Bugging Out: UBC creates buzz around eating insects

A delicacy that might make some squirm proves to be a sustainable food source

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By MAIYA SUZUKI

UBC food experts are attempting what might be impossible: making insects seem like an appetizing treat.

UBC professor Yasmin Akhtar teaches the “Insects as Food and Feed” course to reduce the squeamishness around consuming and cooking with insects, which are a surprisingly nutritious alternative food source.

Students of the faculty of land and food systems at UBC were put into four groups to compete in a Bug Bake-Off on Tuesday when they were required to incorporate an insect ingredient to their dish. Akhtar staged this competition to educate students on why insects should be considered an alternative nutrient source.

“The main objective is that people should know the benefits of insects…as well as the need to know what are the risks associated with eating insects,” Akhtar said.

Akhtar said insects have nutritional benefits because they carry high levels of protein, vitamins, and fatty acids. She said that insect flours and powders are convenient ways to incorporate bugs into food in case people are worried about consuming whole insects.

“The other benefit is environmental. Rearing insects requires much less space, fewer resources like water and much less feed,” said Akhtar. “They produce much lower greenhouse gas emissions than cattle or pigs, for example.”

Deneal Proteau, nutritionist at Root Wellness Nutrition in Vancouver, said that she would consider recommending insects because of their nutritional benefits, but they would need to be presented in an appealing way.

“There’s things that I think can be on the same level of like uncertainty that I already recommend, such as beef liver supplements,” Proteau said. “That’s something that’s quite unusual for people to eat or consume. So like, I don’t think insects to be too far off, to be honest.”

Nicole Lee, winner of the Bug Bake-Off, incorporated cricket powder into a pound cake recipe that she normally follows. Lee said throughout the course, she has learned about the “various benefits that it brings in terms of sustainability of the environment and also nutritional benefits.”

She said this helps them consider  certain aspects of animal welfare.

David Speight, UBC executive chef and one of the contest judges, said that the students did a great job of incorporating the insects into their dishes without leaving any strong bug taste.

Speight said that it will take a while for society to start accepting insects as a nutrient alternative.

“You know, we are having a hard time shifting people towards a more plant-based diet and plants are sexy, they’re grown on farms, they’re photogenic, and insects are not there,” Speight said

Although bugs may scare people off, many people are already consuming rare animal products.

“We’re gonna have a real hard time from a society standpoint to shift to eating insects on the regular,” Speight said. “But our food system is broken and we do need to re-envision our food system and insects potentially can play a big role in that.”

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