The problem of food

February 18, 2021 by Lucian Mogosanu

It is by now not-really-news that the food market is undergoing a certain... chinoiserisation, let's call it. Take the example of Europe:

Edible insects move closer to European plates

The move by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is the preliminary step needed before officials can decide whether to allow the beetle larvae to be sold to consumers across the 27-nation bloc.


The EFSA said it had found the mealworms -- or Tenebrio molitor larva -- were safe to be eaten "either as a whole dried insect or in the form of powder" after an application from French insect-rearing firm Micronutris.

"Its main components are protein, fat and fibre," the statement said, but warned that more research needed to be done on possible allergic reactions to the insects.


They are already available for human consumption in a small number of EU countries and are more widely produced for use in animal feed.

The industry says it expects the European market for insect-based food products to grow rapidly in the coming years and for production to reach some 260,000 tonnes by 2030.

"The industry" doesn't tell us precisely how this insect-based food market will grow, so let's make this exercise ourselves. First, it's clear that the conditions for this change in our supposedly civilized world are right here, as the expenses to produce, market and sell a four-buck Big Mac are too big to break even, let alone turn a profit -- I haven't crunched the numbers, feel free to do so and prove me wrong; keep in mind, though, that using additives to make something cheaper is deeply nonsensical, not to mention anti-economic, and the result will be merely "food", yes, in quotes. So as food prices are (yes, present tense!) rising, it shouldn't be too difficult to market the cheaper alternatives. No, marketing them won't even be a problem, I bet everyone and their dog will hear about this new worm-food, except I bet many folks won't really want to touch it.

It'll take, I guess, at least five years to bring worm-food into the mainstream. Probably more in cases such as Romania1, which is a lot more conservative a country, to the point where people grow their animals in their very own backyards. Or who knows, perhaps it won't take that much, since:

În vremea regimului comunist, autorităţile n-avea treabă cu porcii: puteai să creşti cît mai mulţi, venea "perceptorul" şi ţi-i număra, pentru că obligaţia era să "dai la stat" o cotă-parte din ei la preţul de 5-6 lei pe kilogram, mult sub preţul pieţei. Mulţi îşi ascundeau porcii sau mituiau perceptorul, ca să nu dea statului mai mult de unul. Asta era. Acum însă, un guven liberal, care prin definiţie ar trebui să se amestece cît mai puţin în viaţa omului, vine şi-i spune că nu mai are voie să aibă în ogradă mai mult de cinci porci. Acest ordin care se pregăteşte al ministrului agriculturii Adrian Oros, care s-a făcut remarcat prin aceea că a desfiinţat programele de susţinere a agricuturii naţionale, iniţiate de ministrul Daea (am pus deja cruce la şi la "tomata" românească) va transforma deci într-o tragedie momentul în care fată purceaua.

or, in English:

During the time of the communist regime, authorities had no problem whatsoever with swine: the more you raised the better, some "taxation officer" would come and count them, since the obligation was to "give to the state" a share, at about 5-6 lei ($1-1.5) per kilogram, significantly under market price. Many people would hide their pigs or bribe the tax officer, so as to give only one pig to the state. Such were the times. Now, however, a so-called liberal government, which by definition would intervene as little as possible in the life of the private citizen, comes and tells said citizen that he can raise on his own land no more than five pigs. This executive order, currently under preparation by the minister of agriculture Adrian Oros, who stood out for dismantling the national agriculture support programmes initiated by minister Daea (we're already through with the Romanian "tomato"), will thus turn into a tragedy the moment the sow litters.

A few years of such "executive orders" -- notice how the pantsuits in question don't really have the guts to pass this through Parliament, as is democratic, innit? -- coupled with a minority rule such as that observed by Taleb will be sufficient to train Romanians into eating worms. Not sure what that "few" means, could be five, could be twenty; now that I think about it, with the current food situation I'm rather betting on the former.

As for the other side of this sad civilization, I heard Bill's taking care of you, so... well! Now you can't say you haven't heard about it.

  1. This shall be a huge parenthesis, so grab some coffee while you're at it.

    The will of the Romanian herd is driven largely by the stomach. This fact is so deeply ingrained in ye olde Romanian way of life that you can recount historical events based on it. Take for example the 1905 rebellion, or the more recent 1989 revolution: both were driven mainly by food scarcity, at least if we're to shut down the voices claiming various conspiracies. Maybe if the conspirers conspired to keep the previous regime running instead of equipping Romanians with the latest Democracy 0.9 upgrade, Romania would have made a pretty neat North Korea today. Maybe, although I seriously doubt it.

