Food Engineering

Editor's Note: Pass the meatballs, but hold the bugs

March 1, 2011

Even though most sectors of the food and beverage manufacturing industry fared well during the recent economic meltdown, food makers continue to be challenged by an evolving, complex and sometimes strange marketplace.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), world food prices surged to an historic peak in January 2011. Higher food process can affect a variety of concerns, from world hunger and political uprisings to job market stability for all Food Engineering readers.

The food industry experienced even more bad news this month with the announcement that global warming will continue to wreak havoc on food safety. During this year’s meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a Michigan State University (MSU) professor said climate change is already affecting the safety of the world’s food supply, and unless action is taken, it’s only going to get worse. MSU Professor Ewen Todd said there are already a number of examples. One is Vibrio, a pathogen typically found in warm ocean water that is now becoming more common in the north as water temperatures rise.

According to a Wall Street Journal report, insects may become our future meal of choice as food prices rise. Insects require less water during processing, need less feed and produce less greenhouse gases than our current popular protein food choices such as meat and poultry. The WSJ article says insects may be used as a replacement for meat in meatballs and sauces or mixed into prepared foods to boost nutritional value. The article goes on to say dry-roasted insects could also be used as a replacement for nuts in baked goods.

Maybe there’s hope for the childhood obesity battle after all. Chicago students are not eating the healthy meals now sold at their schools, and sales are plummeting. Perhaps these kids would love to take a bite out of actual mealworms, not the gummy candy variety. Millions of people in developing countries already eat insects. In fact, some governments are spending millions of dollars researching insects as a food source.

Check back in 2021. We may well have a new special section in Food Engineering devoted to insect processing right next to the article on pest control. In a truly sustainable environment, anything is possible. Bon appétit.