Insects are not something you are likely to find on the menu in Canada, but the United Nations suggests they should be. In fact, they're eaten in other parts of the world and some Canadian business people are creating products to meet demand and be a global resource for what they feel is the food of the future.
Entomophagy – the consumption of insects for nourishment – is not a foreign concept in many other parts of the world and it is estimated by the UN that two billion people around the world partake in this food group.
The UN released a report earlier this year that urged the global population to supplement their diets with insects to help ease food security issues. The report also asked restaurants to put insect dishes on their menus to help raise "the status of insects" in the mainstream because it identified them as an economic, accessible and environmentally sustainable food source.
And there are a few Canadian business people, including Jakub Dzamba, who couldn't agree more. Mr. Dzamba, a doctoral candidate in architecture at McGill University and owner of the company, Third Millenium Farming, is bringing to market a cricket farm that can be used to raise these insects organically. Mr. Dzamba sees his invention as a solution for a large-scale global issue of food security. He and a group that includes Canadian business and academics are educating the public throughout North America and Western Europe to get them beyond a cultural resistance and show investors the larger opportunity: crickets as part of the food industry.
"The farms I'm developing started off quite small with just a few hundred crickets in them – now they're planned to be larger – and the idea was to find a way to farm them hygienically." Designed for both domestic and commercial use, the prototypes of Mr. Dzamba's Cricket Reactors can range from a farm that takes up the same counter space as a toaster to one that can house 10,000 (4.5 kilograms) of crickets. The units allow the insects to be separated from their waste and to move around and be more "free range" than those currently harvested for use in pet stores.
Prototypes of the cricket farms have been shipped to interested businesses and Mr. Dzamba says the overall objective is to have these farms to market by early 2014.
"It's a difficult problem to solve and most people were like 'Why are you spending your time on this?'" But since the UN released its report, the attitude towards Mr. Dzamba's invention has changed drastically from a waste of time to a real interest in insects as a sustainable food source he says.
"I think the ideal for every entrepreneur is to look ahead to the future and identify trends and turn those trends into a real business opportunity," says Thomas Hellmann, professor in strategy and business economics at the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business. It's one thing to have the product, but you need to make sure there is a market for it or it simply won't go anywhere, says Dr. Hellmann. He says Mr. Dzamba faces a classic challenge for innovators: "You have to essentially educate the market at the same time that you are developing the right technology and production for selling the product."
For this, Mr. Dzamba teamed up with business people and academics who have been broaching the subject of eating insects for years. Aruna Handa, owner of Alimentary Initiatives and Elke Grenzer, director at The Culture of Cities Centre, created the Future Food Salon series, which are events featuring talks about entomophagy, art, music and, of course, cricket canapés.
So far, there have been Salons in Toronto and Manhattan, with plans for a European tour next year and the public is interested in seeing Canada produce insects as food, says Dr. Handa.
"We've got people interested in setting up farms right across the planet and we also have chefs and food truck people saying, 'Where can I get food-grade crickets?'" she says. "In my experience, the appetite for eating bugs has definitely improved over the last three or four years. And I think the thing we need to work on is production."
And while there are already small-scale producers in the U.S., their products are not organic. But the larger issue is that these insects are almost impossible to import, explains Dr. Handa."It's very difficult because, again, insects are understood to be a pest. We've tried about five different times and we've had nothing but trouble."
Dr. Grenzer adds that this niche market has existed on a very small scale throughout North America for some time, but it needs to be brought to the next level in order to develop the capacity for global impact.
"You find that in this business that there are people that have been doing this all along and have been studying this all along, that have been experimenting on their own, but there was no central way for people to get organized in terms of production and distribution," says Dr. Grenzer.
So the Future Food Salon organizers decided that Canada should be the hub and next summer the country will host the first international entomophagy conference. "It's interdisciplinary and will deal with the art, culture, science and business of entomophagy."
For Dr. Grenzer, one of the aims of the conference is to start of setting universal standards for this new type of nourishment.
"And we think Canada can lead in that area."
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