You probably won't be surprised by this, but a number of enterprising visionaries, and even some European governments, are working to solve the world's potential food supply problems of the year 2050.
Why eat insects?
As postgraduate design students, our team wanted to tackle the issue of sustainability with an innovative design-driven approach. We first came across the idea of eating insects when researching solutions to global food security. Food demand is accelerating, and agricultural productivity cannot keep up. By 2050 global demand is set to double to 40 giga-calories per day, and much of this increase will be due to demand for meat.
The livestock industry is notoriously resource-hungry, consuming a third of all crops and requiring 70% of agricultural land. It also accounts for 20% of greenhouse gas emissions, through production, transport and animal digestive gas.
It is against this backdrop that edible insects offer an exciting alternative. They are extremely efficient at turning feed into meat and can be farmed at a very high density. This means that their embodied energy is low—a tenth of that of beef cattle—and that at high volumes they are very cost efficient. Taking their nutritional benefits into consideration as well, it is easy to understand why the UN, the EU, and the Dutch government are some of the major players investigating the potential of edible insects.
But despite the fact that a lot of people taking this idea very seriously, most of the research to date has focused on the supply side. We realized that there was an opportunity to address one of biggest obstacles on the demand side: acceptance.
Currently there is a major cultural taboo against eating insects. The idea of eating insects is generally imagined to be dirty, gooey and unsafe. None of these preconceptions are true, but it doesn't change the fact that edible insects are certainly not seen as an exciting future food! We realized that changing these beliefs would be a major challenge.
But that's not the only challenge! Aside from the aesthetic, cultural and culinary aspects, there are also technical and business problems that must be tackled today to bring the food of the future to the market in the future:
We weren't content to propose introducing our new foods without doing some calculations on the how we might supply them. When we did the math for the farming that would support the enterprise, some rather large numbers confronted us: a single restaurant would require a supply of one million insects per month (300kg)! And this number would grow quickly as our enterprise scaled up.
In order to ground the rest of our work in reality, we needed to make sure we would be able to design the farms capable of doing this.
Our solution is a flexible network of urban farms, which reduce the food miles of our food and activate unused urban land. The proposed farming system is extremely scalable, in order to cope with the varying levels of demand in our roadmap.
Inside these farms, we designed a series of modular cabinets. Each cabinet supports 32,000 insects: the top drawer houses the parents, the offspring of which populate and refresh the lower drawers. The insects instinctively perch on several vertical racks, which can be pulled out after 6 weeks of maturing. An integrated bag is then pulled down over this rack and the insects inside are now ready to be frozen and transferred straight to the kitchen.
With Ento we have taken into account economic, engineering and design considerations. This is a new way of addressing the very serious issues of food security and protein sustainability. Edible insects offer a tasty and healthy addition to people's diets that benefits the planet by dramatically reducing embodied energy and water use. We hope to take this project forward and make insects a regular sight in your local supermarket.
So.... Who's up for grasshopper sushi?