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Crunch time in the UK market for edible insects?

The insects market is poised to take off. It seems quite possible that insect grub will metamorphose in the next ten to twenty years and emerge as a common sight on the UK’s supermarket shelves. It’s probably only a matter of time before lots of us are eagerly mixing battered crickets into our stir-fries and adding powdered bugs to our risottos.

I’ve been putting out some feelers: according to a new syndicated study by Arcluster, the market for edible insects (such as the fried grasshoppers pictured below) is already quite substantial in many parts of the world and is expected to pick up momentum over the next five years. And, as we will see, things are hotting up in the UK, too.


The value of the worldwide edible insects market is set to reach $1.53 billion in 2021 from an estimated $105.7 million in 2016, says the Arcluster report, in new research into entomophagy (the consumption by humans of insects as food). The highest growth will come from sales of coated edible insects, whilst revenue from packaged, processed and powdered edible insects is set to grow by 3,000% between 2015 and 2021.

For Brits, knowingly eating insects is something typically practised only by more adventurous types, most often when on holiday in the Far East. But in reality, as outlined in this piece in Scientific American, we’re already (often unknowingly) eating substantial amounts of insect protein, notably in food colourings such as cochineal.

Although many people are happy to cook and eat a variety of crustaceans for lunch or dinner, there’s a general consensus that the eating of insects would be a creepy-crawly step too far. And not peta2everyone is happy to eat lobsters, crabs, scampi, prawns and other seafood, of course, either for ethical reasons – see this infographic by PETA, the organisation that campaigns for the ethical treatment of animals – or because they’re squeamish or fearful about health risks. And there’ll be many who will have similar concerns about insects and arthropods.

But a number of sound reasons are put forth for supporting the development of insect food products. Insects can provide a low cost food supply for people in parts of the world where producing or maintaining adequate quantities of protein is difficult or expensive; many are nutritious (though admittedly this is a subject of debate); the farming of insects can offer employment and low cost business opportunities in Third World countries; if we buy such products from these countries, we are making a contribution to assisting in their economic development; and, assuming cultural barriers can be broken down and we swallow our initial revulsion, a whole new and exciting world of culinary adventure awaits …

Of course, this is all very well, but what about the practicalities? In 2013, the $1m Hult Prize, part of the Clinton Global Initiative, was awarded to the Aspire team of entrepreneurial MBA student scientists from McGill University in Canada.

According to this report in the Telegraph, their scheme, recognising that a billion people around the world already eat high-protein grubs, grasshoppers and weevils as part of their daily diet, even convinced arch-vegan Bill Clinton to consider sampling their lime cricket chips. Amongst many practical proposals, Aspire argued that ‘micro-livestock growing kits” should be distributed to poor communities and slum areas.

In that same year, the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations published a very detailed report entitled “Edible insects: future prospects for food and feed security“. As well as insects, the publication also examined other arthropod species eaten by Man, including spiders and scorpions, which, taxonomically speaking, are not insects. The report makes a very convincing case for the promotion of entomophagy, based on reasons concerning Health (insects are highly nutritious and already form part of many regional and national diets); the Environment (the farming of insects needs very little land, they give off hardly any greenhouse gases and ammonia, unlike many farm animals – and can be fed on waste); and Livelihoods (mini-farms that raise insects for human consumption could be set up easily, even by the poorest people in the world).

Is there a future for insect foods in Britain? The environmental argument falls down somewhat if insects have to be imported, of course, with all the issues around air travel and fossil fuels. But that’s partly why insect farms are being set up in the UK …

Entovista Insect Farms, based at Thringill in Cumbria, is leading the way in the production of what they refer to as “sustainable protein”, with a mission “To set the standards across Europe for cricket farming for human consumption”. The company utilises grain and vegetables which would not meet the quality controls imposed by supermarkets for direct human consumption, to produce a product range which includes cricket powder, dried crickets, frozen crickets, mealworm powder, dried mealworm and frozen mealworm. Entovista’s website lays out a convincing case. Aside from hailing their products’ attractions in terms of taste, they claim, for instance, that a family of four eating food made with insect protein on one day a week for one year would save the earth 650,000 litres of fresh water per year.

As the climate heats up, new insect species are finding a home in the UK. This is a factor which is being watched with interest by those following the development of the sector.

Other farms are also being developed and the incipient UK industry now has its own association – Woven Network CIC: The UK Network for Insects as Food & Feed – with a growing list of member companies. Similar developments are taking place in the US – see Big Cricket Farms.

Clearly if insect food is to become an accepted constituent of the British diet, a mini- cultural revolution will need to take place. The mass marketing of these products would be quite a challenge. But as a marketeer myself I have great faith in the power of advertising to transform entrenched attitudes and get bug burgers and grasshopper goulash on the nation’s dinner plates.

