So commodious and pleasant are the living quarters at The Edible Bug Shop’s bug farm at Sydney’s Wetherill Park, even your everyday household pest is looking to take up residence. With a state-of-the-art temperature and humidity controlled environment and an organic-only menu, you can’t blame them.
But owner of the 1600-square-metre facility, Skye Blackburn, is having none of it. There are many controls in place, she says, to keep out unwanted pests and maintain the perfect growing environment for her edible bugs – meal worms, crickets, ants, silkworms, scorpions, grasshoppers and the wood, not everyday kitchen, cockroach. As for the organic diet, it makes sense. “Pesticides used in growing fruit and vegetables are designed to kill pests,” she says.
When Skye, who studied both entomology and food science at university, started the business in 2007 it was with a range of novelty items, such as the pastel lollypops with a visible ant or mealworm embedded in it. Eight years on and the novelty has started to wear off, giving way to bug powders that fortify protein balls and tea.
In 2013, The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations released a report saying that eating insects could reduce world hunger. Not only are insects high in protein and many minerals, but farming also them consumes fewer resources than livestock.
More than 1,500 species of insects are known to be consumed by humans from over 300 ethnic groups in 113 countries. Most of this entomophagy, the practice of eating insects, including arachnids and myriapods, occurs in central and southern Africa, Asia, Australia (the witchetty grub and more) and Latin America, and can provide five to 10 percent of the annual animal protein consumed by various indigenous groups as well as fat and calories, and various vitamins (A, Band D) and minerals (iron, calcium). (Edible insects and other invertebrates in Australia: future prospects, a paper by Alan Louey Yen).
There’s a host of reasons why farming edible bugs is inciting so much excitement. Among them: feed conversion is highly efficient (more protein produced with less compared to animal and fish production); insects for food can be fed waste products; few insects produce methane therefore fewer greenhouse gases; and insect production consumes less water. The biggest hurdle for the edible bug market in the West is the ‘yuck’ factor but you can take comfort in the fact that, when you line up for lunch next Thursday, you’re already a seasoned entomophagist. We’ve all eaten bugs, at least 250g annually, usually accidentally. Insects find their way onto our foodstuffs no matter how vigilant we are and interestingly, if you eat organic, your rate of insect consumption is higher.
If you need further assurance, approach the prospect, as would a gourmand, comparing the subtle flavour of the crickets with the strong coffee bean flavour of the roasted wood cockroach. And delight in the sharp citrus explosion of the ant.
With only a week to go, the TEDxSydney food team wants to thank all our rebellious food suppliers and partners: Edible Bug Shop, Fishtales, Feather & Bone, The Weedy One, Hands Lane, Milton Mushrooms, Eat me Chutney, MODA, Pepe Saya, Country Valley Dairy, Brasserie Bread, Velluti’s The Fruit and Veg Company, Young Henry’s, Carlson’s Handcrafted Cordial, Wild Kombucha, Archie Rose Gin, Grifter, Rocks Brewing, Batch Brewing, Mike Bennie, Brendan Hilferty and Trolley’d. And to the coffee/tea crew: Toby’s Estate, Tippity Tea, Mecca, Sensory Lab/St Ali, Little Marionette, The Grounds of Alexandria. We couldn’t do it without you.
Words: Barbara Sweeney