Sustainable development calls for moving down the food chain

Students Elisa Koivunen (left) and Matias Miettinen and teacher Tiina Wickman-Viitala.

Students Elisa Koivunen (left) and Matias Miettinen and teacher Tiina Wickman-Viitala.

Are edible insects the future of food? What kind of food production can our planet sustain? These topics are researched at Tampere higher education institutions.

Ethical and ecological food interest people but what do they actually mean? Tampere higher education institutions are studying what diets best take the environment and animal welfare into consideration.

TAMK predicted the insect trend

Cricket bread arrived in shops at the turn of the year when the Finnish Food Safety Authority defined insects as saleable food. Insect food has been researched at Tampere University of Applied Sciences for a couple of years.

In 2016, the Tampere University of Applied Sciences Foundation started to fund a research project on insects as food, which is coordinated by Senior Lecturer Tiina Wickman-Viitala from the Degree Programme in Business Administration. In the project students complete their theses on insect food and receive a grant of 1000 euros on the approved thesis.

The thesis commissioner is Finsect Oy, which helps agricultural entrepreneurs in developing insect farming to a new source of livelihood for example to replace meat production. The multidisciplinary project has already spawned several theses.

Service business student Elisa Koivula studied the possibilities of insect food in the food supplies system. Business information systems student Matias Miettinen familiarised himself with traceability and transparency of primary food production by means of a cricket register. Bioproduct and process engineering graduate Ville Kontio studied methods of improving the fatty acid composition and preservability of cricket powder.

New food requires research

Why should we eat insects? Wickman-Viitala mentions health, ecological and ethical reasons. Insects have for example omega-3 fatty acids, B12 vitamin, and a good fat and protein composition.

“Insect food strains the environment less than meat production as insects need less water. Insects are killed by deep-freezing and because hibernation is a natural state for insects, it is considered more ethical than slaughtering.”

Elisa Koivula does however not believe that crickets would replace our traditional dishes even if many restaurant keepers she interviewed had a positive attitude to insect food. Nevertheless, food trends have to be considered in research as well as in shops’ product portfolios.

“People who want to eat insect food value that the domestic production is safe and organic with no chemical residues,” Matias Miettinen sums up.

Down the food chain

In order to have enough area for food production and avoid ecodisaster, we have to move down the food chain, states Post-Doctoral Researcher Markus Vinnari from the University of Tampere’s Faculty of Management. Vinnari participates in the POPRASUS project on sustainable diet, related practices and policy. The project is funded by the Academy of Finland.

Vinnari has a critical attitude to insect food as the ethical problems of animal production are not solved by moving from one farmed animal to another. Sustainable diet should be pursued by moving down the food chain, i.e. by eating plant-based and more versatile food.

“As a rule we only eat some animal and plant species. One-sidedness is an agricultural problem in Finland and globally as it increases the risk of plant and animal diseases.”

We should use more seasonal root vegetables as carbohydrate sources. Many plants, such as hemp and lupine, include protein. However, their use is still at a low level.

By motivating, not by force

Sustainable and ethical diet cannot only be consumers’ responsibility but societal steering is not the same as forcing. According to Vinnari, force is only effective in inciting resistance.

In order to make vegetable food attractive, restaurant staff should be trained in having a positive attitude to it and making it delicious. More agricultural and research subsidies should be directed to production and development of vegetable food. Shops can influence purchase decisions through their product mix and placement.

“As people state in surveys that they are interested in animal welfare and rights, the society should steer operations towards our values.”

Text: Janica Brander
Photo: Tiina Suvanto