Putting Bugs on the Menu
Most people who have grown up in the United States, Canada, or the European Union tend to shun insects.
“We’re fairly eco-phobic,” says Valerie Stull, an environmental health scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, describing a common Western view. “We build our houses, and we put screens on our windows, and we keep everything closed. And whenever there’s like an insect in our house, we want to kill it or get rid of it.”
To many Americans, Canadians, and Europeans, bugs such as roaches and fleas are a sign of uncleanliness.
But most insects don’t signal dirt and disease. There are more than 1 million species of insects that have been discovered in the world—scientists think there could be as many as 10 million. About 1,900 have been documented as edible, according to FAO reports, and an estimated 2 billion people in 130 countries eat insects, from locusts in Thailand to maguey worms in Mexico.
One way to change our relationship with insects, Stull says, is to interact with beneficial insects that we view more positively. Bees for example, are well-liked, as they pollinate our food and give us honey.
The next step is to re-think our ideas about what constitutes food.
“We all grew up with a certain idea of what is food and what’s not, but that idea is not the same around the world,” Stull says.
Stull remembers the first time she ate insects, while on a family trip to Costa Rica as a young teenager.
“We were eating at a fancy restaurant, and they served us citrus ants,” Stull says. “I remember being very nervous and squeamish about trying these, but then when I actually did, I was really surprised, because they tasted like food.”
We’ve seen such attitude changes throughout history. Lobsters, for example, were once plentiful and inexpensive, but are now pricey delicacies in a lot of places. Ironically, from a taxonomic standpoint, lobsters are pretty much giant insects of the ocean. Crustaceans and insects are both in the arthropod phylum.
“Why do we think a lobster is good food, but a cricket is bad?” Stull says.