Meet the Appliance Designed for Bug Eaters

Designer and Fulbright Scholar Katharina Unger is working on an incubator that allows insects to be prepared for human consumption. Her revolutionary if somewhat disgusting efforts to create an edible bug-creating appliance make up her thesis, called Farm 432: Insect Breeding.

insect breeding

The white and blue vessel for these bugs comes stocked with one gram of black soldier fly eggs that move throughout the device’s chambers for 18 days as they gestate, reproduce and ultimately turn themselves into a whopping 2.4 kilograms of nutritious fly larvae ripe for the food processor.

While the entire effort may be nauseating, devices like Unger’s are being developed in preparation for the nine billion people expected to be living on Earth by 2050. Those people will crave meat and protein, but it’s not possible to farm enough animals for that many meat-eaters. Protein production would have to double and considering farming already uses up half of the planets arable land, making enough meat for all those people is going to be impossible.

Thus many scientists have had the courage to consider that entomophagy or bug-eating will increase in order to meet these needs. Westerners will have to make insects a much larger part of their diet, a development that seems fairly unlikely in this day and age.

The philosophy behind Unger is that it manages to hide the dirty-looking and generally disgusting processes that turn one gram of food into 2.5 kilograms of food. Its design language is also used in such a way as to make the concept seem as familiar as possible, though it still is going to be difficult to stomach in anything but crisis times.

strawberries and cream

In response to the general disgust that Unger’s product provokes, she often points out that humans already consume 500 grams worth of insects in our food on a yearly basis. There can be up to 60 insect fragments in a 100 gram chocolate bar, she has stated, and insect-infested fruits that can’t be sold as produce are often turned directly into juice. Starbucks was outed for using crushed beetles to color their Strawberries and Cream frappuccino. That horrified people, but it wasn’t the end of Starbucks, so maybe people could eat bugs knowingly if they were presented in the right way.

That’s what Unger is banking on. She’s done a fair amount of research too, to figure out which bugs are the best tasting and most likely to be accepted as mainstream food in Western countries. After sampling crickets, grasshoppers, mealworms and other bugs, she said the following:

“I felt okay with all that, but grabbing/touching the animals was gross… I knew the only way people would grow insects at home was without having to touch them.”

Accordingly, Unger designed her incubator so that people don’t have to touch the bugs until it’s time to cook them. She also tried to make her appliance as clean and unintimidating as possible:

“We tend to associate insects with negative imagery: destroyed crops, plagues, manure… Once people see how the larvae can be grown, that they clean themselves before they are ready to eat, they become very curious and forget their prejudices.”

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