French chef David Faure says diners don't complain about the crickets he started serving with his foie gras starter last month. Some say they wouldn't mind more.
Faure, who runs the Michelin-starred restaurant Aphrodite in Nice, praises the popcorn flavor of crickets and the nutty tones that mealworms bring to his cod dish.
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"I had this idea for several years, after travel to continents where it's normal to eat insects," the chef said by phone from his restaurant two days ago. "It's really a question of taste."
Faure says eating insects may soon be as normal in Western countries as having sushi. He may be onto something. The United Nations agency in charge of agriculture published a report today promoting insects as food, saying their benefits merit educating consumers in rich countries to help overcome their aversion to finding critters in their plate.
"Consumer disgust remains one of the largest barriers to the adoption of insects as viable sources of protein in many Western countries," the UN's Rome-based Food & Agriculture Organization said in the 201-page report promoting the practice known as entomophagy.
Insects are healthy and nutritious, convert feed more efficiently than livestock and produce less greenhouse gases than pigs and cattle, according to the agency. With 9 billion people expected on the planet by 2050, new ways of growing food are needed, the FAO wrote.
At least 2 billion people worldwide eat insects as part of their traditional diet, the FAO said. The practice hasn't caught on in Europe nor in the U.S.
Faure said his insect-themed "alternative foods" menu at 59 euros ($76.50), which also includes a desert with mealworms, may provide confidence to diners who want to try eating a little differently.
"People will continue to put a steak on the barbecue, but if from time to time people make this gesture, that can make a difference," the chef said.
Crawlers have a lot going for them, the FAO says. Because they're cold blooded and don't spend energy to keep a constant body temperature, insects on average convert 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of feed into a kilogram of animal protein, compared to 8 kilograms of feed for a kilogram of beef, according to the FAO.
Mealworms have comparable amounts of unsaturated omega-3 and 6 fatty acids as fish and comparable protein, vitamin and mineral content to meat and fish, according to the UN division.
In the tropics, where entomophagy is "well-established," edible insects should be promoted as a valuable source of nutrition to counter growing westernization of diets, according to the FAO. In Western societies, communication and education needs to address the "disgust factor," it said.
"Some clients say it's not cuisine or stupid things like that," Faure said.
Faure said his biggest obstacle was finding a reliable local supplier of edible insects. He now gets his mealworms and crickets from Micronutris, a company near Toulouse in southern France that raises the insects on organic vegetables and meal, rather than buying by Internet from suppliers in Asia.
"The problem is the traceability and knowing what i put in the plate of my clients," the chef said.
History has shown that diets can change quickly, as proven by the rapid acceptance of raw fish in the form of sushi, according to the FAO. Insects are to Western consumers what the Japanese delicacy was decades ago, says Faure.
"Fifty years ago it was impossible to make a European eat sushi and now you find a sushi bar on every corner," Faure said. "It's the same for insects. Pretty soon we'll see insect bars opening everywhere."