[…] Officials at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) became interested in the role of insects in food security about a decade ago, after documenting the significant part that insects play in central African diets. Since then, the FAO has been commissioning studies, issuing reports and arranging small meetings on eating insects. The gathering in Ede, jointly organised by the FAO and Wageningen University and Research Centre, is the culmination of all these efforts – the first big international conference to bring together entomologists, entrepreneurs, nutritionists, chefs, psychologists and government officials. They are here to discuss how to expand the use of insects as food and feed, particularly in the west, and to lay the foundation for an edible insect industry – to review the science, identify the obstacles and talk about how to progress.

Over the next three days, they will lay out their vision. It is ambitious and optimistic. They will speculate about creating an insect aisle at the supermarket and fast-food restaurants that serve bug burgers. They will imagine putting packages of “beautiful, clean” shrink-wrapped mealworms on display at the meat counter, alongside the steak and chicken. And they will dream about a world in which forests are thick, land is fertile, the climate is stable, water is clean, waste is minimal, food prices are low, and hunger and malnutrition are rare.

Turning to insects for nourishment is not a new idea – the Bible mentions entomophagy, as do texts from Ancient Greece and Rome. But insect eating never caught on in Europe. The reasons are unknown, but the spread of agriculture – and, in particular, the domestication of livestock – may have made insects, and undomesticated plants and animals in general, less important as food sources. The advent of agriculture may have also contributed to a view that insects were primarily pests and that insect eating was primitive. What’s more, Europe’s temperate climate makes wild harvesting less practical than in the tropics, where insect populations are larger and more predictable.

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Flashback: Infowars heeds the UN’s advice and chows down on some crunchy insect critters.

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