The future of sustainable agriculture - Robbie Udberg, Environmental Psychologist

Meet Robbie Udberg, BeoBia Ambassador, Environmental Psychologist and hiking extraordinaire.

Robbie recently joined our team, and so we wanted to give him a proper introduction. Below, you can get to know this man of many talents, learn about his views on sustainable agriculture, and find out his secret for convincing people to try bugs.

Can you start off by telling us a bit about yourself and what you do?

I am very fortunate that there is a lot of diversity in what I do. CHX, the company I work for, focus on connecting science with business, and business with charity. We get to work and walk with some incredible groups of people who are interested in how our biology affects performance in all aspects of our lives as well helping charitable causes through taking on big mountain challenges in the Alps. I started working with CHX after almost 10 years at Chelsea FC and I have a passion for our interactions with our environment, both social and physical. My focus is the cyclical process of immersing ourselves in environments that make us feel better and, in turn, protecting those environments so that we may continue to benefit now and in the future. Last year, I completed an MSc in Environmental Psychology to try to better understand how humans can better function in our social & physical environments. Part of this understanding now also enables me to act as an ambassador for BeoBia and The Glacier Trust, both of which have a huge emphasis on protecting the processes and places that help us thrive.

What got you interested in sustainability?

Again, I was fortunate to grow up with parents who loved the outdoors and would take us hiking in the Lake District and Scotland almost every weekend as well as the Alps once or twice each year. I got to appreciate the natural environment at a young age and, over the course of my lifetime, I have witnessed changes in these places from the landscapes to the wildlife. These changes are occurring so quickly and certainly should not be witnessed within the duration of a human lifetime. Even if you don’t subscribe to the politics or believe the science of climate change, you only have to apply some common sense to realise the risks to ourselves, our planet and its ecosystems associated with exponential population growth, the spread of urban areas and the subsequent destruction of wilderness and natural habitats, stripping the earth of resources, pumping emissions into our air and polluting our lands, waters and atmosphere. Fundamentally, I just feel we should try to protect the places and interconnected systems that sustain life in all its beauty and diversity.

People now, especially young people, seem to care more about our environment and the health of our planet than previously, why do you think this is?

I am not sure but, if this is the case, my guess would be that this is down to a better awareness and education around the consequences, informed by a growing consensus from various fields of study and research, including the emergence of data that has become available in recent years. Coupled with this, there always seems a desire for the next generation to be different from the generation before, which can become politicised. Also, I think people can now see what is happening: For example, one of the effects of groups seeing glacial retreat in the Alps is they realise it is real and it is happening. It is difficult to acknowledge the impact when it is the world you live in each day but you can’t see the effects. Sometimes you need someone with a different perspective to arrive to show you what you have been staring at every day but haven’t yet seen.

Where do you see the future of sustainable agriculture going?

When you begin to comprehend the sheer scale of resources required for many of our current agricultural practices, you realise that this cannot continue, particularly with a quickly-growing population. In addition, there has been and continues to be, a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding about nutritional practices and requirements focused around human health. There is also an economic component, which will likely be even more salient in the coming months and years. It all points, at least in my estimation, to needing to radically modify our agricultural practices and consumption. The appreciation of the cost, both economically and ecologically, of the current systems, leads to those with a curious mind to think about an alternative, more effective, way of doing things. I once heard the opinion that ‘there is no such thing as sustainable development, only sustainable retreat’; often we see technology as a solution to a problem that we caused with technology and the situation can never resolve itself, it just perpetuates. I think we can see this play out with our current biases around diet and mass-scale agricultural practices. Perhaps now is the time to better understand what we actually need and how we can achieve this through much smaller-scale practices, such as regenerative farming, smallholdings, local food production and, of course, entomophagy.

What would be your secret for convincing people to try insects?

Firstly, why wouldn’t you? It has been a common practice that sustained human beings and continues to do so in many countries, since long before the agricultural revolution and subsequent industrialised, mass-scale farming practices. I find it strange that people are prepared to put all kinds of artificial, laboratory-based concoctions into their bodies, possibly full of a list of ingredients that are hard to decipher, but won’t eat an insect that they have seen grow and live off vegetables in their own kitchen. Obviously, there is work to be done in terms of changing the image of entomophagy but I really don’t see why this can’t be done.

Ultimately, this is a protein source. If it were crushed or ground and put into many recipes, people wouldn’t even notice, let alone complain be put off. If we think of food as fuel and food as flavour then it just a simple question of creating a way to present insects as nothing to be fearful of. They are a source of fuel, the same as any other food that we consume. In terms of flavour, we happily flavour most of our dishes to make them more palatable (most of the time completely unnecessarily and only to compensate for the lack of genuine taste); so approach insects in the same way and add some flavour to them. Add to this the argument that it will significantly reduce the cost of your food consumption as well as being open to experiencing new recipes, flavours and ideas - the concept that we are neophiliacs. Not to mention the benefits for the planet by helping to rebalance the scale of food production and its impact on our environment.

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