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Miya’s Crickleberry Brie sushi features farmed crickets rather than seafood or livestock that is farmed in an ecologically destructive manner.



Information: top 50 edible insects – see http://www.ediblebugfarm.com/blog/edible-insects-list/

Image credits:

Fried grasshoppers – by Erinamukuta (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Crickleberry sushi – by Robert Bomgardner (Robert Bomgardner) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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Did the Great War ever really finish for Grandad Tipling?

1931 was a good year for the Tipling family. My Grandma and Grandad, Nellie and Lawrence Tipling, moved with their three daughters, Marjorie (16), Muriel (10) and my mother, Olive (7), from 16 Aysgarth Terrace, just off York Road in Leeds, to the city’s new Halton Moor Estate.

309 Halton Moor Avenue wasn’t just new – compared to Aysgarth Terrace it was sheer luxury. For a start you didn’t need to go across the cobbled toilet yard of a freezing cold morning and queue up to use one of the two shared toilets, which stood next to four great big dustbins. At the new house Nellie could utilise her mangle in the kitchen and then hang her washing outside her own back door, rather than on a line strung across the street, as she’d had to do for all those years at Aysgarth Terrace.

No. 309, with its smart privet hedge at the front, three bedrooms and a family bathroom, was set on a wide road that boasted trees and a nearby shopping parade. It even had a small hallway, where people could hang their coats and caps and put their umbrellas. On the day of the move, Nellie walked through the covered alleyway to the back of the house. “Ooh, come and see the garden, Lawrence!”, she exclaimed. Ever since arriving home from the Great War, Grandad had yearned for a decent garden. In fact, while they lived in Aysgarth Terrace he’d fought for the right to move next door, where there was a garden of sorts, albeit an extremely tiny one. Now his wish had been granted – a proper piece of land, stretching perhaps eighty or a hundred feet into the distance.

As a young lad, fresh-faced Lawrence, with his mop of black hair, had been on the stage, helping out as an assistant to a music hall entertainer with a performing dog. (I wonder how they’d have got on nowadays on Britain’s Got Talent?).

He met Nellie, who worked as a boot machinist before she was married, in 1912. Lawrence was employed in a fish and chip shop. And that’s the job he gave up when, on 29th February, 1916 – a leap year – at the age of 22, he kissed Nellie and the baby goodbye and went to war. kitchenerHe enlisted, “probably conscripted” as I discovered on this web page (now defunct). Conscription started in 1916. He joined his “Pals“, in the 11th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry (the “DLI“) at a time when the Battle of Verdun was just beginning. So far, bachelors had been called up before married men, but now the war was entering a crucial phase.

“Get summat down to throw up!”, said the man selling pork pies on the boat that took Lawrence and his pals across the Channel. My guess is that quite a lot of singing went on on board that ship, and maybe quite a lot of liquor was smuggled aboard too. I don’t know exactly when Grandad went to the Front Line, but I think it’s safe to assume that he underwent lengthy training before embarking, and probably received more after he arrived in France.

At some point Private 53222 Lawrence Tipling‘s battalion was sent to the Somme. I tried a few times (I wish I’d tried harder) to get him to describe what it was like at the Front Line. But in common with most of the men who survived that terrifying battle in unimaginably horrific circumstances, he hardly ever spoke about it.

He did describe one episode, though, a kind of black humour incident. He remembered that a lot of men were sent completely mad by the dreadful situation they found themselves in; late one freezing cold night, as he sat around a camp fire, in a shell crater along with lots of his mates, a soldier appeared over the brim of the shell hole and with a loud scream tossed a grenade into the blazing fire. Needless to say the whole company scrambled out of the crater, the men diving for cover as they tried to escape the blast. After a time, no explosion having occurred, they gingerly clambered back to the rim of the shell hole. There was the “mad” soldier, sat comfortably in front of the flames, warming his knuckles, his face wreathed in a huge smile. It had just been a trick to get a prime position in front of the fire. The hand grenade wasn’t armed …

Probably there were quite a few reasons why Grandad never went into more detail. Although the man in the shell crater had played a trick, many thousands of them did actually suffer from shell shock for years afterwards. It can’t have been pleasant to see a comrade suffering such an affliction.

And many of the men on the Western Front felt that they’d been tricked in a much bigger way too. Early on, the impression given by the government’s ‘marketing campaign’ – via posters, newspaper ads., sing songs in the music hall and speeches on the radio, was that going to war would be a bit of a jaunt – almost like a glorified Boy Scouts trip to the continent. But by the time Lawrence was conscripted, it had become clear that this would be no jaunt. He would almost certainly have known what he was letting himself in for, and would have been deeply worried about the prospects for Nellie and the baby if he didn’t return.

