Should we eat insects? The Past, Present and Future.
Updated: May 12
Eating insects hasn’t always been a taboo.
There was a time when bugs were part of our everyday diet. But today, many believe insects are simply a nuisance, with the idea of eating them making some repulsed.
So, what happened to our insect-inclusive diets and when did it fall out of fashion? Can we rediscover it? Of course we can.
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Where Did Entomophagy All Begin?
In Emma Bryce’s TED Talk, she identifies that the consumption of insects, including beetles, caterpillars, locusts, grasshoppers, termites and dragonflies, started with early hunter-gathers, who had seen animals doing the same thing and imitated them for their survival.
Fast forward to the time of Ancient Greece and Rome and we see insects like cicadas and beetle larvae being enjoyed as tasty, luxury snacks.
So why has one of man’s staple foods dropped out of our diet?
Birth of Farming and Agriculture
Around 10,000BC, in the Middle East, our ancestors settled in a place called the ‘fertile crescent’, where they learned to farm crops and domesticate animals. This quickly spread to Europe and other parts of the Western world.
These farmers then realised that the insects around them were no longer needed because of the new, bigger, meatier animals on offer and soon enough, bugs just became pests, destroying their new crops.
With this change, the West became urbanised, connections with their ancestors became lost and the concept of eating bugs was history. Until today, that is.
Our World Today- Is Eating Insects Still a Taboo?
In Western countries, entomophagy is still met with disgust and associated with primitive behaviour (according to The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation) and has only recently come to the public’s attention. People tend to think that there is a certain ‘ick factor’ to insect-eating and neophobia is a condition many of us suffer with, as well as a general fear of insects.
This fear stemmed from TV shows like ‘I’m a Celebrity: Get Me Out of Here!’ showing famous people being ‘punished’ by being made to eat spiders and witchetty grubs live on air, which could put off anyone considering such a diet change. But this puts into question, if a kangaroo leg is a treat, why are insects a punishment?
So, People Don’t Eat Insects Today?
Actually no, they definitely do- just not in the Western world. The UN estimate that 2 billion people worldwide include bugs in their everyday diets, so perhaps the taboo is not to do with our era and evolution moving on, but the West reinforcing this taboo with scaremongering and that ‘ick factor’ we cling onto.
In countries like the tropics, entomophagy is culturally acceptable. Cambodia are accustomed to eating fried tarantulas sold in the marketplace, Southern Africa has the mopane worm as a staple food in their diet and Mexico enjoy chopped jumiles in their dishes.
So, what will it take for Western countries to wise up and listen?
Our Attitudes are Changing
Recently, people have caught on to the health, environment and cost benefits of entomophagy. Attitudes towards this concept have evolved, notably:
Sainsbury’s became the first UK supermarket to sell edible insect products and Selfridges found easier ways to inspire insect consumption through pasta, protein bars and granola bars. Maybe you should pick one up in your next meal deal…
Insects are being included as a protein substitute in our favourite dishes like Bolognese has had an encouraging effect, with some saying that they ‘wouldn’t be able to tell any difference’ and that ‘the taste and texture is similar’. See? Nothing to be afraid of.
In a survey asking whether they would try insect bread, 55% of responders voted yes- what about you?
Celebrities like Nicole Kidman and Joe Rogan have brought attention to the topic, showing the world that if they can do it, you can do it.
The reason for this sudden surge in awareness are the clear health benefits of this alternative protein source, as well as the desire to implement change for our environment, before it is too late. Are we changing your mind yet?
It’s Time to be Health and Environmentally Conscious!
Health is an important topic today, especially in an era of increasing numbers of vegetarians and vegans. Choosing these diet-conscious lifestyles can be a big step, so entomophagy can help that. The concept of ‘flexitarianism’ can seem more feasible to some, as it means sometimes including meat in a mostly plant-based diet. If this occasional meat was swapped for insects, a flexitarian could get the healthy protein they need, without the environment damage.
Entomophagy uses less water, less land and produces less greenhouse gases, which is essential for keeping our planet alive. Reducing carbon footprint can be done in many simple ways, and eating insect-based products is an easy step one.
Alongside our world, we also need to take care of ourselves and a good way to do this is through entomophagy. Need more protein in your diet? Feel like you should be getting more micronutrients, minerals, vitamins or fibre? Want to eat less calories? Then look no further! Insects have a multitude of health benefits for everyone, whether you’re a gym-goer or simply looking to improve your nutrition. Additionally, with deficiencies in iron being very common today, insects (some with more mineral iron than beef) could be essential for those in need.
Not only are insects abundant worldwide, will help food-insecure developing countries and aid world hunger with their rapid growth and ease of farming, but they are also delicious and can be integrated into any meal, sweet or savoury, or even just as a snack.
Let’s Rediscover Insects!
The breakthrough of entomophagy is in reality just a rediscovery of the diets of our ancestors. It has been proven that taboos can be broken with education and exposure, for instance, the lobster. This was once an inferior, repulsive food, but today, is regarded as a delicacy and is often the expensive option in a restaurant- they’ve really gone up in the world!
One day, insects will become part of our everyday diets again. The younger generation of today are likely to be helpful here as they can be educated on entomophagy at an early age to stop this taboo from ever forming in their minds.
Furthermore, with YouTube being a space that younger people can identify with, videos explaining the practices of entomophagy and DIY ‘breeder boxes’ for the home will gather a new generation of insect eaters and perhaps inspire those who are more set in their ways.
Go and Change the Future!
It’s time to take a leaf out of our ancestor’s book and bring back insect-eating. Do it for your health, your environment and your happiness, and don’t let something as trivial as an ‘ick factor’ stop you from breaking an age-old taboo.
By Lucy Godber