Why Not Eat Insects? Perspectives on Entomophagy.
'Why Not Eat Insects? Why not, indeed!'
'What are the objections that can be brought forward to insects as food?'
Believe it or not, these words were written way back in 1885 by a Vincent M. Holt, who composed a manifesto proposing that his society should be consuming insects.
In his argument, he addresses the 'long-existing and deep-rooted public prejudices' that have stopped people from doing so.
We're not in the Victorian era anymore, but Mr Holt's words could not be more relevant. Entomophagy is certainly on the rise, but prejudices towards eating insects are definitely still engrained in our Eurocentric beliefs.
Well, we're here to challenge these!
The Benefits of Entomophagy
The benefits of eating insects are endless - both for personal reasons and for the world around you. Insects are nutritious, tasty, and are great for the environment.
Just take a read of our top ten reasons you should be consuming insects if you want to know more.
You'd think that with all the positives, people would instantly be converted. Ultimately, it's much more complicated than that. Whilst 2 billion people eat insects everyday, the reputation that they hold here in the West is not resoundingly positive.
Neophobia, or 'The Ick Factor'
Neophobia is defined as the 'irrational fear or dislike of anything unfamiliar.' This plays a crucial role in the response many people have to insects. We haven't necessarily grown up with them at our dinner tables, so the idea seems bizarre, or even gross to those of us who aren't used to them.
The UN have stated that 'common prejudice against eating insects is not justified from a nutritional point of view. Insects are not inferior to other protein sources such as fish, chicken and beef.'
So it really is just that irrational fear that is coming into play here, or as Mr Holt put it, our 'deep-rooted prejudice.'
Let's have a look as to why this is the case.
The Western media plays a key role in enforcing the negative stereotypes surrounding Entomophagy. Perhaps the two most popular TV shows that show people consuming insects present it as something of a novelty.
In the British reality show 'I'm a Celebrity: Get Me Out Of Here' contestants are rewarded for munching on live witchetty grubs or tarantulas on TV. Watching squeamish, gagging celebs does not do anything to normalise Entomophagy amongst the general public.
Bear Gryll's 'Man Vs Wild' presents a perhaps more positive light on eating insects - instructing where to find and how to consume insects out in the wilderness. Whilst he does advocate for their great nutritional profile, the nature of the show does suggest that it's something you would only engage with as a means of survival.
Despite this, a handful of celebrities have been attempting to bring insects to the forefront of media attention. Nicole Kidman, Angelina Jolie, and Joe Rogan are just a few of the big names that have advocated for eating bugs.
Don't believe us? Here's a video of Nicole Kidman enjoying four different types of insects.
What are the studies saying?
It's not just celebs that are out there eating insects. Many studies have been conducted to garner the attitudes amongst the general population.
In a study conducted at The University of Southampton, it was reported in a preliminary survey of 53 students that 49% would try insects. That's nearly half - not a bad start!
Younger participants have been found to display even greater positive attitudes towards insects. When asked the question 'should we consider eating insects?', it was found that 74% of UK school children aged 12-15 responded yes! (Hannah Tranter, 2013)
This really enforces the idea that the younger we are, and less set in our ways, the more willing we are to adapt. We simply need to start raising greater awareness in our public institutions in order to facilitate these changing attitudes.
The Role of Education/Government
When attempting to change attitudes, the role of educational bodies and governments cannot be undermined , and various institutions across the globe have been attempting to raise public knowledge for years!
1. By the end of 2011, 46% of the primary food and agricultural universities in The USA had at least one course in their curriculum that featured insects as food.
2. London's Natural History Museum set up exhibitions across various shopping centres on the theme of edible insects in order to raise awareness (2010).
3. The EU FP7 project ran a huge €3 million research project involving various universities and companies that explored and researched ways of processing insects for food.
4. A fantastic concept, known as 'Bug Banquets' aim to educate and tackle prejudices surrounding edible insects. Experiments in both The Netherlands and in the USA have confirmed the effectiveness in overcoming the disgust factor.
How We View Insects.
Dr Tilly Collins, a senior academic at Imperial College London, has discussed 'the real growth market opportunity in insect food products.' She does argue however, that we must be 'smart about how we tempt consumers.'
This suggests that the best way to bring consumers round to eating insects is to disguise them in familiar food products, such as flours, protein and energy bars. The Cricket Energy Bar has just been launched in Australia. It's an organic protein bar containing crickets - the flavours range from choc mint to banoffee pie.
A representative from Choice Foods commented that "If you can't get past the slight 'ick' factor of eating a whole cricket, the energy bars and powders are an interesting option to explore.' This method allows people to adapt over time, rather than jump straight in with an entire cricket - a somewhat more daunting prospect.
A study was conducted in 2015 comparing the psychology between German and Chinese populations regarding eating insects. Participants rated their willingness to eat whole crickets vs products made from cricket flour, such as cookies.
In China, the participants rated no difference in their willingness to try processed vs unprocessed insects, whereas in Germany, people were more likely to try the insect cookies.
In a country such as Germany, where entomophagy is a more taboo topic, the fact that people were more willing to accept the insects in cookie form, suggests introducing insects in these familiarised products is an effective strategy when promoting them amongst the general population.
Initiatives such as the Copenhagen based Nordic Food Lab are also attempting to normalise insect-based food. They aim to optimise colour, texture and flavour to make it more appealing. Instead of serving a whole cricket on a plate, they transform the dish into something that looks, smells, and tastes delicious and is recognisable as a traditional plate of food.
Can People's Perspectives Change?
You only need to take a glance at our past relationship with seafood to observe how human attitudes can be completely overturned.
Lobster used to be the food eaten only by the most poor, prisoners and slaves of 1800s American society, but made a quick ascent to the dining tables of high-society. It went from being viewed as disgusting, to being a coveted and delicious meal.
Sushi is another food that has gained massive traction in the West only recently. Raw fish used to be considered unappetising and strange, and is now immensely popular and fashionable across the globe.
It only takes looking at these examples to realise that people's attitudes are entirely adaptable. Sooner or later, insects will be the new sushi - the fashionable food of the future!
Consider this ...
We love Mr Holt for being so ahead of his time, but we also praise his astute argument about perspectives - 'How can any one who has ever gulped down the luscious oyster turn up his nose and shudder at the clean-feeding and less repulsive looking snail?'
We couldn't have said it better ourselves. Molluscs, oysters, crabs, prawns and shrimp are all incredibly similar to their various insect counterparts. It really is an issue of perspective, and the research is indicating that we are on the way.
So go out there, talk to your friends about entomophagy, and try challenge your own beliefs. Instead of tucking into some Moules-Frites, why not have a tasty plate of Escargot?
Once we get over our 'Prejudice, foolish prejudice,' we have no doubt that insects will be at the forefront of our food choices.
by Erin Banks