Updated: Jul 28
There was a time when our well-loved, high-status foods of today were seen as undesirable and distasteful, similar to how some see the idea of eating insects today.
How did this revolution from disgust to luxury progress over time? Can history repeat itself and bring taboo insect-based food back to our everyday diets?
The answer, of course, is yes. People's views towards foods can transform from taboo into a delicacy!
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How Did Certain Foods Become So Fancy?
As time moves on, so do attitudes towards controversial topics, which includes our diets. It just takes one person to think ‘hey, more people should eat this’ to catalyst which foods are more or less popular.
Throughout the history of humankind, we can see revolutions in our diets and what foods are perceived as disgusting or delicious.
So, which of our foods today were once widely disliked or just seen as downright bizarre?
‘If today's lobster wears a top hat and an opera cape, 80 years ago he was wearing overalls and picking up your garbage.’ - Daniel Luzer
Now a delicacy, the lobster was regarded as an inferior, repulsive food, with their legs and feelers putting off many, as insects might do today. Described as the ‘cockroach of the ocean’, lobster was served with little respect or wealth, and even as food for prisoners and slaves in the 1800s.
Lobsters were abundant and nutritious, making them ideal for the incarcerated. In Maine, lobster factories were dotted all over and soon, railways began to emerge throughout America. This new influx of strangers travelling around the US meant that lobster could be served on trains as a rare, exotic meal because nobody knew what lobsters were, let alone their status.
With its delicious taste and exotic qualities, lobster became popular and restaurants soon started serving it with a variety of side dishes around the 1850s. By the 1950s, they became popular among many and eventually something of a luxury that movie stars and rich families ate.
They really went from rags to riches!
Being Japan’s staple food for thousands of years, sushi came to America in the 1960s, which was undoubtedly met with some confusion on how raw fish, seaweed and vinegar could possibly make a delicious meal.
According to the Daily Waffle, the first sushi restaurant, named Kawafuku, opened in LA and was first met with Japanese immigrants who wanted a taste of home.
But this soon caught on with the fashionable young people of America who experimented with this new food option, which was not only trendy, but also tasty.
From this came new variations of sushi in the 1970s, including the California Roll, created for those who were less adventurous and found the thought of raw fish a bit too exotic. Today, sushi restaurants can be found in every city in every state around the US, as well as around the world.
Insect sushi roll anyone?
Avocados have been around for thousands of years and are grown in Mexico, Caribbean, California, Israel and southern Europe. So, they must have been a popular food throughout history, right? Wrong!
It seemed that nobody really knew what to do with avocados. Sold as ‘alligator pears’ in the late 19th century, people didn’t understand how to eat them and what with. In 1968, a UK supermarket received complaints from a customer who had served avocado with custard- that’s just not right.
After creating leaflets explaining that they are in fact a salad item, avocados finally took off in the 1990s, with guacamole becoming a staple dip in Mexico and California.
Today, the West can’t get enough of avocados as a new trend. Being branded as a ‘superfood’ with its massive amount of good fat, avocados are highly popular and are even used as an alternative to butter for an increasing number of vegans.
If some are willing to use avocado as butter in their cakes, would you use insect flour in yours?
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Despite being around for millions of years and enjoyed for centuries, oysters were once a ‘lesser’ dish. Sold as street food from the early 19th century, they were cheap and extremely plentiful, allowing the poorer people of Britain, France and the US to access as many oysters as they liked.
Their status was even mentioned by Charles Dickens’ 1836 novel The Pickwick Papers, saying that ‘poverty and oysters always seem to go together’.
But soon, their abundance began to drop due to overfishing, outbreak of disease and a bad reputation surrounding child labour, which could only be resolved by oyster fishing becoming environmentally and ethically safe- resulting in their price beginning to rise.
Today, oysters are a luxury treat, with their just 9 days of shelf-life giving them a quality of rarity and therefore, delicacy.
Quinoa is now a trendy food with numerous health benefits, alongside the avocado, but was previously considered ‘ultra poor’ to South American countries like Peru, to the point of people not wanting to be seen eating it.
In countries like Bolivia, healthy foods like quinoa were seen as ‘dirty’ and the traditional ways of farming it were seen as a ‘roadblock’ in the way of national development. But change arose in the 1970s when tractors emerged, which was a game-changer for the production of quinoa.
Slowly but surely, 1984 saw the first export of quinoa to the US. Processing was difficult by hand so external aid travelled to Peru and Brazil with financial and technological help.
Finally, quinoa had won over health-conscious people around the world with its nutritious qualities and is hailed as a ‘superfood’ today. The UN even labelled 2013 as the ‘International Year of Quinoa’ due to its sudden rise to popularity.
The Next Transformation: Edible Insects
The stories behind today’s high-status foods show that our relationships with food can adapt and change over time. Some foods have become more exotic due to their price, namely oysters, but some have become popular because people just wanted to try something new. This goes to show that attitudes towards food can evolve if people are open to change.
Today, people may view eating insects with disgust—but people once saw lobsters as the ‘insects of the sea’ and now they’re a delicacy. With the right education, availability and a willingness to be adventurous, insects are set to become the latest trend. Move over avocados, insects are the fashionable food of the future!
But can the ‘exotic’ become the ‘everyday’? Yes, it can!
While caviar, escargot and lobster remain relatively high-end in price, avocados and quinoa have become more staple foods and a normal part of many healthy, daily diets.
Furthermore, sushi became a trendy, luxury food item in the 20th century but today, you can go and buy sushi as part of your £3 meal deal from Tesco.
So, with Sainsbury’s becoming the first UK supermarket to sell edible insects, it shows that more food-conservative countries are already on their way to transforming a taboo into the next fashionable food, without breaking the bank.
It’s Time for the Insect-Eating Revolution!
We've seen how undesirable foods of the past and the reasons for disliking them can be completely overturned using the concepts of necessity and being open-minded. So, since eating insects is essential for our changing environment and our health, all that’s left is for people like you to be adventurous with food.
So, what are you waiting for? Make insects the next delicacy!
By Lucy Godber