Day of the locust

Heap Tom Heap has been eating insects for Radio 4's Costing the Earth

Correspondent Tom Heap bites the bullet, or rather the locust, for Radio 4's Costing the Earth.

The series returns next week and the second programme, on September 7, explores the issues around the supply of protein and asks whether, amid a rising world population and the overgrazing of land, insects might be the way forward.

Investigations took the small but intrepid BBC team to a café in Bristol where the menu includes locust stir fry. There was only one thing for it: get stuck in.

So how was it? 'Not unpleasant until the things popped in my mouth,' recalls producer Martin Poyntz-Roberts.

In other words, pretty unpleasant. 'Tom liked the stir fry though and ate the lot - but perhaps that's because he was hungry.'

It was a story about another insect-muncher that set Poyntz-Roberts on this particular trail in the first place.

'I was on a plane to Australia during a career break last year and read a piece in the inflight magazine about an artist in New York who serves his dinner guests grasshoppers and other insects. It got me thinking and I decided to do a bit more digging.'

In fact, for 2.5 billion people around the globe protein-rich creepy-crawlies are already part of their everyday diet.

'In parts of Asia, it is common to finish work then tuck in to some sauteed or barbequed crickets - rather as we would open a pack of peanuts,' says Poynz-Roberts.

Contributors to the programme include representives of the FAO (Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations), which for some time has been studying edible forest insects, and Dutch scientists who are at the forefront of research into alternative protein sources.

A visit by the BBC team to the Netherlands included an excursion to an insect farm - row after row of polytunnels full of trays of the little critters - and a meeting with a scientist who has developed a biscuit made from mealworms.

'He grinds them up and liquidises them then adds flour,' explains Poyntz-Roberts.

So how did they taste?

'Bloody disgusting. But I imagine if you were starving, you would happily eat them.'

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