Most people are grossed out by insects and believe them to be just a nuisance. However, a group of students from Montreal-based McGill University think of them as protein that can be used to feed millions of malnourished people worldwide, an idea so powerful that it won them the prestigious 2013 Hult Prize on September 23rd.
When MBA students Mohammed Ashour, Shobhita Soor, Jesse Pearlstein, Zev Thompson, and Gabe Mott, the brilliant minds behind Aspire Food Group entered what is reputed to be 'the world's largest student competition to create a sustainable enterprise that helps solve the planet’s biggest challenges', they knew they would have to come up with a big idea. They were after all, competing with some of the world's brightest minds. And, they were not wrong. Over 10,000 colleges and universities stepped up to this year's competition that challenged students to invent a way to secure food for undernourished communities - All the way from the urban slums in Mexico,to the poor villages in Ghana.
Their winning solution? Creating a 'power flour' - protein rich flour to feed the world's undernourished using the one ingredient that is found in abundance throughout the world and can be farmed using very few resources - Insects. And while that may sound unappetizing to some people, insects are already part of the staple diet in countries like Thailand, Kenya,and Mexico. According to a report released by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization bugs like crickets, grasshoppers, caterpillars and others, are on the menu for over 2.5 billion people worldwide.
In order to make the flour, the insects are first captured, washed and drained. They are then placed in a freezer bag that helps kill them humanely. After that, they are re-washed and then ground, until they resemble the consistency of wheat germ. The ground insects are mixed in with the local flour that is popular in the area resulting in what the team likes to call 'power flour' - one that is fortified with protein and iron that is often lacking in the diet of people living in the slums of developing nations.
'Power flour' can be used to bake bread, make tortillas and even, added to stews and soups. And while the team began their project using crickets they soon realized that any insect could lend itself as the star ingredient of 'power flour' - A good thing, given that each country already has its own favorite bug! The students say that whilst it may sound 'yucky', in the taste tests they conducted, most people either did not notice any difference and the few that did, actually preferred it.
Using part of the $1million USD prize money received from the Hult Foundation the Aspire Food Group now plans to collect at least 10 tons of grasshoppers and ship them to Oaxaca, Mexico by March 2014. They are currently working with an advisory board to recruit farmers and workers to help them with this enormous, albeit very beneficial task. The flour produced from the insects will be used to feed the four million severely malnourished residents that currently live in Mexico's urban slums. If all goes well, the group hopes to introduce 'power flour' to other parts of the world.
This brilliant and innovative idea will not only serve to provide sustainable food for poor and starving communities, but also, help stimulate the economy by creating a new category of farmers that will specialize in breeding bugs. Although insect-eating in the U.S. remains only for open-minded foodies at the present time, who knows? A few years from now, grasshopper cupcakes may be permanent fixtures on every dessert menu.
Resources: foxnews.com, bostonglobe.com, abc.com, dailymail.co.uk