Here’s a fun fact: Belgium was the first country in Europe to legalize the consumption of insects.
In 2014, the Belgian Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC) approved 10 types of edible insects including crickets, locusts, mealworms, moths, and silkworms.
Entomophagy or the practice of eating bugs is nothing new. It has been going on for many centuries in other parts of the world including Africa, Asia, and Central and South America.
In Europe, entomophagy is still unpopular but becoming less uncommon. Aside from Belgium, other countries including Austria, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom have approved insects as food. In January last year, the European Union implemented its revised Novel Food Regulation which harmonized the legal status of edible insects across the bloc.
Crickets and mealworms in Brussels
In Brussels, crickets and mealworms are currently the most available edible insects.
“More and more people are getting interested in this type of food. People’s tastes are evolving,” says Maïté Mercier, bioengineer and co-founder of Little Food, the first enterprise in Brussels to promote the integration of crickets into daily diet.
Since it was launched in 2016, Little Food has expanded its points of sale from 30 to 150 stores due to increasing demand. The sustainable food start-up runs a cricket farm in Laeken and sells processed cricket products such as protein powder, chips, crackers, cereals, cookies, and bread spread.
“Consumers are not yet ready to have entire insects on their plate so we are more focused on providing cricket-based food ingredients and products,” says Maïté who remains optimistic that someday, people will learn to treat crickets like ordinary meat. “I hope it will happen as soon as possible for the sake of our planet. People often regard insects as the food of the future. But in Little Food, we always say, the future is now.”
Aside from crickets, buffalo worms or the larvae of a beetle species are offered in certain restaurants and stores in Brussels. Since 2014, the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) cafeteria has been serving worm burgers. Restaurants like B34 Steak and Burger House in Ixelles also offer this specialty.
A proposed solution to food shortage and climate change
Since 2013, the United Nations has been promoting the consumption of insects as a solution to impending global food insecurity and the growing environmental crisis as world population threatens to reach about 90 billion in year 2050.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, insects contain high quality protein, vitamins, and amino acids. They have a higher food conversion rate which means they require less amount of feed to produce a desirable output. And they also generate less food waste and emit less greenhouse gases compared to conventional livestock such as cattle and poultry.
The sustainable food campaign becomes even more relevant these days as the clamor over climate change continues. Now more than ever, people are demanding the implementation of radical measures to prevent a global warming catastrophe. But much of the pressure has been placed on governments and industries.
How about the ordinary consumers? Are we ready to do our fair share of this necessary radical change? Are we willing to change our mentality and habits to adopt new, healthier practices? Are we willing to do what it takes to save the world, even if it means making room for bizarre food alternatives?