    If this isn't enough for you, you may find somewhere on them interwebs the history of Bucharest's Union Square in the summer of 1995, when the first Romanian McDonald's opened. How a small place like that managed to make over 15K sales in just the first day is anybody's guess; the anecdote goes that the folks at Intercontinental had to provide some of the ice due to the low-capacity of the machines at the time. Anyway, that's how corporatist America established capitalism in poor ex-communist Romania: by grabbing their stomachs with shit that looked like luxury food to the average orc.

    Meanwhile the average orc can afford iPhones (on credit), so you might be inclined to believe that tastes have shifted, or even evolved somewhat in the collective mind. Let me tell you that no, in the Lord's year 2021 the Romanian herd is still driven by hunger. No, really. Srsly. Sure, the puppets in charge are aware of this and I bet it's tormenting them quite a bit. 

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11 Responses to “The problem of food”

  1. #1:
    Jacob Welsh says:

    How do you figure on the intolerant minority angle? Naively perhaps it seems way more likely for there to be at least a minority that refuses anything containing lizardfood than for there to be one that refuses anything without.

  2. #2:
    spyked says:

    Yes, the so-called "refusing minority" exists and I dare believe they'll weather this episode. It may not even be that much of a minority, the unfortunate fact being that now we're talking about a group that's largely rural and somewhat economically segregated from urban markets, at least if we're to take the swine example -- in Romania's case, at least, the local food markets aren't doing all that badly, though they've been hit by the haphazard "pandemic" policies and I expect they're going to take further hits. And it's a real struggle to move these people towards any sort of technology (except smartphones), since they're quite literally peasants, like in the 1800s.

    Getting back to the "intolerant minority", I might be talking out of my ass, since there's no terms of comparison between the smashing Arab/Turkish food culture and whatever fashions the ideologues are pushing. Or maybe there is? We need to look firstly at who's pushing this; and secondly, at how they want to enter the market. Hopefully Beyond Meat won't enter the market through New York food carts, this is much further on in the game than my limited eye can see, but limiting ourselves to the example of European worm-foods, it looks like there Nestle and PepsiCo and whatnot are targetting the protein bar market, which has been doing very well in Europe in the past decade.

    So there's another level where Taleb's asymmetry may apply: assuming that the production cycle is cheaper for worm-foods (haven't done the math, but I understand that's why they're doing it), then it's sufficient for worm-food protein bars to gain one third of the total protein bar market share and in a short while you'll only find worm-food bars in supermarkets. This, of course, is a double-edged sword, as we may see a rise in YouTube trends for homemade protein bars (for all the good that's going to do), and on it goes.

    But I'm far from an expert on the matter, so I guess we'll see.

  3. #3:
    PDog says:

    I dislike Gates just as much as anyone else but a ruthless, predatory billionaire supporting a particular idea doesn't mean that it's inherently flawed. So many meat eaters are worried that the elites are going to come after their meat. They regard the suggestion of limiting or eliminating meat consumption as dehumanizing and as an attack on their inalienable rights.

    The fact is that we should be doing as much as we can to reduce suffering. For many, eating meat is a necessity but much of the developed world continues to eat meat because they enjoy the taste. If one's morality is guided by his taste buds, then that's a sign of a weak, unscrupulous individual. The vast majority of people are so far removed from the slaughter that they can't even fathom that the slab of meat on their plate was once a social creature. This allows factory farming to continue existing, whereby cruelty is inflicted on an absolutely massive scale. Moreover, it takes a lot more energy and resources to raise a single cow or a pig than if people were to just stick to eating primary producers directly.

    I'm definitely not on board with eating insects. The idea is kind of repulsive to me but it's also a bit strange that someone would be so in favor of eating living creatures with the exception of a broad class of animals. Where do you draw the line? Crabs and lobsters are pretty disgusting as well but they're regarded as delicacies despite looking like giant insects. Tons of insects also get into much of the food you eat during preparation and packaging. I'm not about to eat insect burgers but I'm generally not on board with eating anything in the animal kingdom. It's not a necessity, it helps to reduce suffering at a time when human population growth is unchecked and displacing many animals, and there's a good chance that avoiding meat consumption is better for the environment.

  4. #4:
    spyked says:

    PDog, please understand that I come from a very different place than you, a place where as a kid I saw my Christian orthodox grandfather, and his son, not butchering, but sacrificing the animal, a notion coming, no doubt, from Abraham's story, as well as from the practical reason that that's why they fed the pig in the first place. I'm not a Christian myself, but at the next family wedding or whatever, I'd happily do the same.

    Now, I'm not sure why you're promoting these ideas, but I'm confident that Bill isn't qualified to discuss the subject of suffering: my family lived through '80s Romania, through the horror of a small piece of rotten meat obtained after a whole day of queueing and "holding the place" (a feudalistic notion, yes?); through salami with soy, the times' own worm-food; or through the necessity of obtaining food, meds and clothing through feudalistic means, i.e. "knowing someone": I had a godfather who was somebody at the time and he'd provide for the whole family, I'm not sure how we would have carried on without his help. That's what kept us going, not any smart dude's "scientific nutrition programme", do you understand me? Let us first solve the issue of how these kinds of social experiments impoverished and hungered whole populations, only then we may be able to honestly tell ourselves that we've understood suffering.

