I’m a celebrity get me out of here is undoubtedly a staple of British television on the run up to Christmas reeling in up to 12.7 million viewers per episode in 2016. The ITV series documents the lives of lavishly paid C list celebrities undertaking gruelling jungle themed tasks in an effort to win ‘real’ food. The most anticipated of these is the eating challenges whereupon contestants gobble down varying insects, grubs and offal to a chorus of gagging, squirming, cringing and heaving.
While entertaining, the desired reaction in a UK audience could be having serious consequences on British food security progress.
This blog will explore the value of eating insects (entomophagy) on British food security, including; sustainable food production, environmental/moral discussions and the consequences the ‘yuk’ factor perpetuated by I’m a celebrity has on achieving this.
The ‘yuk factor’ refers to an intangible feeling anyone having removed a spider from the bath will have experienced.
Narratives around colonial civilisation partook in forming ideas of what is acceptable food, centred around concepts of civilisation and juxtaposing western cultures against less developed (often colonised) countries. Now, more than half a century later the distance from farm to fork has never been greater as mechanisation has disassociated consumers with the food they eat. For this reason, it will be ever more difficult to adjust British consumers to the concept of entomophagy as the nature of eating insects contrasts with current food understandings and a prejudice against food that looks like the animal.
What’s so great about eating insects?
Despite all of this, one may be surprised to know that entomophagy is not only safe but recommended by the UN and FAO.
The practice is popular in Asia, Latin American and Africa, with up to 10% of protein being taken from insect in African communities. It is important to note that entomophagy is a cuisine with different flavours and textures from over 1900 different edible insects worldwide. Aside from Britain being behind the trend, entomophagy has some serious supremacy over other food groups (particularly the meat market) within sustainable diets, nutrition, and ethical food choice all integral to British food security.
Sustainable food diets are those that focus on creating and retaining low environmental impact, biodiversity, accessible, affordable and nutritional food for the present and future. At present growing population coupled with changing environments present a huge challenge in achieving food security globally.
Approximately 50% of global agricultural emissions stem from the production of meat, the most emitting of which is red meat. Alternatively, fractional feed requirements coupled with rapid growth means edible insects can be manufactured pound for pound at a 10th of greenhouse gas emissions.
Many of the environmentally positive attributes of large scale insect production are reliant on insects being as equally nutritionally rich as other meat sources. In fact, edible insects are more than comparable to mainstream meat sources and considered a superfood by scientists at national geographic, with each insect containing up to 13g of protein. Evaluations of entomophagy often critic insects as a comparable source of protein due to the size of the product: large numerical quantities would have to be consumed to equal protein intake against a single piece of meat.
The constitutional issues of the meat market ensnare criticisms of animal welfare ethics, in life and death within food systems. Insects are instinctively accustomed to close, dark, damp, non-ventilated living quarters perfect for achieving economies of scale. Additional the lack of nociceptors (neurological receptors that transmit pain) means they are un-phased by meat factory conditions currently being imposed on mammals.
It is clear that entomophagy has the capability to reshape British food security, favouring; a more benefit, less cost mechanised food system. However unfeasible it may currently appear niche markets are beginning to experiment with reported growth of up to 25%. The question of if/when entomophagy can be introduced in the mainstream diets is yet to be seen and subject to the infamous ‘yuk factor.
Mainstream media amplifies intrinsic feelings of disgust towards insects, favouring negative descriptors and conceptualising entomophagy as a challenge.
I’m a celebrity is no different, and accustomed to criticism around the controversial and climactic eating trials. In 2016 the programme received 533 complaints to Ofcom following a contestant being asked to eat a live water spider.
Asking any individual to eat a live creature is sure to produce a theatrical response, making good telly. Nevertheless, evoking a shared reaction of revulsion between contestant and watcher associates these feelings towards insects. This is a particular example of mainstream media conditioning the British public to think in a particular way, in this case associate entomophagy with distaste, discomfort and disinclination.
The I’m a celebrity narrative around bugs and insects is particularly potent partly due to exposure but also the extremity of the gimmick. The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) acknowledge the power of society in shaping the food systems, particularly social media and food ideology. What the British public are led to believe is acceptable food will subsequently shape decisions and the free hand of a demand led economy.
It seems irreconcilable for a British family to enjoy a night of I’m a celebrity shortly followed by a dinner encompassing mealworms and crickets, and there is work yet to be done in the regulatory bodies to ensure consumer safety. However, at present the most likely compromise in the name of food security is that of entomophagy animal feed. Despite increased consumer interest in superior grass/corn fed meat products some may be flexible to the concept provided that the changes are handled in a safe and reasonable manner under the public eye.
Ironically a TV programme that features themes of hunger so strongly may in fact be impacting the food security of Britain in the long term by rejecting contemporary food narratives. It is yet to be seen how resilient these food choices are to mainstream opinion.