his place on Christmas morning. He says his good lady is trying out some new hors d’oeuvres with the port and Prosecco.
Dried grasshoppers and dried yellow mealworm — larva from the Tenebrio Molitor beetle to you and me.
I kid you not.
The grasshoppers are the second ‘novel food’ to be approved by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) which gave the green light earlier this year to your everyday dried yellow mealworm. The watchdog says so-called ‘migratory locusts’ — Locusta migratoria, or grasshoppers — can now be eaten in frozen, dried or powdered form. The legs and wings, I gather, are removed in the frozen and dried varieties.
The EFSA says the insects have a high protein content and are “safe under the proposed uses and use levels”.
However, my psychologist friend says I might want to pass on the grasshoppers on Christmas morning if I am allergic to crustaceans, dust mites and molluscs — or if I’m gluten intolerant.
Europe made the announcement following an application by Dutch firm Fair Insects BV, with its parent company Protix saying the ‘new snacks’ are “a promising ingredient to achieving a circular food system in balance with nature”. Protix also manufactures crickets, mealworm and flies as snacks for us humans.
“It is up to consumers to decide whether they want to eat insects or not,” the Commission says. “Insects as an alternate source of protein is not new and they are regularly eaten in many parts of the world.”
Apparently, the global edible insects market was estimated at close to €873 million last year. Well, you live and learn, I say.
The irony is not lost on me that the new snack foods come in the same week that a UN report tells us that more than one billion people, one in seven of the world’s population, are starving and that we in the First World annually waste a staggering one third of all food purchased.
And another thing: we think nothing of eating veal or venison, pheasant or partridge, rabbit or rooster — indeed, anything that once was a breathing entity and mam or dad to a couple of kids. Anything but, eh, dried grasshoppers …
I remember as a teenager going to the art-house cinema to see a movie called Mondo Bizarro — about bizarre goings-on in a bizarre world — and seeing people dining at a long table somewhere in Morocco or Algiers. To the right of each person sat at the table was a small monkey strapped into a neck brace. Still alive, until their would-be consumer caved in their skulls with a large nutcracker and scooped out their still-warm brains and gobbled the lot down. With ne’er a hiccup.
There’s no accounting for taste.
I have never eaten monkey’s brains, nor have I any desire to do so. Sheep’s yes, and I have eaten my fair share of other animals in time. I have eaten, while travelling, lion, crocodile (excellent), warthog (wonderful), kudu, ostrich and buffalo. Frogs, snails, the aforementioned cicada, dung beetle and honeypot ants. Flying ants roasted with salt and lime and mopping worms which are dearer than beef in some places. Oh, and praying mantis. I never saw the little green guy pray so hard as I plucked him from his bush in Zimbabwe once and sent him straight down the hatch. It was for a dare and I have lived with the guilt.
Speaking of Christmas, reindeer is one of the leanest meats and compares favourably with fish when it comes to omega-3 and essential fatty acids.
“Reindeer meat is very healthy,” Ammar Eltayeb Ali Hassan, a PhD candidate at the University of Trams in Norway, tells me in an email. “It contains more than double the values of some nutrients than other meats, and is comparable to chicken in fat.”
I guess when it comes to food and individual tastes, it’s horses (sorry!) for courses. Despite all the culinary delights I have downed down the years, at the end of the day it’s hard to beat a good old smoked cod and chips — straight out of the bag. No dried grasshopper would keep me from that little post-pub indulgence.
Meanwhile, I think I just might give my psychologist’s house a miss on Christmas morning. I was never a big fan of his good lady, and, anyways, I prefer a packet of ‘salt ‘n’ vinegar’ with my drop of port…