Giovanni Sogari, after attending the Graduate School for the Food System – Agrisystem at Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Piacenza, is currently a research at the Food Science Department of the University of Parma. Passionate and curious about entomophagy, specialist in food communication and consumers’ behavioral dynamics, it deals with international projects in the field of local products, food biotechnology and sustainability in the wine sector. In 2014 he released his first book, co-written with Paul Vantomme, entitled “A tavola con gli insetti” (Mattioli 1885) in which the unexplored entomophagy world is treated.
What could be the difference in our health replacing proteins and nutrients derived from animals with those derived from insects?
To date, relatively few scientific studies take into account the introduction of insects in the human diet. But, speaking generically of insects as a single category is vague from a nutritional point of view, since it is estimated that there are more than 2,000 edible species in the world whose nutritional characteristics can vary widely, depending on the stage of life and also from their habitat and diet. Studies showed how some species (for example crickets) are a source of energy, high quality proteins, polyunsaturated fatty acids and other elements such as copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus and selenium.
Could these differences themselves be a stimulus for a change in our diet that includes entomophagy?
The nutrients of insects, especially proteins, are much more important in countries where it is difficult to find other food sources, such as in many African countries. In the West, even if there are problems in our alimentation model that can lead to diseases as obesity, we do not have the need to introduce bugs in our diet. Rather we should begin to improve our dietary pattern (more vegetables, less sedentary lifestyle, etc.).
Thinking to insects as food is disgusting for many of us.
Is this disgust directly connected to the fact that in most cases insects are proposed to consumers maintaining their original aspect?
Certainly, the aspect of an insect does not invite to try its taste.
As explained in my book “A tavola con gli insetti” the disgust factor remains one of the biggest barrier to the adoption of insects in our diet, and the main reason is that we do not usually see them as food. In the future, the appreciation of the consumers will depend on aspect and on the visibility degree of the insects in the food. For example, in the US market you can find various products made of cricket flour (biscuits, snacks, chips) where the insect is “unrecognizable” because it’s transformed. In this case, the acceptance and introduction of insects in our diet may be easier.
Hear something cracking under the teeth in some cases it’s nice and funny, in others just the opposite. Do you believe that the definition “crunch food” for insects could disturb the potential consumer?
This is an interesting question, but i don’t think there are specific studies for that, probably because the market is not ready yet.
The crunchiness is a mouthfeel that could stimulate a positive reaction because already known and appreciated for other products (such as meat, chips, etc.). But there are many cooking techniques for edible insects (based on different traditions, places and species of insects used) and the consistency can be different than crunchy.
How insect consumption can be part of an idea of sustainable alimentation and economy?
As reported in the FAO report “Edible insects. Future prospects for food and feed security “(2013), insects collection and breeding can offer significant livelihood diversification strategies for families living in developing countries. These activities can lead to a diet improvement and provide economic income through the insects sale, also constituing an opportunity for farmers to have an additional income.
In more developed countries we are studying new potential of insects, as in animal feeding for example, we are investigating new methods to extract and process proteins, fats, chitin, minerals and vitamins also with industrial applications.
For the future of an economic sector based on breeding and marketing insects for food, do you think about a network of microrealities or projects starting up in a large scale? What would be the advantages and disadvantages of either hypothesis?
In recent years we saw many startups, interest groups, associations, often founded and managed by young people, who are interested in spreading the culture of entomophagy. In the future I think we will see some great farms that will breed edible insects and then distribute their product to the transformation chain, in this case especially microrealities that will put their products on the market.
And what about insects for animal feeding?
The global population will increase in the next decades, and will probably come to nine billion people by 2050. The growth in global demand of food and animal proteins (from livestock and fish products) is inevitably critical for the already limited resources of our planet. The growing food demand will involve many challenges including an increased use of proteinic feed, and insects could be an alternative to the current sources.
Are there scientific relevances on hygenic or sanitary risk factors in this kind of farming and industrial processing?
Research in this area are at the beginning and much is being done to investigate the hygienic safety, feasibility, sustainability of a potential introduction of insects in the human diet and as feed for animals.
In October, EFSA, the European Food Safety Authority based in Parma, engaged for years in food safety, published an opinion about this issue. In particular, EFSA has tried to consider the potential biological and chemical risks, but also the allergenicity and environmental hazards associated with the use of bred insects as food and feed. To date, available data are limited and EFSA concludes that further researches should be conducted, in particular studying the nutritive substrates, methods of production and processing, all areas still little known.
There is a sensation that the difficulties have kept this business sector at the starting blocks will soon overcome. Do you have this sensation too?
The prevailing feeling is that there is an increasing attention to entomophagy and insects breeding.
Research centers, universities, food critics, bloggers, media, chefs, public and private organizations, farms and food companies seem increasingly interested in understanding the potential of this sector. Just during EXPO was presented the White Paper on edible insects, a project developed by Società Umanitaria with Salone Internazionale della Ricerca, Innovazione e Sicurezza. This entomophagy manifesto emphasizes the importance of food sustainability and the launch of a joint-project to make possible the improvement of food production with sustainable systems, healthy and safe, sufficient for the needs of the world.
This does not mean that it will take no time before the approval of a regulation on the farming and marketing of edible insects at EU level.