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Let them eat cockroach: Will Yogi Adityanath's beef crackdown spur a 'bug revolution' in India?

There is a pivotal scene in the Rajkummar Rao-starrer movie Trapped where the protagonist, Shaurya, is trapped in a Mumbai apartment and has to survive on his wits and means alone. Halfway through the film, Rao's character, facing acute hunger, runs out of biscuits. He looks towards a sewer rat responsible for the depleting stocks of the biscuits, and reminisces wistfully of the time he was having pav bhaji (with extra butter) with his girlfriend.

Rao's character undergoes a series of hunger-induced hallucinations when he dreams of pav bhaji. At one point in the film, when the hunger becomes unbearable and he has to consider eating a pigeon or a rat or a cockroach, he is even reminded of a conversation with his girlfriend over the sins of eating an animal.

In the next scene, we see him go in full hunter mode, killing pigeons, roasting them and snacking on ants. For the survivalist Shaurya, eating a cockroach would just be a matter of how many days he stayed trapped.

With this film, director Vikramaditya Motwane took a 'common' Hindu man, a principled man, and put him in the race for survival.

But it got us thinking. Especially considering the actions of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who in his first week in office, has waged a war against illegal slaughterhouses in the state. The media exploded with righteous indignation and sermonising about Hindu fundamentalists taking away the basic food choices of people. Making beef illegal is perilous for low-income households where beef is a cheap choice of meat, they have said.

Others have argued about protein intake in the Indian diet. A Scroll article argued that between banned beef and expensive dal, poor Indians are not getting enough protein. The malnutrition which is killing Indian children can be attributed to the acute food crisis that this country is facing.

On the other hand, we have the environment issue as well. How does banning red meat become an environmental issue? Among the different arguments presented by the Uttar Pradesh government to defend its crackdown on illegal slaughterhouses is the recommendation made by the National Green Tribunal in 2014.

Yogi Adityanath. PTI

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. PTI

According to a report by Hindu Business Line, in May 2015, the NGT had issued an order which the previous administration — led by Akhilesh Yadav — had done little to act upon. The NGT had ordered immediate closure of all illegally operating slaughterhouses in the state and had also directed the Uttar Pradesh government to ensure that existing ones were properly regulated. They asked the government to ensure that environmental norms relating to water use and disposal of animal waste were strictly adhered to.

Now it's possible that Adityanath could have simply been following court orders. However, this not just this, since banning illegal and mechanised slaughterhouses and imposing a total ban on cow slaughter were already part of the BJP’s poll manifesto.

So, with leading environmentalists arguing that eating less red meat would be a better way for people to cut carbon emissions, it got us thinking some more: Is there finally an answer to the question that has scientists befuddled since the origin of time? Can a man save the environment simply by doing something legal? And if India gives up on resource-hogging red meat, what can they substitute their diet with?

Answering these questions, we think, would not be possible without revisiting the movie our idea germinated from.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

In Trapped, during one of the hunger-induced hallucinations, Rao's character sees a 'Discovery channel-isque' adventurer egging him on to eat a dead cockroach. The adventurer goes on to list the benefits of the protein-rich cockroach, and makes a strong case for the nutrient-source.

Hallucinations are a rich source of ideas, just like cockroaches are a rich source of proteins. And we think there is much to munch on in the sequence.

A platform as credible as the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations published a report 'Edible Insects - Future Prospects for Food and Feed Security' in 2013, through which they hoped to raise the profile of insects as sources of food and feed in national and international food agencies.

Given the depleting land and water resources, agriculture and cattle rearing will not remain sufficient to sustain the nearly seven billion people on the planet, the report said. And, as great fortune teller Nostradamus predicted, the world must do what Indians do in order to survive — in this instance, gather insects for food and income (as also done in China, Africa etc).

The idea of insects as food is often met with disgust, but it is a highly 'Westernised' disgust. Various people in India and other Asian countries have treated insects and bugs as a cheap and accessible sources of protein.

As The Hindu pointed out, indigenous tribes in central India have adopted crickets and ants in their diet to make up for the lack of protein. There are various delicacies which come out of this region using this as a chief ingredient, most popular of which is the chutney made by pounding together ants, garlic, ginger and chilli.

Indigenous tribes of Assam consume amoli parua (eggs of red ants) during Bohag Bihu (spring festival). Gitika Saika, an Assamese home chef describes them as a source of "high protein". "Our people also eat the larvae of silk worms, which can be stir fried with other veggies." Some describe the taste as nutty. This is a staple in their diet.

Members of these tribes also consume caterpillars, termites, grasshoppers, cricket and beetles. If they can, why can't we all? Last we checked, there was no law against eating insects in any state of India. And what's more, they are freely available right inside our houses. No more annoying last minute trips to the market when you realise you've run of things to cook.

David George Gordon, a freewheeling naturalist, makes a strong case for food bugs in his books. An author of 19 books, Gordon even gives recipes for insect-based dishes in his book, The Bug Chef.

Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

Gordon argues that people from tropical cultures eat bugs because they have insects in abundance and their attitude is more of a "eat whatever you can hunt". He is part of the movement which is trying to get more western countries to inculcate bugs in their diet and shed the stigma associated with them.

Even high-end restaurants are experimenting with bugs, which cook easily and usually take up the flavour of the spices used to cook them.

According to the UN report, globally, the most commonly consumed insects are beetles (31 percent), caterpillars (18 percent) and bees, wasps and ants (14 percent). Following these are grasshoppers, locusts and crickets (13 percent), cicadas, leafhoppers, planthoppers, scale insects and true bugs (10 percent), termites (three percent), dragonflies (three percent), flies (two percent) and other orders (five percent).

Will the non-indigenous people of India embrace the idea of entomophagy (the practice of eating insects)? Scientists have opined that a future famine can be avoided by looking beyond our current culturally acceptable — and at more easily accessible — sources of food.

Will a Yogi Adityanath someday make the case for a beetle farm, based on the environmental and economic benefits? We even have a readymade snazzy slogan for him to use, when asked about millions of people suffering from low protein diets — let them eat cockroach!

A revolution is brewing. Move over cow.

Updated Date: May 03, 2017 11:52 AM

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