Seeing the films of life on the Somme, listening on TV to the old soldiers’ accounts of their comrades and pals being slaughtered alongside them, hearing about life and death in the trenches – trenches which the men themselves had to dig, which were often knee deep in muddy water and which became temporary graves for some – I can understand that most of them wouldn’t want to recall such awful memories. It hadn’t all been a horrendous nightmare – it had been real. Not the exciting six month stay in France and then home to an admiring family that they’d all been promised in the cinema newsreels and by the recruiting sergeants. Just day after day, and for some month after month and year after year of indescribable horror.

And in any case how do you convey the scenes that were played out all around you and the emotions that you experienced in such a situation? How do you do it justice? For a man like Lawrence, who probably left school at 14, it would have been impossible to find words to describe what he’d really have wanted to say. (Mind you, he probably wrote to Nellie. Apparently the postal service for letters back home was very efficient. I wonder what he wrote? – I’ll never know).

So many books have been written about the First World War; so many documentaries have been made; but for me it’s the War Poets that provide the most direct insight into the kind of things my Grandad must have experienced nearly a hundred years ago.
sassoonpic2Siegfried Sassoon, born about the same time as Grandad, was from a different background. The Sassoons were a comparatively wealthy family; he went to Marlborough and then on to university at Clare College, Cambridge. Siegfried (no German connection) had volunteered before the war even started and joined the 3rd Battalion (Special Reserve) , Royal Welsh Fusiliers, as a second lieutenant, on 29th May, 1915. He was exceptionally brave, an outstandingly heroic man, and on July 27th, 1916 he was awarded the Military Cross for “conspicuous gallantry”.

But in a way his writings have proven to be just as valuable a legacy as his heroism. On August 1st this year Sassoon’s diaries were put online, for the first time, by the University of Cambridge‘s digital library. The Sassoon Journals are packed with vivid descriptions of his experiences; and they also contain his Soldier’s Declaration, in which he rails against what he sees as the “deception” played out on the troops. And here was a man whose voice would be listened to: the Declaration was read out in the House of Commons on July 30th, 1917.

Amongst the many pages of harrowing details – like this – there are also frequent “asides” about, for instance, the countryside, the wildlife, food and drink and the general banter among the soldiers. Here he gives a touching description of the effect of the battle on the local bird population.

On this page he describes how the “Manchesters” are getting ready to go over the top. “I am looking at a sunlit picture of Hell”, he writes. His writings also tell us something about the chitter-chatter and rumour that went around the battlefield. On this page, for instance, he describes how the 2nd Queen’s had “legged it as usual”.

Sassoon was a realist about war. He knew that most soldiers weren’t cut out to be heroes. This comes through in much of his poetry, which to a large extent is basic polemic, scorning the people who waved off the innocent young men setting off for the battlefields:

“You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go”.

And what about the wounded, the men who limped home, some with horrific injuries?

“Now, he will spend a few sick years in Institutes,
And do whatever things the rules consider wise,
And take whatever pity they may dole.
Tonight he noticed how the women’s eyes
Passed from him to the strong men that were whole.
How cold and late it is! Why don’t they come
And put him into bed? Why don’t they come?”

Grandad was wounded in the left arm. It wasn’t horrific and in a way he was fortunate, if that isn’t a completely inappropriate term. He was hit by shrapnel in his left forearm, about a month after he’d been moved up to the Front Line. From what I could tell, it left him without the proper use of his middle fingers. He was discharged from the DLI on 27th May, 1918, about six months before the end of the war (11th November, 1918). When he arrived home, his hair had turned completely white. As compensation for his wound, the government paid him £1 a week until he died; the sum never increased.

grandads discharge card2

Overall he seemed to lead a reasonably pleasant life after the war. He worked for a firm of woollen merchants for forty years before moving to a tailoring business, where he stayed for some fifteen years. He was a member of the Royal and Ancient Order of the Buffaloes (the “Buffs”) for over fifty years. Grandma was a delegate for the Labour Party in 1928. Their daughters grew up and married. The three husbands, my uncle Bill Browne (Marjorie’s husband), my father Raymond (“Ray”) and my uncle Albert Pearson (Muriel’s husband) are all pictured below in front of Grandad’s greenhouse, in which he tended his tomato plants and his beloved chrysanthemums in their pots. “I’ve got chrysanths as big as me head, and you know how big that is!”, he once wrote to my mother.


He liked to eat tomatoes, as well as grow them. But he didn’t like the skins. With his gammy hand, it was quite a job for him to peel the skins off a tomato with his penknife.

He lived well into his eighties and Grandma into her nineties. They received a congratulatory telegram from the Queen in November 1975 on the occasion of their diamond wedding anniversary.

Whenever I visited no. 309, he’d always take me out into the garden, to show me how his cabbages were doing (usually better than his neighbour’s – he’d make sure to point that out!).

But, as I say, he never wanted to talk about the Great War. I often wonder what he was thinking about when he was alone in that garden, digging over the soil, getting the pots ready for the tomato plants, getting the trenches ready for the potatoes to go in.

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