J-STORIES - Earlier this year, some Japanese students made an unusual lunchroom menu request: They wanted to eat insects.
Pretty soon, the canteen at Komatsushima Nishi High School on the southern island of Shikoku was serving "nikuman" dumplings featuring a nutritious, delicious and eco-friendly powder made from crickets.
The ingredient was developed by Gryllus, a local startup, and Takuma Kawahara, a public relations official for the company, told J-Stories that the children were interested in insects as an environmentally sustainable source of protein.
Although many Japanese are still unfamiliar with entomophagy, or the consumption of insects, it is certainly not new to Japan. In fact, like some other Asian countries, Japan has a long history of eating bugs.
According to Tokyo-based Semitama, a startup that promotes regional economic development through edible insects, 55 types of insects were part of the Japanese diet as late as the 1960s. As the country modernized and its economy grew, however, international cuisine became increasingly popular, and the number of insects consumed shrank to just six by the mid-1980s.
But the potential for the environment is well established. Insect rearing consumes less feed and emits less carbon dioxide than raising cattle or pigs, and the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization believes that expanding the use of entomophagy could lead to a solution to the world's food problems.
And the world appears to be listening. According to the Economist, two billion people around the world "regularly" eat insects, and even nations that have traditionally shunned entomophagy have started to catch the bug bug.
Other reports show that protein- and fiber-rich insect products are being developed in some poorer parts of the world to relieve famine and aid recovery from illnesses, such as tuberculosis, in treatment centers that are sometimes unable to provide adequate nutrition to their patients.
Ironically, most people in Japan are still resistant to the idea of insect cuisine, Kawahara said, “[but] sometimes it starts with children and then parents become interested.” Kawahara expressed his hope that his company's free donation to the Shikoku high school will encourage children to think together about social issues such as the environment.
Yet, it seems that a renewed interest in bug munching is starting to hatch here. Semitama reports that there are 42 locations in Japan with vending machines that sell edible insects.
Two of them can be found at tourist sites in mountainous Nagano Prefecture, an area with a robust tradition of insect cuisine, including crickets, wasp larvae, and silkworm pupae.
One of them, the Achi Base tourist facility, offers 25 types of insect foods, while the "Tenku Minami-Shinshu Glamping" site sells 18 different types.
Operator, Asami Osawa, told the media that the vending machines are very popular, particularly for creepy-crawly delicacies such as chocolate-coated grasshoppers and apple cider made with extract of giant water bug. Some items have sold out in just a month
Insects are also now available from the gacha capsule dispensers that usually contain toys.
Tokyo restaurant chain Kome to Circus has been serving insect cuisine since 2016, but in May, it set up gacha machines containing its own “Mogbug” brand of edible insects. Each capsule costs 500 yen and there are 12 varieties, including queen weaver ants, locusts and superworms.
Translation and Editing by Tony McNicol
Top page photo by jirkaejc / Envato
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