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FEATURE: Bug cuisine – a step toward more sustainable food

This weekend in Paris, Development and Climate Days participants considered the carbon footprint of the foods on our plates. Mairi Dupar of CDKN reports.

Insects are an unusual snack to find at the sidelines of a UN climate summit. But at this weekend’s Development and Climate Days – which took place in parallel with UN climate talks in Paris – participants tucked into mealworm-flavoured chocolates and cricket-topped macaroons.

At a provocative session, Pablo Suarez of the Climate Centre, flanked by top Senegalese chef Pierre Thiam and Economist editor Oliver Morton, launched the ‘Taste the Change’ challenge which urges people to embrace bug cuisine and start a massive trend for low-emissions food.

Emissions from the world’s food system make up some 29% of global greenhouse gas emissions according to the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR, see their ‘food emissions’ website). Looking for ways to cut unnecessary emissions from food has to be a leading strategy in the fight against climate change.

Dr Suarez pointed out that producing 1kg of beef creates 100 times more emissions than producing 1 kg of edible crickets. (The high climate cost of beef includes the methane produced by the cattle, as well as the emissions involved in producing their feed and processing and transporting the meat).

Raising 1kg of crickets requires 1.7 litres of water and 1kg of feed – but raising 1kg of beef calls for 15,000 litres of water  and around 10kg of feed.

Take the challenge

The ‘Taste the Change’ challenge involves filming a personal statement as follows (most mobile phones will do this):

  1. Eat a healthy, tasty low emission insect(s).
  2. Tell us what you think about ‘tasting the change’.
  3. Nominate three other people to eat bugs.

Then, just tweet your video with the hashtag #tastethechange.

(Allergy warning: those who are allergic to crustaceans shouldn’t attempt the challenge.)

Globally, around two billion people already consume insects as a regular part of their diet – so the idea isn’t exactly novel. But for those who are unaccustomed, eating bugs could mean ‘crossing a mental line’, Dr Suarez said.

Moushumi Chaudhury, an analyst at World Resources Institute, agreed: “Cultural and social factors hold us back from eating insects,” she said –  nibbling a mealworm-flavoured crostini. She agreed that there is no reason why protein-rich, environmentally sustainable insects shouldn’t be a major protein source for everyone.

Substituting animal-based protein foods with huge carbon footprints, such as beef, for low-emissions alternatives like insects is a genuine opportunity to shift to more sustainable consumption. “The options are many,” said chef Pierre Thiam, who has recently published a cookbook on the topic. “Be very flexible. Use insects as you would meat or shrimp but without your conscience – as what you are doing is good for the planet.”

The ‘Taste the Change’ challenge isn’t just about eating insects, though. It has another aim: to shake up people’s thinking on consumption more broadly. “Think about what you need to do to put yourself out of your comfort zone and embrace more sustainable consumption,” said Pablo Suarez.

Governments are entering the second week of the Paris talks and delegates are considering the climate commitments they will take home for implementation in the months and years ahead. Conversations will inevitably turn toward whose responsibility it is to achieve our global climate goals – and the role of billions of individuals to act sustainably together. In this context, shaking up people’s thinking is just the tonic that’s needed. And if you take the ‘Taste the change’ challenge and pass it to three other people, this particular idea may go viral.


Image: participants sample insect-based dishes at Development and Climate Days, Dec 2015, credit Alex Wynter, Red Cross


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