You know how the old saying goes, “When life gives you mealworms, make tofu.” No? That’s not the popular phrase you tell your kids to get them to cheer up? Weird.
Well, if the combination of the words “mealworm” and “tofu” in the same sentence haven’t made your stomach turn completely inside out, then you’re probably wondering why on Earth we’re evoking this image. Turns out, a team of graduate students from Cornell have created, what they’re calling “C-fu” a tofu-like substance that is composed entirely of mealworm meat. The students have been awarded $10,000 in seed-funding from the global Thought for Food Challenge.
The Thought for Food Challenge (TFF Challenge) is an organization founded on finding a viable solution to our current global hunger challenges. Pulling together some of the most innovative minds in the space, TFF Challenge hopes to find more efficient and sustainable ways to feed the ever-rising population of our planet. It is projected that by 2050 there will be nine billion people on Earth, given the fact that we are already struggling to feed our current population of seven billion, this is incredibly daunting.
But the Cornell team thinks that we can help solve global hunger issues by feeding the world C-fu! The idea behind using mealworms to make tofu is centered around the fact that bugs are high in protein, and mealworms are also a good source of omega-3s and omega-6s.
“C-fu is not a just a single product. It’s a versatile food ingredient that can be reprocessed into hundreds of different and new foods,” explains team leader Lee Cadesky. “We want to change the paradigm surrounding insect foods from a dystopian imperative to gastronomic adventure.”
Bugs are considered a “sustainable” alternative to meat, they require less land and food than their animal counterparts. The team estimated that an area of land the size of Rhode Island filled with mealworms could feed two billion people. It all seems well and good … but we have to ask why we couldn’t just skip both meat and mealworms and go for regular tofu consumption as a viable alternative?
While tofu might not be packed with as much “power protein” as c-fu is, it is also not packed with … well, bugs. We know that as a society, we are a little obsessed with getting protein, and oftentimes consume WAY more than we even need. In fact, making high-protein snacks out of bugs has become a veritable trend! Cricket cookies and other insect-based foods are gaining traction as a cheap sustainable ways to get protein. Granted, protein is an important part of a healthy, balanced diet, but when you can get an ample supply of protein from plant-based sources including: peas, hemp seeds, broccoli, lentils, kale, chickpeas, and many more, why would people want to eat bugs?
Sure, some people might react to tofu the same way we’d react to eating mealworms, but it doesn’t have to be that way. There are many ways that you can make tofu taste amazing and although soy production gets a bad rap for causing environmental destruction, we know that making tofu is NOT responsible for the felling of millions of trees. The soy grown to feed livestock, is.
The team from Cornell is on the right track in wanting to steer the global diet away from meat for sustainability reasons, but why not skip the step where the mealworms have to eat the plants to grow and just have people eat the plants? Theoretically, if everyone in America (not even the entire world) stopped eating meat, we could redirect all the grain we grow to feed livestock and feed 1.4 billion people. Multiply that by a global scale and there is more than enough tofu, and wheat, and corn to go around, no creepy crawlies necessary!
The fact is, if we want to be able to produce enough food for the world’s growing population and do it in a way that is going to have a minimal impact on the health of the environment, inventing new ways to manufacture protein is not the solution. We have to rethink the way our food system works and recognize that we need to make our current system more efficient and resilient before letting it all go to the mealworms. By lowering (or completely eliminating) our individual consumption of meat and eating more plant-based foods instead, we can all make a huge positive impact on global hunger.
The change starts with you, so would you rather eat processed mealworms, OR learn how to make some kick-ass tofu?
Image source: C-Fu