Bug Appétit!

Photo by manbartlett | flickr.com

Although it’s known that it is environmentally friendly to eat insects, is it something that people will actually do?

Surprisingly, entomophagy (insect eating) has been a well documented human practice for over thousands of years.  In Western culture, however, it remains highly taboo. In fact, as I mentioned in my previous article, I myself have never seriously eaten bugs on any occasion.

Currently, in North America, insect dishes are really only available to thrill seekers or individuals who actively seek them out. And even though this seems quite normal to us, it is actually quite different than most countries around the world. In fact, 80% of countries worldwide have populations which do consume insects, so as pro-entomophagy writer David George Gordon once put, “we [North America] are the weird ones.”

So where is all the taboo around insect eating coming from in North America? A United Nation’s report on entomophagy called “Forest insects as food” delves into this topic by discussing some of the possible sources for the stigma.

Perhaps North Americans are against eating insects because of the way they are portrayed in our media. Bugs are generally seen as gross, disgusting and even monster-like. Another source is that North Americans have generally distanced themselves from agriculture and previous cultural practices causing us to be sceptical of bugs as a food source.

In North America, we desire clean, contaminant-free food. Consequently, the idea of eating bugs which crawl around on the ground as pests for our livestock and crops, is not so appealing. The last major source, which I think is the most pervasive in North America, is that people believe they will taste bad. It is this theory however, that is completely unfounded.

Researchers Hanboonsong and Rattanapan published two articles in 2000 which clearly demonstrate that there are populations on this planet who truly enjoy the taste of insects. In one study published inthe journal Elytra, Hanboonsong et al. found that over 75% of Thai people choose to eat insects because of their taste. Additionally, after surveying correspondents from the 19 provinces of Thailand, Rattanapan and Hanboonsong found that 99% of respondents actively ate the giant water bug lethocerus indicus. In fact, the U.N. currently estimates that there are over 1,400 species of insects and worms being used as food sources in over 90 countries.

So it is evident that people around the globe are interested in entomophagy. Perhaps, the problem lies more with the feasibility with eating insects in North America? The answer? See my next post!