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Bugs for Bugmen


THE MOST FAMOUS bug-eater was John the Baptist, who was said to live on locusts and wild honey. Now we can all become righteous bug-eaters without the threat of getting our heads served up on a platter to an eastern potentate. On the contrary, we shall receive the praise and blessings of our cultural masters. The European Union’s Food Safety Agency has given the go-ahead for mealworms to be approved as a safe source of human food. That’s mealworms — the things we normally buy to feed birds and fish.

Over the years I have witnessed nearly every bit of dietary advice from official sources being reversed. Butter bad, now good; eggs bad, now good; animal fats bad, now good; trans-fats good, now bad. Carbohydrates bad, then good, then bad, now who knows what. Taking your Five-A-Day fruit portions turns out to be a load of facricated health advice. Drinking more water every day proved dangerous, as some people found out, which is why you don’t hear about it any more. Eat more fruit and vegetables is still going strong as a general dogma, strengthened by the continuing spread of vegetarianism and the rise of its paramilitary branch, veganism.

With the rise of politicised food faddism we are constantly exhorted to refrain from some foods and cajoled into eating others.

With the rise of politicised food faddism we are constantly exhorted to refrain from some foods and cajoled into eating others. Currently, the fashion is to dissuade us from eating beef because cows fart and soon their farts will blow up the planet. We shouldn’t eat lamb because sheep denude upland areas, causing floods downstream. We are, however, encouraged to eat fake meat, in the form of sausages, burgers and mince, which is concocted from fungus, soy and other “plant-based” materials, and surely the most over processed, unnatural food ever served up to human beings. I sometimes think we’re being herded towards that science fictiony state predicted in the books I used to read in the ‘fifties and ‘sixties in which technology will have developed so far we’ll be eating food in the form of coloured tablets.

Allied to the campaign to turn us into witless consumers of processed laboratory garbage is this new drive to humiliate us by getting us to eat dried grasshoppers and ground-up larvae as a part of our diet. Proponents always say such things have been regularly eaten in various parts of Africa and Asia for hundreds of years, but to be frank, I don’t consider that a recommendation. Just because something is non-Western doesn’t mean it’s good. They eat bats in China, and that didn’t turn out well, did it?

Insects are full of protein, they say. Well, yum yum. And they don’t require much water or energy to breed, unlike the vegetation-cropping sheep or the flatulent bovines, which also require acres of land for the growing of their feed. The purely moral justifications for abjuring meat (meat is murder, etc) have been moved into second place. The environment is now the primary ethical principle being marketed: we have to save the planet from global warming and deforestation.

Add to that the old fear of global over-population (another blast from my past) because the population is going to go boom and soon there won’t be enough food for all of us or space, because all the available land will be taken up with grazing for those farting cows and growing fodder for them, etc, etc. Hence the buzz phrase, “global food security,” because no crisis — real or manufactured — should go unexploited by those who feel it is their duty to tell us what to do, the more globally the better.

Will they succeed? I suspect yes and no. They may convince a section of the public to indulge in honey-coated scorpions and roasted ants, especially if they can get a few vacuous celebrities to accept them as the new “super food” but what is more likely is that, as with mealworms, bugs will be ground up and used to bulk out existing foodstuffs. That way people won’t notice, much as they didn’t notice that their bread was being adulterated with soya.

The tired old sceptic in me can’t help but see these developments as cynical opportunism by both big business and special interest groups pushing their own authoritarian agendas. Each step of their way together reduces our humanity, so that we become more like bugs ourselves, while corporations charge us for the privilege. It’s not for me. You can keep your mealworms, matey, I’m giving ours to the birds.

suxcoverCurrente Calamo columnist, poet and writer Michael Blackburn lives in Lincolnshire. A Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Lincoln University (2005 – 2008), his poetry has appeared in numerous publications and anthologies over the years, including Being Alive (Bloodaxe) and Something Happens, Sometimes Here (Five Leaves Press). His most recent book is Albion Days (perennisperegrinator press). Sucks to Your Revolution is a collection of his Fortnightly columns.

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