The other day on the radio, a scientist was making a convincing case for the fact that we should all eat more insects.
You can listen to the programme again here. The basic premise is that for the majority of the world, which is to say everyone who doesn’t live in the developed West, the main source of protein is six-legged: the likes of deep-fried bee larvae, baked termites and mealworm meatballs.
Hmm. They’ve got a bit of a PR mountain to climb before they convince us all to give up our lamb chops in favour of cockroach sandwiches.
But they’ve also, surely, got a point. I use up a couple of acres of good grassland to raise my sheep, and they provide us, plus maybe a couple of other families if lambing goes well, with about a year’s worth of meat. The same amount of land could grow vegetables for a small village; and hold hundreds, if not thousands of insect farms, feeding hundreds of people, not just half a dozen. It’s much more efficient, too: 10kg of feed produces 1kg of cow, but 7kg of insects. They even poo more cleanly, with all that implies for greenhouse gases and climate change.
Makes you think, doesn’t it?
Then I came across Helen Howard’s Kent-based snail farm at the Edible Garden Show and discovered a whole new way of replacing protein in our diet in super-efficient, space-saving ways.
Farmed snails grow twice as fast as garden snails (even though they’re the same species), reaching maturity in six months. You can keep six in a box the size of a propagator, and the only maintenance they need is a quick spray with water and a powdered feed mixed with chalk once a day.
Before you want to eat them, just remove the food for a few days, then drop them in boiling water, slow cook for at least 1 1/2 hours and there you go: escargots on toast. They’re particularly good on pizza, apparently.
You can start your own snail farm for £30, which buys you a breeder pack of six snails, food and housing. Add a cage full of crickets and a bag of mealworms and you can be self-sufficient from your spare room. As long as you can get over the yuck factor, that is.