If most Americans eat fried chicken, why are we so unwilling to eat fried crickets? Last year, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization released a report arguing that the world would do well to load up on bugs. Crickets, for example, have as much protein and more vitamins and minerals than chicken, and they have a much smaller carbon footprint.
It's true that 2 billion people worldwide already eat insects. But it's a challenge to convert the rest of us, who tend to think eating an ant or a grasshopper is gross. One of the latest attempts to rebrand insect cuisine is a Belgian startup called SexyFood, which is trying to sell worms and bugs as high-end snacks.
Each snack is packaged in a luxurious-looking black and gold can. Instead of a picture of what's inside, the package is numbered, an homage to Chanel perfume.
"The idea was to give a mysterious feeling," says Steven van Boxtel from Atelier Design, which led the package design. "In our culture, it's not usual to eat insects, so to present it as normal food would be a little bit too obvious. Our culture also sees it as a little bit disgusting. The idea was to avoid that and present it like an experience."
Instead of trying to compete with everyday snacks—like Chirps, a cricket-based chip from a Massachusetts startup—SexyFood is aiming for foodies who want a little adventure.
"If you're eating this product, you're not eating it because you like to eat insects, since these don't exist in our society," says Van Boxtel. "It's more, okay, 'I want to try something new, I want something original.' That's why we hid almost everything about the insects—they're more eating a concept than they're eating insects."
SexyFood sells bugs ranging from rhino beetles and giant waterbugs to black scorpions. In flowery language on their website, they claim that bugs will help you host a more memorable party:
One only has to place a can of edible insects next to a bowl of potato chips to shake an evening up and trigger an effusion of emotions . . . You will experience this surprising discovery together, and it will not be forgotten any time soon.
The startup isn't the only one to try to coax a reluctant Western audience to eat bugs. A Michelin-starred chef started a company making protein bars from ground-up crickets. Design students have created an elegant insect version of a bento box (the "Ento Box," naturally). Others are experimenting with systems for growing your own insects at home.
It's not clear when, or if, all of this insect-eating will become mainstream. The FAO argues that it's something that needs to happen soon; by 2050, when the world population swells to 9 billion, we'll need to produce twice as much food. Since insects take up little space—and can even easily be raised in urban bug farms—they seem like an ideal solution. The question is whether it's one that we can swallow.