    We are coming from two very different places, PDog. While I don't particularly like or dislike Bill myself -- I do dislike his habit of doing politics without actually doing it, if you know what I mean --, and while I wholeheartedly agree that the big meat industry isn't long for this world, it's hard for me to swallow these kinds of moralizing discourses where everyone and their dog are reduced to "a citizen of the world". We are very different people and as I can't afford to presume what works for you, I expect you to do the same if we're to have any sort of conversation. I draw the line here, you may choose to draw it somewhere else and either way that's fine.

  5. #5:
    spyked says:

    Yo, PDog, check out this contemptible piece (archived) from NYT:

    According to Ms. Summers, cannibalism is always symbolic. For her novel’s protagonist, eating human flesh can be seen as a way of holding on to a relationship that ended. For Ms. Summers herself, the plot of "A Certain Hunger" can’t be uncoupled "from my own personal experiences with disordered eating, with the tamping down of feminine appetites, the way the media chews up and spits out writers, bougie consumption — and bougie lady consumption," she said.

    More generally, Ms. Summers thinks that the recent spate of cannibalistic plots could also be commentaries on capitalism. "Cannibalism is about consumption and it’s about burning up from the inside in order to exist," she said. "Burnout is essentially over-consuming yourself, your own energy, your own will to survive, your sleep schedule, your eating schedule, your body."

    And so on and so forth, I can't be bothered to look at this in more detail.

    Now, getting back to the moral problem, I s'ppose at this point your owners are giving you a choice, such as whether to be pro-tection or pro-sumption or something of the likes -- I'm not sure why you folks have such an aversion towards being anti-stuff, but... whatever. However, regardless which side you're on, you'll have to spell out quite plainly on what grounds; on what grounds, motherfucker, is this even a discussion? At least from the linked sophistry I sure as hell ain't gonna buy that it has anything to do with "reducing suffering".

    No, I agree with you, you're either to have mores or to have no society whatsoever. But can't you see how these so-called "mores" sold to you on the "market of ideas" are in fact the anti-mores?

  6. #6:
    spyked says:

    The industrialized food market is only cheaper due to the removal of the human factor: if twenty years ago you required some thousands people to make ten million pieces of McChicken per month, nowadays you require some tens of people to obtain the same in a week or so, since the machinery doesn't sleep and it doesn't ask for food (although electricity isn't getting any cheaper either).

    Last year, the so-called "problem of food" was that raising cattle or chicken wasn't getting any cheaper, moreso given the iffy problem of handling viral and bacterial epidemics in such densely-packed populations -- this issue has spread to bipedal monkeys as well, but that's besides the point. The only alternative at that point was to have the bipedal monkeys eat cheaper food, of which worms and bugs are abundant, even though the nutritional trade-offs are obvious -- let's not even get there, mmkay?

    At the end of the day, however, the problem isn't even that "Romanians will eventually eat worms". Who knows, perhaps they won't, although judging by their history, they'll probably be integrated in the trends of the times (what other purpose do you think this integration serves?). The problem at the end of the day is that at some point in the near future manufacturing wormfood will also become "too expensive", and... then what? Folks will start eating each other, and... then what?

    The whole point being, the only way to reduce suffering is through death.

  7. [...] pantsuitistic "study", say, a concoction on how the life expectancy has only increased since the first McDonald's was established on Romanian soil... or [...]

  8. [...] where exactly did I hear that [...]

  9. [...] when the good folks running the show finally run out of resources to finance either the bread, the circus or some mixture of the two, what do you think they'll [...]

  10. [...] specifically in Eastern Europe, when Romanians had jack shit. They had no McDonald's (until 1995) and even with the entire centralized economic system built by the communists and their subjects, [...]

  11. [...] The bovine engine is a pillar of rural life. Bovines -- and ovines and equines too, but let's not get ahead of ourselves -- are natural lawn mowers, which not only makes the fields look more beautiful, but it also makes them easier to travel by foot. Furthermore, said animals convert the grass into milk that is integrated into a whole mini-industrial complex along with wheat, vegetables, eggs and so on and so forth, all required to make everything from fine cheeses to confectionery. Finally, animal waste is reused as fertilizer, returning all the required nutrients back into the ground for farming as well as the grassland itself. So then if you call yourself an ecologist, tell me: how's this for zero-waste cycles? but more importantly: how in Baal's name2 is it that you're looking to replace this with, of all things, insects? [...]

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