Bugging out over burgers

Will insect cuisine catch on in U.S?

By Norman Knight

Do you deserve a break today? Are you ready to have it your way?

Well, the Swiss government apparently believes the latest adaptation of the hamburger is what its citizens crave. The ministry that approves such things in that alpine country recently modified the food safety regulations to allow insect burgers to be sold in that nation’s grocery stores.

Not sure how the sales are going so far, but if my hunch is right about the entrepreneurial spirit in this country, I’m going to predict: if it sizzles in Switzerland, we Americans will eventually be flipping for European bug burgers.

Last August, the Swiss food chain Coop announced that it would begin selling insect burgers and insect balls made with protein-rich mealworms in the country’s seven largest cities.

Essento, the start-up company that manufactures the new food substance, was working with the government regulators because the insect products — the grasshoppers, crickets and mealworms used to make the burgers — apparently were not up to European standards for edible insects. This makes me wonder if European kids would be breaking the law if they accidentally swallowed a sub-standard bug while running around outside.

I expect there will come a time when insect burgers will be sold here in the U.S. I also expect, considering the “ick” factor, that selling the notion of eating a Happy Meal with real mealworms is going to require some creative and innovative salesmanship on the part of advertisers.

But I’m sure they are up to the task. After all, Madison Avenue has convinced millions of people to opt for expensive bottles of designer water rather than simply fill up a glass from the tap.

To help out those who will be trying to convince us of our need to try insect burgers, I’ve come up with a couple of ideas for sales campaigns.

First, I am picturing those California Raisins that were so popular back in the 1980s. Remember them? They were huge. They began as four lovable cartoon claymation shills for the California Raisin Advisory Board.

Later, they became the official mascots for Post Raisin Bran. They sang “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” which became a Billboard Top 100 hit. They made record albums. They had a TV show. They won an Emmy. More importantly, the products they endorsed made money.

My idea is to bounce off this concept. We create a rock band with characters based on insects. Since mealworms are the larvae of mealworm beetles, “The Beetles” come to mind as an obvious choice. Or how about “Buddy Holly and the Actual Crickets”? The singer Adam Ant and the folk trio The Roches are other possibilities. I’m not nearly as familiar with most newer music, but surely there are possibilities out there.

Essento co-founder Christian Bartsch in a publicity statement points out that eating insects is not only healthy, but is beneficial for the environment. Insects don’t produce nearly the amount of methane, ammonia and other greenhouse gases that livestock do.

They also do not need the land and water these animals require.

A save-the-planet campaign just might be the approach to selling insect burgers. I picture a wide-angled shot of a high, grassy field filled with children from around the world holding hands and singing something about teaching the world to sing in perfect harmony — singing like a night full of crickets.

My concepts to sell insect burgers in this country are still rough around the edges. The plan is to polish them a bit and then pitch them to the firm of McMann and Tate, the famous New York ad agency.

I don’t want to make a pest of myself, but I am going to ask them to take a few minutes and consider them. My hope is they will be enchanted and bewitched by my sales strategies.

Norman Knight, a retired Clark-Pleasant Middle School teacher, writes this weekly column for the Daily Journal. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.