By Robert Hickson 20/04/2017

Here’s a weak signal associated with changing dietary habits. Grasshoppers were on the menu at a Major League Baseball game in the US recently. At a Seattle Mariners vs Astros game six kilos of spicy grasshoppers sold out.

I wrote in October in more detail about some of the trends and challenges associated with traditional western food consumption. This case illustrates how some of these new foods are getting out to the masses.

Six kilos of crispy hoppers is 310 orders. For comparison 10,000 hot dogs are eaten at a Major League game. So we aren’t looking at dietary disruption yet. Still it’s part of a broader trend of trying new sources of protein.

Insects aren’t yet big on fancy restaurant menus in the US. But they are a gaining popularity in Japan. The UK has at least one restaurant specialising in our invertebrate friends. And Ikea has been thinking about introducing insect meatballs for a couple of years. A Swiss supermarket is planning to sell burgers and meatballs made from mealworms from next month.

New Zealand is no stranger to edible invertebrates, if only occasionally. I couldn’t find reports of insect meals being a staple in New Zealand, but at least two companies offer gourmet arthropod treats – Crawlers and Anteater. Some other food stores offer products containing cricket flour.

In addition, lab grown meat prices are dropping rapidly. And producers of meat-free burgers are on a PR offensive.

In a further turning of the tables, the world’s largest pork producer, Smithfield Foods, is hoping to become a major supplier of organs for human transplants. New gene editing techniques are making this more feasible. If successful this would significantly help reduce the transplant waiting lists, once they get regulatory approvals and can manage the scaling up.

So, what we thought of as pests become palatable, and what we thought of as health hazards (if over-indulged) can become saviours. Both may meet strong social resistance, but they along with other agricultural and social changes will influence why and what we farm.


Featured image: from Wikimedia by Thomas Schoch  CC-BY-SA