If you were a parent, would you want the best food quality for your children? Rich in protein, rich in fibre, free range, easy to cook, easy to digest, and more importantly, has a small ecological footprint? Avocado peanut butter toast, you say? How about some cricket cookies?
Westerners have had a long history of prejudice against eating insects (or rightfully termed: entomophagy), almost as long as the tradition of eating them. According to Joost Van Itterbeeck, almost one third of the world’s population regularly consumes insects as part of their diet, and over 1900 species are edible. But still, we flinch to the thought of eating a scorpion sucker. Why? This article will accordingly address some of myths surrounding entomophagy.
Myth One: Only “primitive” people eat insects.
As mentioned above, over 2 billion people worldwide practice entomophagy regularly and insects have established a stable and crucial status in local food cultures (FAO 1). In Thailand, for instance, a harvest calendar is designed to indicate the availability of edible insects by month (FYI: April is the best month to eat Dung beetles and grasshoppers) (FAO 18). The mentality of labelling entomophagy as primitive traces back to the Eurocentric colonial history and has cost us tremendously. As insects are such a crucial alternative source for protein intake in Africa, according to DeFoliart, “Westerners should become aware of the fact that their bias against insects as food has an adverse impact, resulting in a gradual reduction in the use of insects without replacement of lost nutrition and other benefits” (35).
Myth Two: If I don’t see an insect in my food, I’m not eating one.
Marcel Dicke in his inspiring TED talk tells us otherwise. Think about it, in America, the National Food Security allows 60 insect components/100g in chocolate, 30 insect components/100 g in peanut butter, and 1-2 larvae or 5 fruit fly eggs in a 250ml juice can. It is estimated that an average American adult would consume up to 500 grams of insects every year (Dicke). Here in Canada, how many moth eggs do you think you have eaten in your morning maple syrup?
Myth Three: Insects are dirty.
Quite the contrary. Because insects are so genetically different from humans, there is no recombination in insects that is harmful to humans. Mammals, such as pigs, cows, sheep or chicken are far more susceptible to virus infections than insects are. Any 10th grader will tell you that creatures situated lower in the food chain have fewer toxins in their bodies; the higher up in the food chain you go, the more toxic they become. Such distaste is also to do with the size of the insects. Unlike pork or beef, we are able to see an insect’s entire body: from legs, to eyes, to the entire abdomen! The dissociation of the food we consume from the animals they come from means that we have less recognition of eating the living thing itself, and entomophagy reminds us of this uncomfortable truth.
Myth Four: Rearing insects harms the environment.
Gone are the days when we only associate locusts with famine. Insects emit fewer greenhouse gases and less ammonia than cattle or pigs. They consume less water and less land --in fact, insect-rearing is not necessary a land-based activity. Think about the bees: we do not have to clear lands to expand productions. In Germany, the government even rears their bees on the top of Cathedrals (“Let’s Get Berlin Buzzing!”, for example). In addition, insects can feed on organic waste side-streams which consequently reduces environmental contamination (FAO Forestry Paper xiv). These streams are composed of human and animal waste amongst other things. Human waste, you ask? Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) proposes that insect food safety and preservation should follow the same codes as other animal food sources: microbial safety, toxicity, palatability, and the presence of inorganic compounds (FAO 105). If insects for consumption are reared on waste products, extra supervision is required. With standard regulations, it is safe to say, therefore, that insects are literally greener.
Myth Five: Insects are Abundant.
This is rather a subjective myth. I, for one, do believe that there are more mosquitos around than necessary. But in Mexico, because grasshoppers are cherished and savoured for their palatability (the cuisine is called chapuline), there is an actual grasshopper scarcity. Insects, like any other nutrition source, are not inexhaustible. Luckily, because insect-rearing is a flexible and low-capital investment and it does not require heavy manual labour, this option offers entry to the poorest strata of society, such as women and the landless (FAO 33). Thus insect-rearing could be the most sustainable practice to systematically ensure food security.
So people, without further ado, a cricket cookie for our little ones, maybe?
Defoliart, Gene R. "Edible Insects as Minilivestock." Biodiversity and Conservation 4.3 (1995): 306-21. Web.