September 21, 2023

Insects find their way onto Italian plates despite resistance

In a small room near the Alps in northern Italy, containers with millions of crickets are stacked on top of each other.

Jumping and chirping loudly – these crickets are about to become food.

The process is simple: they are frozen, cooked, dried and then pulverized.

Here at the Italian Cricket Farm, the country’s largest insect farm, about a million crickets are processed into food ingredients every day.

Ivan Albano, who runs the farm, opens a container to reveal a light brown flour that can be used in the production of pasta, bread, pancakes, energy bars – and even sports drinks.

Eating crickets, ants and worms has been common in parts of the world, such as Asia, for thousands of years.

After the EU approved the sale of insects for human consumption earlier this year, will there be a change of mindset across Europe?

“What we do here is sustainable… the environmental impact is almost zero”, Source: Ivan Albano, Source description: Italian Cricket Farm, Image: Ivan Albano, who runs the Italian Cricket Farm

Well, nowhere in Europe is there more resistance to insect eating than in Italy, according to data from global opinion agency YouGov, and the objections are coming from above – the government has already taken steps to ban their use in pizza and pasta production .

“We will oppose this madness by all means and everywhere, which would impoverish our agriculture and our culture,” Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini wrote on Facebook.

But will all that change? Several Italian producers have perfected cricket pasta, pizza and snacks.

“What we do here is very sustainable,” says Ivan. “To produce one kilogram of cricket powder, we only use about 12 liters of water,” he adds, pointing out that producing the same amount of protein from cows requires thousands of liters of water.

Growing insects also requires only a fraction of the land used to produce meat. Given the pollution caused by the meat and dairy industries, more and more scientists believe insects may hold the key to tackling climate change.

At a restaurant near Turin, chef Simone Loddo has adapted his fresh pasta recipe, which is almost 1,000 years old – the dough now consists of 15% cricket powder.

It gives off a strong, nutty scent.

Some diners refuse to try the cricket tagliatelle, but those who do – including me – are amazed at how good it tastes.

BBC reporter Sofia Bettiza tries cricket tagliatelle

Diners at the restaurant in Turin serving the insect paste try cricket-based products out of curiosity

Apart from the taste, cricket powder is a superfood packed with vitamins, fiber, minerals and amino acids. For example, a plate contains higher sources of iron and magnesium than a regular sirloin steak.

But is this a realistic option for those who want to eat less meat? The main problem is the price.

“If you want to buy cricket-based food, it’s going to cost you,” says Ivan. “Cricket flour is a luxury product. It costs about 60 euros per kilo. If you take cricket paste, for example, a pack costs 8 euros.”

That is up to eight times more than regular pasta in the supermarket.

For now, insect feed remains a niche option in Western societies, as farmers can sell poultry and beef at lower prices.

The cooked cricket tagliatelle is served with pancetta and zucchini

Cricket tagliatelle served with zucchini, zucchini cream, crispy bacon, parmesan and basil

“The meat I produce is much cheaper than cricket flour, and it is of very good quality,” says Claudio Lauteri, owner of a farm near Rome who has been in his family for four generations.

But it’s not just about the price. It’s about social acceptance.

Across Italy, the number of people living to the age of 100 or older is rising rapidly. Many point to the Mediterranean diet as the holy grail of a healthy lifestyle.

“Italians have been eating meat for centuries. It is certainly healthy in moderation,” says Claudio.

He believes that insect food could pose a threat to Italian culinary tradition – something that is universally sacred in this country.

“These products are waste,” he says. “We are not used to them, they are not part of the Mediterranean diet. And they can pose a threat to humans: we don’t know what eating insects can do to our bodies.

“I am absolutely against these new foods. I refuse to eat them.”

Claudio Lauteri, owner of a farm near Rome that has been in his family for four generations

Farmer Claudio Lauteri refuses to eat insect-based food, seeing it as a threat to the Mediterranean diet

As insect farming increases in Europe, so does hostility to the idea.

The EU decision to approve insects for human consumption was described by a member of Italy’s ruling far-right Brothers of Italy party as “bordering on madness”.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who called Italy a “food superpower”, established a “Made in Italy” ministry upon her election with the aim of preserving the tradition.

“Insect products arrive on supermarket shelves! Flour, larvae – good, delicious,” she said in a tone of disgust in a video.

Amid concerns that insects may be associated with Italian cuisine, three ministers announced four decrees aimed at a crackdown. “It is fundamental that this flour is not confused with food made in Italy,” said Agriculture Minister Francesco Lollobrigida.

A chef at a restaurant in Italy makes pasta from cricket flour

Chef Simone Loddo makes pasta from flour with crickets to serve to customers at his restaurant near Turin

Insect food is not only divisive in Italy.

In Poland, it has become a hot topic in the run-up to this year’s elections. In March, politicians from the two main parties accused each other of introducing policies that would force citizens to eat insects – the leader of the main opposition party, Donald Tusk, labeled the government a “promoter of worm soup”.

Meanwhile, Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands are more receptive to eating insects. In Austria they eat dried insects for that aperitifand Belgians are open to eating mealworms in energy shakes and bars, burgers and soups.

“Unfortunately, there’s still a lot of misinformation out there about eating bugs,” says Daniel Scognamiglio, who runs the restaurant that serves the cricket tagliatelle.

“I have received hate, I have been criticized. Eating tradition is sacred to many people. They do not want to change their eating habits.”

But he’s noticed a shift, saying more people are ordering cricket-based products off his menu – often out of curiosity.

With the world’s population surpassing eight billion, there are fears that the planet’s resources will struggle to meet the food needs of so many people.

Global agricultural production will need to increase by 70%, according to UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates.

Switching to environmentally friendly prote
ins – such as insects – may become a necessity.

Until now, the possibilities to produce and commercialize insect feed have been limited. With EU approval, it is expected that as the industry grows, prices will drop significantly.

Ivan says he already has many requests for his products from restaurants and supermarkets.

“The impact on the environment is almost zero. We are a piece of the puzzle that can save the planet.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *