It's amazing how quickly one's brain can be re-wired. Now if I spot a lone ant wandering around, I no longer think "Pest" - I'm more likely to think "Food". In many parts of the world, eating insects is part of everyday life, but in Northern Europe, that's simply not the case. However, things are beginning to change.
Why this sudden broadening of my diet? The return of my colleague Josh from a stint with the Nordic Food Lab in Copenhagen, where several researchers spent the month of April eating their way through a menagerie of different insects in preparation for a dinner at Pestival in London, searching not for the merely edible, but for the delicious. This included ants, bee larvae, mealworms, cockroaches and moths. In our recent pop-up, we chose to serve ants as part of an opening snack, their delicate sourness paired with turnips and the wild herb woodruff.
Beside their culinary value, serving ants asks new questions of diners, such "If you're vegetarian, will that rule out insects too?". I certainly hope we will see this recent spark of interest grow, as do others, such as start-up Ento, for the good both of sustainability and gastronomy. Most mentions of entomophagy consider its sustainability, yet at present insects are not really accessible to the consumer, and if it is to be adopted widely in the UK, prices for the ingredients themselves need to come down.
If ants remain unappealing, then how about bacteria? The recent fervour in fine dining for fermented foods spearheads a development in food that looks back to look forward. Experts such as Cultured Pickle Shop and Sandor Katz highlight the ancient tradition of preserving food by making it a living thing. Lacto-fermented preserves, in which cultures of good bacteria and yeast keep bad microbes at bay, can have an almost unlimited lifespan. In contrast to the wisdom of a mass food industry that serves up heat-treated, sterile dishes, we will see a flourishing of cultured products that are both delicious and healthy. Sour pickles, sauerkraut and kimchee are just the tip of the iceberg.
Similar revivalist thinking may be set to reinvigorate the high street, as services such as Hubbub support local food businesses by offering them the convenience of supermarket delivery services. As it gets more convenient to source locally in an affordable and efficient way, it will also get easier to produce and distribute locally. The food growing network of Capital Growth encourages urban production on a small scale, but which adds up to a vast potential yield. In a time in which we don't have to dig for victory, we should be digging for the future.
Dining out has already undergone exciting upheavals in recent times, based on much imagination and risk-taking. From supperclubs to pop-ups to the explosion of street food in the UK, experimentation and collaboration are at the heart of these developments. Networks such as the Courvoisier Future 500 and the Experimental Food Society encourage the interaction of food professionals and innovators in other areas, making food about so much more than just what is on the plate. Food is an amazing tool to animate interactions and discussion, and we will see the experience of eating out informed ever more by the research of chemists, psychologists, designers, microbiologists, geographers... the conversation is just starting.
What else will you be eating in the future? One place to find out is Future Fest, held London this September, at which we will get together with Morgaine Gaye and others to cook for you as part of a much larger exploration of future thinking.