food / travel

This Culinary Movement Has Legs: Insects On The Menu

Worms, crickets and the like are showing up at fine European eateries. But this is not just a gastronomical fad, as population growth means finding new sources of protein in unlikely critters.

David Faure's "Small Square Peas and ecume of Carrots, Mealworms"
David Faure's "Small Square Peas and ecume of Carrots, Mealworms"
Audrey Garric

PARISEntomophagy — the consumption of insects as food — is on the rise in Europe. Amsterdam, London, Berlin and Copenhagen have all embraced the trend, and now insects have one (feeble) leg on the plates of Parisians in particular and the French in general. In mid-October, a Paris bar began serving grasshoppers, worms and other bugs. On the Mediterranean coast, in Nice, Michelin-starred chef David Faure has launched a brand new and somehow disconcerting menu featuring fried foie gras with crunchy crickets.

Until recently, the consumption of insects on the old continent was limited to a very few. But it has spread lately, now reaching a much larger public. Hoping to push the trend forward still, food experts are organizing themselves. The International Insect Center, an organization of 15 companies and universities, was opened recently in the Netherlands to advance the production and use of insects for human and animal consumption.

“We are creating a European industry for insects,” says an enthusiastic Cédric Auriol. It’s still a niche market, but it’s developing fast.” Since 2011, the businessman has been heading a startup from Toulouse called Micronutris that claims to be the only company in Europe to produce insects for the sole purpose of human alimentation. Crickets and mealworms are grown in a 650-square-meter facility and reach maturity in eight to 12 weeks.

The company has grown quickly and plans to continue. While it currently produces one ton of insects every month, it expects to reach 10 tons a month next year. “For now, we only sell to the restaurant in Nice and on the Internet,” Auriol says. “But we are about to sign new contracts, and we should be selling energy bars made out of insect flour to supermarkets by the end of the year.”

A critical food source

Afton Halloran, a consultant for the Edible Insects Program at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, says this movement isn’t just some gastronomical flight of fancy. “What’s at stake is to be able to feed nine billion inhabitants on the planet in 2050 and to be able to face the demand of protein, which is supposed to double.” Her agency estimates there are 1,900 edible insect species and encourages entomophagy to fight world hunger. There are many advantages to this “mini-cattle.” Not only do insects have higher protein and mineral content than meat, but raising them also requires fewer resources. Producing one kilo of beef requires eight kilos of food, but you just need two kilos to produce the same amount of insects.

In which case, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization says that traditional farmed animals should also be eating these little creatures. Two European research programs are already working on the matter. One of them, a project called Désirable, a group of nine state-owned laboratories and two companies with a budget of one million euros ($1.37 million), was launched in January to develop an insect refinery. The goal is to produce flours and nutrients made out of mealworms and black soldier flies by the end of 2016. These would then be used to feed fish and chicken.

“Nobody has yet been able to produce insects on an industrial scale,” says Jean-Gabriel Levon, co-founder and head of Ynsect, one of the two companies involved in the project. “We first need to understand better their physiology and their needs, as well as master automatization.” Samir Mezdour, researcher for AgroParisTech and one of the project’s coordinators, goes further: “The goal is to find out whether this kind of production is technically feasible and, more importantly, whether it is economically profitable.”

Indeed, bugs are expensive — between 500 and 1,000 euros per kilo ($680-$1,360). Restaurant owners won‘t be getting rich from their insect dishes anytime soon. David Faure sells his “alternative food” menu for 59 euros ($80), “with almost no gross profit.” As for the start-up Micronutritis, Cédric Auriol admits that his turnover is marginal, just enough to “pay for the research and development.”

But the main constraint to eating insects is neither price nor a skeptical public still unfamiliar with the product. The biggest problem is the legal grey area. According to European regulations, new human food sources must be assessed by the member states and by the European Food Safety Authority before they are allowed to be sold. That is unless it can be proven that the consumption of insects was significant before 1997. In that case, there’s no need to obtain authorization.

But to this day, there is no such proof, and no authorization has been given either. “We are debating on the law’s field of application. A new text is being drafted,” the European Commission explains. As for the introduction of insects in animal food, the regulation on meat and bonemeal excludes it, except for fish. The legislation is currently being revised.

In France, in the absence of specific legislation, the same doubts prevail. The Agriculture Ministry acknowledges that “selling insects for human consumption is not authorized but tolerated.” Cédric Auriol and David Faure are both making the most of the situation, and hoping to have the last bite.

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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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