(Un)accepted foods – a recap

What: Lecture and discussion evening
When: 8th April 2014
Where: Bblthk, Wageningen

We must increasingly rely upon unconventional food sources to meet the demands of a growing global population. Jessica Duncan, Rob Hagenouw and Arnold van Huis challenged us to question why we consider some food sources as unacceptable, despite being readily available, better for the environment and commonplace in other cultures.

Jessica Duncan, lecturer on Food Cultures and Food Policy in the WUR Rural Sociology Group, opened the discussion by reminding us of the familiar idiom, “you are what you eat.” What we eat has historical roots, represents cultural taboos and distinguishes “us” from “them.” But our food culture can change over time. Jessica shared the example of an American woman who began using garlic in her cooking for the love of her Italian husband, even though she initially disliked the foreign taste. Today, our food culture is being reshaped by globalization: we know less about the source of our food; there is increasing demand for meat; individual choice is esteemed above traditional culture; and greater institutional trust for guaranteeing food safety is required. In order to break food rules, we must reflect on issues like health, ecology and our own identities.

 

Rob Hagenouw project, Keuken van het Ongewenst Dier (Kitchen of the Unwanted Animal) is a great example of breaking food rules. Rob describes unwanted animals as those which are killed because they are destructive, a threat to safety or a general nuisance. The Keuken van het Ongewenst Dier is a kind of intervention that redirects unwanted animals from the garbage and onto our plates. For example, geese shot at Schipol Airport to prevent interference with air traffic are turned into delicious croquettes, using recipes by top chefs. The motto of the Keuken is: “No needless waste, we shall eat!” Rob explains that the overall goal is to challenge our paranoia about eating unaccepted foods and encourage us to trust in our own senses when deciding whether food is good or not.

Arnold van Huis, author of “The Insect Cookbook” and professor in WUR’s Entomology Department, challenged us to try another unaccepted food: insects. Over 600 insect species are already eaten all over the world and some species are already available for consumption in the Netherlands. Insects offer protein content comparable to beef, but have numerous environmental advantages. Processing insects for food emits lower GHG emissions than livestock and requires many times less kilos of feed. The need for insects as a food source will become more apparent as global demand for meat grows and land for raising livestock becomes increasingly scarce. Important barriers to widespread edible insect consumption are costly labour intensive processing, lack of clear rules and regulations, and our own sociocultural perceptions of insects as inedible. Wageningen appears to be the ideal place for edible insects to gain popularity, as over half the lecture audience had already tried insects, and were eager to sample more insect treats provided by Bugs Bites after the lecture.

Before everyone could try Bugs Bites snacks, the speakers took final questions from the audience and Jessica provided concluding thoughts. Changing our attitudes on unaccepted foods requires a cultural transition in which we must take cues from history and other cultures, and learn to take advantage of underutilized resources.

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