Why Not Entomophagy?

We are approaching a global crisis on many interconnected levels. One of the most pressing issues is our inability to produce sufficient food for this planet’s rapidly expanding population while clinging to unsustainable farming practices that no longer meet our needs. Current animal husbandry practices are especially problematic: livestock produce 14.5% of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions (Quinton) and is one of the biggest drivers of deforestation. These sobering facts highlight our need for different approaches; a promising alternative to traditional animal agriculture is entomophagy, otherwise known as the practice of eating insects. Insects are rich in amino acids, containing as much or more protein per ounce than beef or pork (Mishan), and have a feed-to-meat conversion rate that is up to 12 times more efficient than traditional livestock (D’Costa). They can be fed with organic by-products of civilization, emit fewer greenhouse gases and ammonia and require less water than livestock. In addition, raising insects is far less controversial than raising mammals and poultry in terms of potential for animal cruelty (Van Huis et al. 2013). 

With all of these clear benefits, it is interesting that insects do not already make up a major part of the western diet. Over 2 million people in developing countries eat insects on a daily basis (Van Huis et al. 2013), which shows that insects are perfectly suitable as a food source for humans. So why do many Americans and Western Europeans respond with disgust at the mere idea of eating insects? 

Part of this phenomenon is simply climate-related. In many European and North American countries, it is cold for half of the year and thus there is not a consistent supply of insects year-round, in contrast to the constant availability of insects in equatorial regions. The biggest determinant of whether or not insects are a part of someone’s diet is how close to the equator they live (Lesnik). Many countries along the equator are poverty-stricken nations, and insects are – consciously or subconsciously – considered “poor man’s food”. Thus, people from developed nations like Europe and North America have developed a cultural disgust-response towards entomophagy as a way to distance themselves from the image of poverty (D’Costa). This dates back to Columbus’ time, when a member of his party wrote in his diary that “[the Natives] eat all the snakes, the lizards, and spiders, and worms, that they find upon the ground; so that, to my fancy, their bestiality is greater than that of any beast upon the face of the earth.” (Lesnik). Today, even cultures that have a rich history of consuming insects are moving away from this food source as Western practices replace their traditional way of life (D’Costa). Case studies have shown that this can result in crucial nutrient deficiencies because the insects are not replaced with an equivalent source of protein or vitamins (Van Huis et al. 2013). 

It is clear that insects are edible and farmable: all that remains is to put this knowledge into practice, which means overcoming generations of societal conditioning. The best way to 

implement a new custom is by educating the youngest members of our society. If eating insects (for both practical and environmental reasons) is normalized from a young age, then that practice will eventually become commonplace as the younger generations replace ours. We can begin this transition by incorporating insects into our diets in more subtle ways. Adding cricket or mealworm flour to meat substitutes and nutrition shakes can help boost their protein content, and marketing insects as a novelty or a health food will entice more adventurous eaters. These steps are already being taken on a smaller scale, but we must expand this practice if we as humans are to keep pace with the growth of our population and slow the destruction of our planet. 

Works Cited D’Costa, Krystal. “What’s Stopping Us from Eating Insects?” Scientific American Blog Network

Ronja Keleey

24 July 2013, https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/anthropology-in-practice/whats-stopping-us-from-ea ting-insects/. Landhuis, Esther. “Why Can’t Bugs Be Grub?” Science News for Students, 19 Nov. 2018, 

https://www.sciencenewsforstudents.org/article/why-cant-bugs-be-grub. Lesnik, J. 2017. Not just a fallback food: global patterns of insect consumption 

related to geography, not agriculture. Am J Hum Biol. 2017;e22976. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1002/ajhb.22976. Mishan, Ligaya. “Why Aren’t We Eating More Insects?” The New York Times, The New York 

Times, 7 Sept. 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/07/t-magazine/eating-bugs-food-restaurant.html. Quinton, Amy. “Cows and Climate Change.” UC Davis, 27 June 2019, 

https://www.ucdavis.edu/food/news/making-cattle-more-sustainable/. Van Huis, A., J. Van Itterbeeck, H. Klunder, E. Mertens, A. Halloran, G.Muir, and P. Vantomme. 2013. Edible insects: Future prospects for food and feed security. Food and agriculture organization of the United Nations. FAO Forestry Paper 171. Rome. http://www.fao.org/3/i3253e/i3253e.pdf.