Somewhere in London, a plucky group of engineer-restaurateurs are trying to trick you into eating bugs. The shadowy insect advocates behind Ento have vowed to make insects a staple of western cuisine by 2020. Their plan? Like Poe’s purloined letter, the trick is hiding the bugs in plain sight.
Ento’s strategy is inspired by sushi, which in less than 30 years has moved from the hinterlands to the heart of western food culture. The cultural taboo against eating raw fish has given way to a widespread love for the once-exotic food. Sushi’s ascendancy teaches us that presentation is paramount: sushi’s aesthetics seem calculated to help us forget that we’re eating raw fish. Ento focuses on presenting insects to diners in an abstract way to bypass our revulsion.
The strange thing is that this group of engineers has hit on arguably the most effective way to change a culture’s opinion of a new, previously stigmatized food group. Research into how we develop preferences for food has led to some surprising findings. Current theories in taste psychology suggest that aversions and preferences are largely dictated by our familiarity with various foods and associations with other preferred or disliked foods. In other words, taste is about culture and psychology, not biology.
Over at i09, journalist Joseph Bennington-Castro argues that “we don’t just eat food because we like them, we like them because we eat them.” The presentation and even the color of a food can have a huge impact on our experience with it. I believe Ento will be successful in advocating for insects-as-cuisine because of their plan to build associations with already-popular exotic foods and to break cultural taboos by repeatedly exposing consumers to tasty insect-based dishes.
Although Ento might seem like a business based on artistry and aesthetics, and even an avant-garde intervention into conventional cuisine, they should also be seen as a pioneering effort to engineer a sustainable food supply. Our current dependence on livestock animals as sources of protein is unsustainable and inefficient in terms of the resources and land required to feed our growing population. Insects can be farmed in vastly smaller enclosures, but are also just as comfortable as cows in open pasture. They are also a great source of protein. Overall, they are a great solution to the problem of creating cheaper, greener and healthier diets.
Even if insects don’t end up as a major food source in the future, Ento’s method of creating a culture to encourage appreciation of new foods seems effective. Perhaps other sustainable approaches to food can use Ento as an inspiration and a test case. Advertising food’s sustainability quotient is not enough to change people’s eating habits, so a bit of trickery, misdirection and association with other enjoyable foods are integral parts of any food revolution.
Interested in learning more about Ento? Connect with them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/entofood
Photo courtesy of istolethetv under CC BY 2.0 license.