Curious About Entomophagy? We Break Down Everything You Need to Know.
What is entomophagy? Well, put simply entomophagy is the consumption of edible insects (Entomophagy, 2021). Although this seems to be a new concept in the global dominant food culture it’s not. It’s actually a practice that dates back millennia. The western diet doesn’t have a prized place for insects on the menu. But, the environmental benefits are becoming more known. As a result, entomophagy is becoming more popular in western culture. Read on to learn a bit about history and why entomophagy is the superior option to meat.
If I were to make a bold assumption, I would say that people have been eating insects since the very beginning. We already know that throughout ancient societies people have indulged in eating insects. In fact, some insects were revered for their flavour and deliciousness.
Let’s take a look at some ancient societies and entomophagy, shall we? In ancient Greece, they considered eating cicadas a delicacy. We have quotes from ancient greek literature describing their flavour throughout different parts of their lifecycle. Aristotle of Athens wrote, “The larva of the cicada on attaining full size in the ground becomes a nymph; then it tastes best before the husk is broken…. at first the males are better to eat, but after copulation the females, which are then full of white eggs” (Bodenheimer, 1951). This is one, as you may have heard the Greeks were pretty big on writing things down so! There are many more accounts of insect-eating if you poke around in some ancient texts!
There’s a lot of information that historians have found on entomophagy. Not only the Ancient Greeks, the Romans, the Middle East, the list goes on. During antiquity, in the Middle East, they were huge fans of Locusts(Bodenheimer, 1951). The really interesting thing is that entomophagy seems to pre-date history itself. Up until recently, it’s been a huge dietary staple in most cultures. So why did western society pull away from eating bugs?
When & Why Did Entomophagy Fall Out of Style in Western Culture?
Insects are categorized as a “Novel Protein” only in western culture. However, pretty much everywhere else in the world chowing down on insects is nothing new. So, when did entomophagy fall out of style here? Or perhaps the question is, was it ever in style?
Most anthropologists believe that insects were a primary source of protein and fats for early Homosapien’s (Morrelli, 2015). Insects like termites were easy to catch and eat for our ancient ancestors. Since once they learned where the termite mound was, they can return there as needed. It’s not going to move. So, insects were essentially healthy fast foods for the early hominids diet.
As homo-sapiens continued to evolve they began to migrate north. They started to reach areas that we now know of as Europe and North America. As they moved more north they hit cold and snow. As you can imagine, the colder and snowier areas had far fewer insects. Not to mention, bugs in the winter were hardly enough to survive off of. There has actually never been a common practice of eating insects in these regions. When people got there, it was glaciated and they transitioned to other protein sources. So, very much like how it is today eating bugs was a tropical thing.
The Psychology of the Yuck Factor
The second part of this equation is the psychology of eating bugs to westerners.
We’ve known that the climate in these regions caused entomophagy to fall out of fashion. What I begin to wonder is why once we advanced to global trade routes, it never came back into fashion?
So, I went ahead and did a little digging. The why is an interesting exploration of human psychology. Westerners have a less harmonious way with nature. In fact we create our own little ecosystems. Our houses have windows, but there’s always a screen. We have central heating and cooling and several layers of glass or wall between us and nature.
In more tropical climates this simply isn’t the way of life. They have a more relaxed coexistence with the natural world. There are rarely screens on the windows, nor heating or cooling systems. Many homes have their kitchens or cooking spaces outside or partially outside. Insects and bugs are just your roomies. They’re always there and people simply co-exist with them.
In western culture, if an insect comes whizzing through your open door, that’s an invasion! They’re not supposed to be there! The bugs are breaking the boundaries that we’ve put up between our ecosystem and theirs. We live against insects, whereas people in the tropics live with insects. So we see insects as pests, we think of them as things that transmit disease, and they’ve become a bit of a cultural taboo. There’s a “Yuck” factor when we think of eating bugs and it’s a pretty big hurdle to get over. However, many people are now turning to insect-based proteins. As western societies learn all about why entomophagy makes sense bugs are being put on the menu.
Why Entomophagy just makes sense:
There are so many reasons why entomophagy makes sense! This goes for both humans and animals, even the animals we have as a part of our family, our pets! Some of the big reasons people are rallying behind insect-based protein are:
- Insects have actually been apart of human diets since the beginning of our evolution
- Insects can be a reliable protein source to an ever-growing population
- They’re one of the most environmentally sustainable protein sources to farm
- Provides a level of variability to our food sources
- Insect farming doubles as upcycling food waste
Why you should try to get over the yuck factor:
Insects are a Natural Part of the Human Diet
Insects have been apart of Homosapien diets since the beginning. As I mentioned earlier, this isn’t a new concept for humans. But, it is a concept that western society has a difficult time accepting. Scientists are getting very worried about the global protein consumption though. The current demand for protein isn’t sustainable long-term, and definitely not with a growing population. It should come as no surprise western countries have some of the highest protein consumption per capita. So, it might be time to try to overcome the yuck to save the planet.
A Reliable Protein Source for a Growing Population
As the human need for protein and food increases, our food production isn’t able to meet the demand. Not to sound too doomsday, but this is genuinely going to become a huge problem. It’s already starting. Food insecurity throughout the world is a big concern and as climate change continues it will only get worse. Scientists are predicting a great human migration because of climate change. The United Nations estimates that 65% of farmable lands have already become degraded. Read more about the climate migration here.
