Is that a cricket in my bread?
EU bureaucrats want to add crushed cricket flour to bread.
I was walking through the Doge’s Palace in Venice this weekend when I came across a darkly mesmerising painting of hell.
The Inferno by Herri met de Bles is an arresting painting. His depiction of hell shows suffering lost souls imaginatively tortured by devils, flames and monstrous chimeras. It is intended to warn the viewer of moral transgressions - sin and you could end up here! It also contained lots of insects. Worms, moths, beetles, flies, centipedes, spidery half-breeds, and unidentifiable shiver-inducing creepy crawlies.
Let’s think about why insects are in a painting of hell. Is it unfair upon these humble earthy creatures? They are part of the whole ecosystem and serve their purposes, yet we tend to think of them as uninvited guests upon our bodies, our animals and in our homes. Insects eat rotten flesh, slurry and trash. They swarm, scurry, scuttle, pester, bother and itch. They carry diseases and bacteria. We associate insects with a dank prison, not a palace. They occupy the hell of our imagination, not heaven.
I was struck by the insects for two reasons. They jarred after the gold-leafed grandeur, seraphim and cherubim of the Venetian palace. Second, this was the same day that it came to my attention that house crickets are now authorised as a ‘novel food’ in the EU. I’d just eaten a lovely Venetian lunch. It was impossible to imagine the Italians would be rushing to add bugs to their fine cuisine.
House cricket flour can now be used in ‘multigrain bread and rolls, crackers and breadsticks … intended for the general population’ and more, according to EU regulations. Do you want a cricket or 70 in your loaf of bread?
While humans appear to naturally dislike insects, even to the point of equating them with hell, bread has entirely different symbolism.
The person in the house who earns the most is the breadwinner. Money is even known as ‘bread’. Jesus multiplied bread to feed a crowd. ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ asks the Lord’s Prayer. Of course, that is about the physical provision of food, but it is also a powerful symbol of spiritual sustenance.
Bread is one of the oldest foods in human societies after hunting and foraging. It’s filling, wholesome and simple. The basic loaf contains just flour, yeast, salt and water. The EU lawmakers want to add crickets.
The powerful symbolic associations of bread make the idea of adding insects seem particularly depraved. But might it actually do us harm? While the EU technocrats have presumably deemed crushed crickets a safe ingredient, it is ‘novel’. We have never wanted house crickets in our houses, let alone our bread.
Pest control companies promise to rid desperate home owners of acheta domesticus, the house cricket. The danger isn’t their bite, it is the diseases and parasites they can carry in their bodies and in their waste, like E.coli and salmonella, and worms that can come out in their faeces. They don’t sound or look appetising.
In 2017, Finnish baker Fazer reportedly became the first company in the world to add crickets to bread. It has since stopped producing the ‘Sirkkaleipä' range due to limited consumer interest. According to Finnish publication Länsiväylä the insect food trend lasted a mere two years in Finland. People did not want 70 crickets in their daily bread.
Meddling with bread’s ingredient list is likely to rouse suspicion and revulsion. The Finnish didn’t much like insect food, and I doubt the people of the EU will either. The EU bureaucrats could learn from the artists of the sixteenth century.
Adding insects to food feels like a concerted race to the bottom of de Bles’s hellscape. Give us this day our daily bread with no added insects
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