Eating Insects: An Interview with Ben Reade

11 Jul 2014

In 2013, the United Nations issued a report stating that eating insects could be a solution for combating global hunger and reducing malnutrition. Among others they named grasshoppers and ants as a hugely underutilized food source for people around the world…

According to statistics there are 1600 species of edible insects worldwide that are very easy to breed. As the topic gains increasing attention, many notable chefs have come up with sophisticated recipes and combinations to encourage the rest of the world to use and consider insects as an alternative source of protein.


One such chef is Ben Reade, who has been around the world in search of the best edible insects. Ben will be presenting his findings at our event Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre in October. We caught up with him to find out how a Scottish chef (and former UNISG student) found himself in such peculiar territory…


How did you start cooking with insects?


After university I decided to go to the Nordic Food Lab in Copenhagen, where I worked as Head of Culinary Research and Development. The lab is a non-profit organization created by two star Michelin chef Rene Redzepi. They were carrying out research into insects, so I just kind of fell into it.


What do you think are the cultural factors that influence whether people eat insects or not?


In reality there are many traditions that advocate eating insects, even here in Europe. A good example might be Casu Marzu Cheese from Sardinia (a type of cheese made with the larvae of a fly). There are other examples too. The point is that people tend not to be so open-minded when confronted with exotic foods. Humans have always eaten insects, it’s very natural.


Local cultures are not taken into consideration very often. In Uganda for example, in order to make corn more protein rich, a scheme was launched to create a new cross breed. However, this new form of cultivation risked damaging termites’ nests and an important source of protein for the Ugandans. I think we often practice this kind of reductive science, which fails to consider the traditions of peoples’ places.


Just how environmentally sustainable are insects as a food source?


All the European companies selling insects grow them in captivity and raise them using intensive methods. There are many planned projects around the world that are looking at using insects as a food source. Many people believe in the sustainability of insects but it’s not really the insects that are sustainable, it is the environments in which they grow. For example, it is much better to breed insects in their natural habitats rather than raising them in intensive habitats.


Many companies selling insects sell them at very high prices in spite of their supposed cheapness as a food source. Why?


In the countries where insects are eaten they are normally considered a luxury, and are often more expensive than fish and chicken. You also have to take into account that a cow will give you milk, shoes, clothes and fertilizer before it is killed and consumed.


Are insects safe as a food source?


There are risks, just like there are with any other product. If I collect wild insects there is the risk that they have eaten pesticides, and then there are plenty of insects that are toxic by nature.


What is the strangest thing you have ever eaten?


A hamburger that was probably made with about 200 different types of meat. That’s just not natural! It made me ill.


And the best thing you’ve ever eaten?


Termites really are delicious.

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