I won’t lie to you, this issue feels bigger than me. I would hazard a guess that you feel overwhelmed by the climate crisis as well. However, I don’t think running away from this problem will help in any way, shape, or form. So, we have to resist the urge to do what my grandma calls “Ostrich-ing” and stick our heads in the sand. We have to find alternative ways to support the nutritional needs of our ever-growing population. Scientists are working tirelessly and they have come up with some workable solutions. But, we have to actually implement the solutions they’re presenting (read more about how HOPE is science based here).
One of those solutions is insect-protein or entomophagy. Just think about it, you have a complete protein which means it has everything your body needs nutritionally. It also uses a fraction of the land and water and resources of other proteins!
Farming Insects is Environmentally Sustainable
Farming insects for animal or human consumption is far more sustainable than animal protein. For starters, you don’t need acres upon acres of land to farm them like cattle or sheep. Insect farms actually farm vertically. The insects can be stacked on top of each other which makes it really convenient and space-saving. They’re essentially like bug condos. They also only need a very small about of water to thrive vs mammals. If you think about how much a cow, sheep, or pig needs to drink throughout its life compared to bugs… there really isn’t a question to which uses far less water. You can also look at carbon emissions. Most of us have heard about the methane that cattle release into the atmosphere. The largest part of insect farmings carbon footprint is keeping their habitat at temperatures that they can thrive in.
Adds Variability to Our Food Sources
Our main agricultural system relies on corn, soy, and wheat. That means if anything happens to those as a result of climate change or any other factor we’re in big trouble.
Since insects are comparatively easy to farm, they add a layer of variability to our food sources. Bugs are easily cultivated and can be used as a food source for farmed animals, pets, and humans. This gives us another source to turn to if one of our other main agricultural staples get wiped out. For example, if soy disappeared tomorrow that would have a colossal ripple effect. 95% of soybean meal goes to feeding farmed animals: primarily pigs, cattle and chicken(Wills, 2013). Adding insects into the mix gives a far greater level of stability. The insects themselves can thrive off of a wide range of nutrients. In turn, they’re amazing and highly efficient at turning that into healthy nutrients (which makes them healthy for other animals to eat).
Upcycling & Food Waste
So what is food wastage?
Well, maybe you’ve already heard of it. Food wastage refers to exactly what it sounds like, the amount of food that simply goes to waste. The United Nations estimated in 2013 that the Economic value of the amount of food going to waste (not including seafood or fish) is 750 billion USD. Which if you were curious, is actually the GDP of Switzerland (FAO, 2013). That’s a heck of a lot of food going to waste.
There are countries leading the charge to curb their food wastage. For instance, in France, they passed a law in 2016 that banned grocery stores from throwing away unsold food that could otherwise be donated to charity. This is amazing and more countries should pass legislation like this! Insect farmers are also committed to helping curb the food waste issue. Many sources of food waste are a feast for a bug. Things like used grains from beer production and leftover foods from packaging facilities. Bugs aren’t picky eaters and they put those nutrients to good work instead of wasting them!
To Sum Up Entomophagy:
Entomophagy is the consumption of edible insects! Many people far smarter than myself are backing entomophagy as a sustainable solution to world hunger, overpopulation and depleted resources.
Entomophagy is something that is actually natural to humans! Homosapiens have been chowing down on bugs since the very beginning of our evolution. Once humans began to migrate more north is when their diet shifted away from insect-based.
The western bias against the consumption of insects is one of the biggest hurdles for the insect-protein industry. However, westerners are beginning to accept the idea of entomophagy more and more. This is a direct result of the overwhelming benefits we’ve outlined.
The main benefits of entomophagy are that they’re biologically appropriate to eat. They’re also a reliable protein source for an ever-growing population. Insect farming is one of the most environmentally sustainable sources for a complete protein.
Adding insects into the mix creates a level of variability in our food sources that we desperately need.
Lastly, bugs aren’t picky eaters. They can be fed using food waste instead of pulling away farmed food sources for people.
All in all, you have to admit entomophagy is looking like a pretty great option! If you’re still hesitant to try bugs yourself there is something you might not have thought of. 25% of the worlds meat production goes to our pets. So, a way you can reduce you and your pets environmental impact is to switch your furry friend to an insect-based food! Like we mentioned earlier, insects are complete protein which means they have all the amino acids and other nutrients your pet needs. It’s also yummy! Don’t just take our word for it though, give our food a taste test and see! Check out our line of insect-based dog food and treats here.
Bodenheimer F.S. (1951) History of Entomophagy. In: Insects as Human Food. Springer, Dordrecht. Retreived from, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-017-6159-8_2
Entomophagy. (2021). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from https://academic-eb-com.library.sheridanc.on.ca/levels/collegiate/article/entomophagy/610299
Skrivervik, E. (2020, May 11). Insects’ contribution to the bioeconomy and the reduction of food waste. Retrieved from https://reader.elsevier.com/reader/sd/pii/S2405844020307799?token=1DAC4A9D6165637BAA4542BB9D7C75F78D5FBFA00F8BEB3EA0EDAAECF5B13020D1B57B0246D99F86D2B99EF5D8238E55
Miorelli, N. (2015, March 07). Why Don’t We Eat Bugs in Western Culture? Retrieved March, from https://askentomologists.com/2015/02/09/why-dont-we-eat-bugs-in-western-culture/
Payne, C. (2018, March 22). Giving up meat and eating bugs can help save the planet. Retrieved from https://www.independent.co.uk/news/long_reads/entomophagy-eat-insects-food-diet-save-planet-meat-cattle-deforestation-a8259991.html FAO, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, Italy (2013) Retrieved from, http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3347e/i3347e.pdf Wills, K. (2013, October 8). Where do all these soybeans go? Retrieved from https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/where_do_all_these_soybeans_go#:~:text=Ninety eight percent of soybean,an alternative to petroleum oil.