Let me start this blog with full disclosure. I’m a vegetarian. I don’t normally tell anyone this until I absolutely have to. I’m not the preachy vegan-eco-warrior and originally became a veggie almost by accident. But this time you need to know my dietary stance because this blog is about what you eat. And, more importantly, what you won’t eat.
This week my event blogging career takes a twist when I head into London’s financial district to live-tweet at a pestaurant serving pigeon burgers and insect treats. As a vegetarian, I think meat eaters in the Western World are a picky lot. They’ll happily eat an entire creature, such as prawn, and yet they’re disgusted at the thought of eating dog. This particularly choosy approach to eating is probably driven by the popularity of keeping dogs as pets. Yet the same people will eat rabbits which are another popular pet. The same avoiders of dog-flesh for dinner will happily tuck into a burger or meat pie that’s likely to contain a pig’s ear, or it’s testicles, or an eye lid. Or even a horse. You really never know, do you?
It’s hard to see the logic in this faddishness. It is rarely based on taste because instead of palate it’s cultural perceptions that tend to rule the menu. Many cultures happily accept insects as part of their diet. These bug-eaters are essentially no different to those who tuck into body-part-burgers. Insects are just another form of meat and yet many meat-eaters I spoke to about this wouldn’t entertain eating bugs, not even to taste them. Very few people had either tried them before or expressed a willingness to at least give crunching the critters a go. Those who have eaten insects seem to be the world-traveller type, willingly exposing themselves to different cultures. None of my Western friends are sitting down to a bowl of toasted crickets on a regular basis. Yet.
Attitudes to food will change with time, just as they have with other standards in our lives like work and dress. The increasing globalisation of our world erodes culinary cultural norms by exposure to different outlooks on what is considered food and what isn’t. Britain before the 1960s our meals were very different to today’s fare. ‘Continental’ foods were viewed with suspicion whereas almost everyone in Britain nowadays will have tasted or even cooked a Chinese stir-fry or an Indian curry.
Perhaps it will be economic need that drives a radical shift in our cultural approach to diet. If the farming and consumption of meat is even as remotely unsustainable as those vegan-eco-warriors will have us believe, then the world supply of cattle, swine and poultry may fail to meet the increasing demand for creatures served as food.
If ‘traditional’ meat sources can’t cope then it could be up to the likes of the lab-built-burger to supply a world hungry for fast food. Or perhaps an array of insects, worms and grubs will come flying, crawling, slithering and hopping onto the dinner plates of the future. Just how far will cultural attitudes to food change? Will a bowl of worms served writhing and alive in a Klingon style soon be as acceptable as tea and biscuits? Or can the Vegan-eco-warriors take over the world and force everyone to live on lentil-burgers?