Now you can grow meat for dinner on your desk. Not chicken, but bugs: The Edible Insect Desktop Hive is designed to raise mealworms (beetle larva), a food that has the protein content of beef without the environmental footprint.
"Livestock is a key factor for climate change," says Austria-based designer Katharina Unger, founder of Livin Farms, the company making the new home farming gadget. "A large percentage of our diseases originate in animal production houses. Growing your own means knowing exactly what you eat."
While producing a single burger has the carbon footprint of driving 320 miles and can take hundreds of gallons of water, bugs require few resources; the mealworms in the hive can be fed on kitchen scraps. And while a burger might require 74 square feet of land (mostly for growing cattle feed), the hive is tiny.
"Insects give us the opportunity to grow on small spaces, with few resources," says Unger. "A pig cannot easily be raised on your balcony, insects can. With their benefits, insects are one part of the solution to make currently inefficient industrial-scale production of meat obsolete."
Unlike the kitchen-scale gadgets that some people are starting to use to grow vegetables, the hive can grow enough food to supply several meals a week; someone can harvest between 200 and 500 grams of mealworms a week, enough to replace traditional meat in four or five dishes.
The hive comes with a starter kit of "microlivestock," and controls the climate inside so the bugs have the right amount of fresh air and the right temperature to thrive. If you push a button, the mealworms pop out in a harvest drawer that chills them. You're supposed to pop them in the freezer, then fry them up or mix them into soup, smoothies, or bug-filled burgers.
Of course, that assumes people will be willing to eat them. Unger says she already has a few hundred preorders—mostly from health-obsessed people on special diets like paleo. A new Kickstarter campaign will test the broader market.
Unger thinks bugs just need a little rebranding to succeed, and points out that other foods have overcome bad reputations in the past. "Even the potato, that is now a staple food, was once considered ugly and was given to pigs," she says. "Sushi, raw fish, was seen as obscure in Europe for a long time. And just recently, tofu in the West has risen from a niche product in the alternative and vegetarian foods section to a popular mass-market product."
"Food is about perception and cultural associations," she says. "Within only a short time and the right measures, it can be rebranded. . . . Growing insects in our hive at home is our first measure to make insects a healthy and sustainable food for everyone."