The European Union recently invested €3m in research to investigate the potential of edible insects – but if you’re going to investigate an underutilised protein source that most Europeans find disgusting, why not start with widespread pests, like rats or pigeons?
Pigeons also have the advantage of being delicious, so there’s no need to invest in research to find ways to make their flesh appealing to picky westerners – although food safety perceptions could be on a par with cockroaches.
However, eating pigeons should be no different from eating wild game. Like any wild meat, pigeons would need to be cooked thoroughly to ensure safety, but given consumer acceptance of salmonella risk in chicken and eggs, people are familiar with this concept.
What about a rebranding? The truly unappetising ‘slimehead’ fish was renamed orange roughy, and sales took off. And I’d like to personally congratulate the marketing genius who came up with the term ‘prairie oysters’ for fried bull calf testicles.
For pigeon meat, I propose ‘urban grouse’. Other suggestions on a postcard, please, delivered by the fattest, juiciest carrier pigeon you can find.
What’s more, pigeon consumption is an urban locavore’s dream: Drop a net on Trafalgar Square once a day and you’d get enough pigeon meat to feed half of Greater London. Pick a set time and the Capture of the Pigeons could become a tourist attraction in its own right, like the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace.
Of course, I’m half joking…but I’m also half serious.
I am very open-minded about the potential of insects as a food source, but I understand that my friends might not feel the same way. Getting over our disgust is a pretty huge barrier after all.
Eventually, I think many western consumers could be convinced to try a ‘Bug Mac’ (er, hold the flies), but I can’t see insects finding a permanent place alongside chicken, steak or even veggie sausages in our shopping trolleys. If we’re really going to make a difference to the environmental impacts of meat production as global demand grows, we have to reduce waste, and use existing protein sources better, as well as looking at alternatives.
In Europe, we already waste 24% of meat along the supply chain, according to the FAO – with 11% wasted at consumer level.
We shouldn’t write off the many options that have fallen out of favour in food-abundant societies either, and before bugs, we need to tackle the disgust many people feel about eating more commonly available products, like offal.
Head-to-tail eating and reducing waste are just the first stops on our journey to a world in which we make the most of all our available protein sources.
But I’m also willing to give urban grouse a go.