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Manchester Science Festival

Feeding a growing world

October 2012

Rob Lyons, Angelica Michelis, Louise Bolotin and Carol Wagstaff introduced a discussion about how to feed a growing world

Rob LyonsEver since October 2011, when it was estimated that the global population had passed seven billion people, discussions have raged about how the world will cope. With food prices already rising amid deeper environmental concerns, the United Nations and governments worldwide are particularly preoccupied with how we will feed ourselves. An increasing population is overwhelmingly viewed as a matter of more mouths to feed rather than a potential source of solutions.

Dr Angelica Michelis


So while feeding the world seems a straightforward technical issue of implementing the most efficient and effective farming practices, a host of extraneous social, political, cultural, even ethical issues seem to thwart the implementation of solutions. The angst-ridden discussion about the pros and cons of growing genetically modified crops is only one example. Meanwhile, Western societies seem disillusioned with the gains of industrialised food production. Factory farming and processed foods are demonised; local, organic, natural are celebrated.


Louise Bolotin

One solution is to rethink what we eat completely. With some food futurologists and nutritionists predicting meat will become a luxury even in the West, one proposal to 'fill the meat gap' is eating insects. This is no longer a marginal idea, a gross bush-tucker trial from TV’s I’m a Celebrity... jungle. The Dutch government recently invested a million euros into research into getting insects into mainstream diets. British food experts are taking seriously research from Wageningen University that shows insects provide as much nutritional value as ordinary meat. There is of course a 'yuk factor' to consider, but those who don't relish the prospect of crunching through a bug sandwich are assured that crickets and grasshoppers can be ground down to be used in burgers and so on. And after all, a large number of the world's population already eat insects as a regular part of their diet: caterpillars and locusts are popular in Africa, crickets are eaten in Thailand and we've all seen the HSBC advert in which a Cambodian farmer catches flying insects to keep them off his crops, then cooks and sells them.

Dr Carol Wagstaff

Have Europeans something to learn from the developing world, or are such dietary choices the product of poverty rather than culinary experimentation? Why do most of us find the eating of insects repulsive, but don’t flinch when offered fish eggs, liver, kidney, snails? Might not science and modern-farming methods help us go beyond bug-burgers or should we all just become less squeamish? What are the most palatable ways of solving the world’s food crisis?

Nibbling samples of innovative food solutions will be available to try before the discussion.


Video footage of the speakers introductions, captured and prepared by Dan Clayton (starts part way into introductions, sorry but technical issues)

Video footage of the speakers response to audience contributions, captured and prepared by Dan Clayton (didn't have the microphone for the audience comments)

Some background readings

Could Eating Bugs Solve the World Food Crisis? by Bogdan, Environmental Graffiti 2008

GM crops key to solving food crisis, says Sir David King, by Aislinn Simpson, The Telegraph 07 July 2008

Can GM crops ease the global food crisis? by Ian Sample, Guardian 23 January 2009

Deep-fried locust, anyone? by Gaia Vince, Guardian 19 August 2009

Opinion: Bugs can solve food crisis, by Arnold van Huis, The Scientist 29 September 2010

Dutch scientist advocates bugs as a green superfood, BBC News 18 January 2011

The world’s food crisis can be solved without using GM crops or fertilizers, by Matthew Silverstone, El Reportero 6 July 2011

Could eating insects solve the global food crisis? BBC Newsnight, 28 October 2011

Anti-GM activists urged not to trash wheat field, by Ian Sample, Guardian 1 May 2012

The GM debate is growing up, by James Randerson, Guardian 30 May 2012

The moralistic, Malthusian war against fat people, by Frank Furedi, spiked 20 June 2012

How neo-Malthusians demonise dissent, by Tom Bailey, spiked 12 July 2012

Enough with the Malthusian miserablism, by Rob Lyons, spiked 18 July 2012

Future foods: What will we be eating in 20 years' time? by Denise Winterman, BBC News Magazine 30 July 2012

Make no mistake – it is time to make beef-eating taboo, by Frank Armstrong, The Journal 30 July 2012

We Can Save the World by Eating Bugs and Drinking Urine, by Erin Biba, Wired 23 August 2012

Student aims for Downing Street in crusade to improve vegetarian school dinners, Susannah Wright, MEN 29 August 2012

What's so scary about a vegetarian future? by Victoria Martindale, Independent Comment 11 September 2012


Discussion Partners


Battle of IdeasThis discussion is a satellite event of the prestigious Battle of Ideas 2012 weekend festival of ideas being held on 20 and 21 October 2012, hosted by the Barbican, London. Now in its eighth year, the Battle of Ideas festival comprises 75 debates and satellite discussions confronting society’s big issues and unresolved questions. It affords the opportunity for some clear thinking, rational debate and agenda-setting - above all, it's future-orientated, whilst retaining a healthy regard for the past achievements of humanity.


Manchester Science Festival

The Manchester Salon is participating in the fabulous Manchester Science Festival for the third year running, where you can explore the wonder of science with nine days of events designed to highlight and explore the myriad ways that science touches our lives; enjoy beautiful installations, films on the big screen in a beautiful warehouse setting, immersive science experiences, intriguing evening events, inspiring talks and debates, hands-on workshops and more during 27 October - 4 November 2012. Manchester Science Festival is proudly produced by MOSI, see for full details.

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