All the latest on entomophagy in Europe. Almost inevitable, says the FAO.

I can still see the horrified expression on the face of Kate Capshaw in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”: It was 1984 and Steven Spielberg’s future wife, beset by rising waves of nausea, was present at the lunch of a satisfied Sikh, watching him prise open the carapace of a huge black beetle and suck it with relish, as if it were an oyster.

More than 30 years later, entomophagy – the consumption of insects as food – is no longer a strange custom of a far-off land like Kashmir, but a daily fact in the lives of over 2 billion people in Asia, Africa and Central America.

We eat more than 1900 species of edible insects: crickets, locusts, flour, mealworms. Beetles, hymenoptera, flies. And not only is entomophagy an established habit in many areas, it risks (?) becoming a necessity.

According to FAO estimates, by 2050 the world population will be 9 billion. Our planet’s resources will be in ever shorter supply, less agricultural land will be available, our waterways will be polluted, the creation of pastures will cause deforestation, all compounded by global warming. With 800 million people already suffering from hunger now, how will we manage? Insects are one of the possible answers that food experts and nutritionists all over the world have been examining for some time.

The numbers show that breeding insects makes economic and ecological sense: it takes 2 kg of feed to breed 1 kg of locusts, whereas 1 kg of beef takes 8. Ten litres of water are needed to quench the thirst of 1 kg of locusts, compared with 15,000 litres for 1 kg of meat.

It could hardly be any clearer.

So why aren’t we munching on locust kebabs, cricket meatballs, caterpillar steaks?

One of the problems highlighted by the majority of entomophagy studies and marketing surveys is our cultural attitude to eating insects. In short, the deep and instinctive disgust we feel about seeing an insect on the plate.

It is no coincidence that most insect-based products on the market (in the EU states where they are allowed) are sold in the form of dry products or flours, that is, as food that in no way suggests the idea of an insect.

Another problem relates to the legislative difficulties over insect consumption. Currently the EU has just one legal reference, community regulation 258/97, which describes insects as novel food, i.e., as food whose consumption cannot be quantitatively assessed. Consequently the regulation is not binding on the member states, its application is voluntary.

An opinion of the European Food Safety Authority highlights another of the difficulties that could delay the introduction of trays of jolly steamed caterpillars together with our favourite seitan. There is a lack of epidemiological research into consumption of insects.

Under European law, declaring that two billion people regularly eat insects is not enough to make them safe. Specific research is lacking on allergens, antibiotic resistance, animal welfare. Entomophagy is a fascinating and rationally desirable frontier, but it presents a series of technical difficulties.

Even so, a number of companies have won themselves a share of the market (especially in the segment already attentive to sustainability and food safety) in countries where insect consumption is allowed.

One such company is Crickè, a British firm that markets cricket crackers (although the cricket flour content is actually no more than 15{f94e4705dd4b92c5eea9efac2f517841c0e94ef186bd3a34efec40b3a1787622}) and pasta made from the same flour. It has to be said that the cost of these products is still prohibitive for mass consumption: 100 g of crackers sell for 3.99 euro.

Italbugs is an Italian company set up during the Milan Expo, which produced the first panettone made from silkworm flour (the company is now based in the Netherlands).

Then there is Essento, a Swiss company that produces and sells hamburgers and meatballs made from crickets and locusts.

A new community regulation will come into force by the end of 2018 to harmonise the possibility of insect consumption within the EU. We shall see whether this will pave the way for entomophagy in Italy. Who knows, perhaps those delicious red prawns from Mazara or Santa Margherita will be joined by tasty brown locusts from Monte Casciano, crickets from the Itria Valley or silkworms from Campocroce di Mogliano.