Better Universal Grub (BUG for short) is a London based food startup who love incorporating a certain ingredient into their recipes. Yeah you guessed it: insects! Co-founders Leo and Aaron launched BUG earlier this year from their bedrooms in London.
With the help of a top chef, they provide recipes and recipe kits (bugs & seasoning) with the aim of encouraging people to experiment with using insects in their cooking. We asked them about what inspired them to start BUG, and how insects are a highly nutritious and tasty ingredient with great environmental credentials too.
"Edible insects are a flagship ‘good for you, good for the planet’ type of food."
A= Aaron, L = Leo
Alright lads, welcome to A Good Community, where are you based at the moment?
We are based in Archway, London at the moment – working from our bedrooms. For the last year we have lived less than a 10 minute walk away from each other!
Love London, have you always lived there?
A: I moved to London last year for a few reasons. Mainly, I wanted to focus on the business by being closer to Leo and in a global hub for innovation and startups. Also, I wanted a change of job and scenery – I had been in Norwich for quite a long time by that point, studying and working in various labs.
L: I’ve been able to call London home from late 2017. Before moving here I was pursuing a career in Architecture - working in Europe, Africa and North America. My childhood was equally as nomadic, following dad’s work to six Asian countries hopping back and forth from the UK every few years.
Where did your passion for eating insects first come from?
A: I have always had a passion for insects in general. They are amazing creatures and the miniature world is quite astounding when seen close-up. I feel the world of insects is comparable to a sci-fi or fantasy universe, with a rich and unbelievably alien looking group of organisms, novel adaptations, and complex life cycles.
At University I became acutely aware of issues regarding sustainability and biodiversity. Having also started playing sports and resistance training at a young age, I was astounded when I came across articles talking about the benefits of edible insects for humans and the planet.
This is what sparked my enthusiasm and led me to start trying to cook with them myself.
L: I’ve been aware of insects as food from a young age - growing up in countries such as Thailand, Cambodia and China, where edible insects are more widely accepted.
It wasn’t until watching a BBC documentary in 2013 that explored the viability of insects to tackle some of our food sustainability problems that I really became curious. My passion and interest grew from there!
With the exception of a select few, why do you think people in the Western world don’t eat insects?
We blame it on I’m a Celebrity Get me Out of Here (UK reality TV show where contestants, among other things, eat bugs in a remote jungle), that show certainly hasn’t done us any favours! More seriously, eating bugs has always been a thing done in warmer tropical regions.
Historically, the UK and much of Europe simply have not had a particularly abundant source of edible or easily gathered insect species compared to other, more tropical, countries.
The Western world also benefited from a booming agricultural industry, with good fertile land to farm crops and livestock. This meant that other food sources were simply less attractive.
This is a major contributing factor as to why Westerners have not grown up with a Chapulines Taco in one hand and a Sago grub in the other. We often speak to people who either don’t know anything about it, or know very basic information such as “its sustainable” and “its high protein”.
Better and easier to access education on the topic will be key in driving perceptions.
One of the ways we intend to grow the demand for edible insects is to target something that is completely missing from the edible food industry: “sexy” food.
You know those M&S adverts that show close-ups of butter melting and cheese pulls? Well, insects need that kind of representation. Insect food CAN look “sexy” and we aim to be the ones to show you.
We see a lot of insect snacks on the market, how did the idea for BUG come about and how is your approach different?
We absolutely love this question!
You’re right that at an industry level, everyone is obsessing over snacks, which we think is silly for a couple of reasons:
- Snacks hugely limit the potential of what's otherwise a delicious, versatile ingredient. We always joke - you wouldn’t show people how delicious prawns are by giving them prawn crackers!
- Snacks don’t get meat off dinner tables so really don’t solve the problem.
As a startup we believe it’s important to be honest to insects as an ingredient, but also to the problem of reducing our meat consumption.
Our mission at BUG is to get people cooking and experimenting with insects for themselves, and to build this movement from the grassroots through passionate early adopters - who incidentally want to cook, not eat energy bars!
Where do you source your insects?
We source our insects from farms in the UK and the Netherlands. It’s very important to us to keep our food miles as low as possible, particularly as sustainability is a big reason to eat insects in the first place.
We’re also working with farms that actively pursue sustainable rearing practices. Our mealworm farmer for example sources his feed from fruits and vegetables supermarkets throw away, so you’re getting a superfood from what would otherwise have gone to waste!
Who comes up with the ideas for the recipes?
We have an executive chef who leads the recipe development, although we both come up with ideas and help develop the recipes (we aren’t formally trained but are both big into our food). All of the new recipe development is posted onto our Instagram!
How do you see eating insects to be beneficial to humans and/or nature?
Edible insects are a flagship ‘good for you, good for the planet’ type of food.
Nutritionally, they’re a superfood: up to 70% protein, high in Omega 3 and 6s, high in fibre, has more iron than spinach, more calcium than milk, more vitamin b12 than red meat, more potassium than bananas - we could go on!
From a sustainability perspective insects are the most efficient converters of feed to protein in the world, so are clearly extremely efficient to farm. They can be fed on organic fruit and vegetable waste.
This means that, if grown alongside plant agriculture, they could be very efficient at converting waste product into another source of food – a valuable asset for an ever-growing population.
Other benefits include: requiring far less water, land, and reduced GHG emissions - all good news for our planet.
What does your ideal insect-eating future look like? Insects on all menus? Insect fast food?
A: I imagine that insects and insect ingredients will be available in almost all supermarkets, some restaurants and shops, but fast food for sure!
The potential for diverse insect products is huge, and I imagine that insect-based meat alternatives, which have a much wider initial appeal, would readily be placed onto the menus of leading chains.
L: This is my dream of our insect-eating future:
Mum: Kids what do you want for dinner tonight?
Kids: Oh can we have your delicious spaghetti bugonese! Pleease!
Mum: Great idea! Let’s pop to the supermarket to pick up the bits.
Our mission is to take insects mainstream, so the more widely available and integrated edible insects are to our diets, the closer we are to a sustainable future.
When you were kids, what did you see yourselves doing? If it wasn’t always insect-related, what changed your path?
A: When I was younger, I always imagined myself as a Wildlife/ National Park Warden. You know: chopping down trees, cleaning up Gorse, painting bird hides and generally being amongst nature… Though, I imagine, I would have spent half my time flipping over rotting logs looking for bugs!
L: Truth be told I had zero idea what I wanted to do for the longest time. The closest I ever got to focussing on a career was my work in architecture, which I ended up leaving for insects.
I was primarily interested in addressing social and environmental issues through architecture, but after a number of years in practice realised the important decisions were made further upstream. It wasn’t the right tool for me to meaningfully move the needle on the things I cared about.
Around this time I became excited by the idea that you can align good business with fundamentally good causes. Given my interest in insects, I started to look into it and BUG snowballed from there!
Thanks so much guys – we'll be sure to keep you updated on our bug eating habits going forward!