Ethical Protein: Does It Exist?
Words by Samantha Allemann
Photos by Björn Rust
Interested in trying bugs? Visit The Edible Bug Shop at their website here.
For the environmentally conscious among us eating meat often brings with it a side dish of ethical dilemma. As the consequences of being a carnivore become more apparent there are those who are trying alternative sources of protein in the form of insects and roadkill. Yes, roadkill.
When you’re an entomologist with a background in food science, what else would you do but open an edible insect shop? That’s what Skye Blackburn did 10 years ago and in opening the Edible Bug Shop created Australia’s only edible insect farm and store.
The thinking behind Blackburn’s venture into sourcing alternative protein came after she enjoyed eating stir-fried grasshoppers in Thailand, which according to her were ‘very spicy and oily.’ After landing back on Australian soil she couldn’t find any insects available to eat and so felt compelled to combine her background with this new culinary discovery and create something special.
Since then, Edible Bug Shop’s chilli and garlic crickets have been hopping off the shelves, with cricket protein power being another big seller. ‘It makes it easy to include insects in your everyday diet without the confronting legs and antennae,’ Blackburn says.
The Edible Bug Shop’s ever-increasing customer base not only share a passion for the environment but are seemingly looking for new ways to lower their meat consumption. ‘We’ve seen a big change in how consumers view edible insects,’ says Blackburn. ‘I think it’s largely due to increased awareness and education - they’re much more willing to try them and learn how to introduce them into their everyday diet.’
When researching her book, The Ethical Carnivore, Louise Gray ate a huge amount of insects as well as roadkill and went so far as to spend 12-months eating only the animals she had killed. While not completely new to the concept of preparing animals to eat - her father was a farmer - Edinburgh-based Gray still took lessons in hunting and fishing and learned how to prepare and cook roadkill. ‘I would find pheasants on the road, cut out the breasts and make a stir-fry,’ Gray recalls. ‘It was free range and organic and, frankly, more delicious than a barn-reared chicken you would buy in the supermarket.”
The Australian writer, author of the children’s story Diary of a Wombat and ecologist Jackie French is also a fan of eating roadkill ‘particularly hare marinated in red wine and slow cooked for a week’, she says. Living up in the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales, French learned to hunt when she was young. ‘A good hunter doesn't hunt; they wait,’ she says. ‘You sit quietly, knowing from scats (poo) and scent when and where the animals will come. No fear, no foreknowledge, no pain. But to have this level of skill takes talent and many years to acquire. Not everyone, or even most people, can acquire it. Luckily we still have a few families here where the skills and lore are passed down through the generations.’
French doesn’t eat much meat these days but when she does it’s usually in the form of ferals, such as wild rabbits, goats and deer. She calls herself ‘a moral omnivore’. ‘Much of non-meat food production kills animals by taking away their habitat,’ she says. ‘It is better to eat meat from animals that destroy ecosystems, like goats or rabbits, if, and only if, they can be killed with no fear, pain or suffering.’
French funds research into how to reduce roadkill. ‘We should have a law that if you kill it, you have to eat it - all of it, minus the bones, skin and hair,’ she says. ‘After a week of eating stewed wombat, you may find a sudden interest in wildlife preservation.’ Although, French would like to point out that she has never eating a wombat. ‘I don't eat my friends,’ she says.
When it comes to the question of whether it’s more ethical to utilise animals already dead or breed insects, Gray and Blackburn are both in agreement that eating insects is safer and just as ethical as eating roadkill. ‘While the insects are alive they are given the best of care and the highest quality diets’, says Blackburn of the insect farms they have installed above the Edible Bug Shop. ‘When it's time to harvest them, they’re frozen, which gently puts them to sleep.’
‘Eating roadkill is obviously tricky because you have to know what you are doing,’ says Gray. ‘However, we do need to look at how to reduce our meat consumption somehow because we simply do not have the resources to raise enough meat for the growing human population. The experiment in intensive farming of meat has failed. Look at swine flu and bird flu - it is impossible to raise animals in these numbers without the threat of diseases. In the developed world, meat consumption is going down and in the developing world the government is actively trying to reduce meat consumption for environmental reasons. We will soon see a lot more protein from insects make their way into our diet.’
While insects won’t necessarily be piled up on your plate, think of them more as a starter than a main course, they will soon become part of a balanced diet. ‘We don’t see them as being a replacement to meat,’ says Blackburn. ‘They’re more like a little multivitamin; high in protein, essential micronutrients, B vitamins and essential amino acids.’
So, the next time someone invites you round to their place for dinner and asks you to ‘bring a plate’ why not take a plate of crickets, you can simply tell them that you’re preparing them for the future of food. Whether you eat them or not is up to you.
‘We should have a law that if you kill it, you have to eat it - all of it, minus the bones, skin and hair. After a week of eating stewed wombat, you may find a sudden interest in wildlife preservation.’