Who eats insects?

Two billion people can’t be wrong! We tend to think of insect consumption being something exotic and very rare, if we consider it at all - but in many parts of the world various species of insect are a totally normal part of the diet, if not a distinct delicacy. In many ways, we in the west are the weird ones, shunning this vast and varied food resource.

In cultures all across the globe insects are harvested, prepared and eaten in so many countless different ways.

Eating insects – called ‘entomophagy’ (you can read more about why this term is problematic right here) – is not some new fad either. Humans have always done it, and our cousins the primates are partial to bugs too. It’s only fairly recently – for a few hundred years – that some societies decided against it and insects became something only to be got rid of.

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Photo: Nordic Food Lab, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Colonialism meant this anti-entomophagy attitude was spread and enforced all over the world. Eating insects was seen to be dirty and ‘savage’, and the indigenous populations of colonised countries were discouraged or actively prevented from eating insects. Particularly in areas where Christian missionaries had a strong influence in sub-Saharan Africa, indigenous diets changed as the new ruling and religious powers deemed insects such as termites to be ‘heathen’. The legacy of this history is that there is still a sense of shame about eating insects in some non-western cultures, especially in places where Christianity took hold. You can find more information on the history of entomophagy and colonialism in the UN’s Edible Insects report.

This anti-insect idea is particularly damaging when you consider that insects are an important protein source in many cultures. However, it’s a common misconception that they’re are a sort of desperate-measure food source in the ‘developing’ world. While insects are basic elements of many diets, they also constitute highly prized delicacies, and popular snacks. Grasshoppers are particularly popular as a snack. In Mexico they’re making a comeback, with chapulines served at sports matches in the southern states. China is seeing a revival of silkworm larvae consumption among young people. The stigma around insect consumption, where it did take hold, is in some places being left behind.

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Photo: Nordic Food Lab, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

In cultures all across the globe insects are harvested, prepared and eaten in so many countless different ways. The idea that it’s just something people in ‘developing’ countries do in desperate times needs to be dropped, as it just isn’t true. As with much of the western view of the world, myths and stereotypes blur reality. Maybe we should turn the gaze on ourselves and ask why it is that we think eating insects is so ‘gross’?

Uganda: No stings attached – the most delicious honey

Uganda: No stings attached – the most delicious honey

“How can any species have something so delicious and not have a sting?”

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North America's entomophagists are teaming up

North America's entomophagists are teaming up

Surely one of the signs of change is the welcome appearance of sensible, balanced articles in food trade magazines on the topic of edible insects.

Covering the founding of the North American Edible Insects Coalition (NAEIC), the story in Food Navigator USA doesn’t even feature the usual sexy-lady-eating-scorpion stock photos that seem to be de rigueur in so much media coverage of entomophagy. Instead, cheery pictures of the founding members illustrate the story – Exo, Chapul, Chirps and other startups that have seen success in the US in recent years.

Co-founder of the new coalition, Robert Nathan Allen, thinks the tide is turning. The era of ‘Gross, bugs!’ is giving way to curiosity and enthusiasm. It’s a critical time in this fast-growing industry, and Allen wants to bring together its many disparate parts to form a professional association which will, he hopes, shape the future of edible insects in North America.

Allen is a pal of BUGSfeed; a few months ago we grilled him on Aspire’s ambitious palm weevil projects in Ghana. This time we chatted about the new coalition and what the future could hold.

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TEDx: from maggots in cheese to a food revolution

TEDx: from maggots in cheese to a food revolution

The video of a recent TEDx talk by BUGSfeed participants Roberto Flore and Afton Halloran at LUISS university in Rome has just been published. Here's a quick summary.

Starting off by recalling how the arrival of casu marzu after a lunch in the Sardinian mountains divided the population between those appreciating the delicacy and those running off in disgust when confronted "with eating something that was alive", Roberto said. "I decided to stay and eat the cheese. For me, it was really delicious. In that moment, we never thought that this cheese, in a few years, was going to become part of a large food revolution."

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From Bricks to Bugs – the journey of two ento-preneurs (2)

From Bricks to Bugs – the journey of two ento-preneurs (2)

In the first part of our series, Josh and Harry, co-founders of Mophagy, told us what made them switch from selling Lego to selling insects. But how do you actually start up a startup dealing in bugs?

New Year, New Start

It was early January and we were sitting in my kitchen, elbow deep in product samples. We’d just been on a market run. Protein bars, cereal bars, porridge pots, instant noodles, baking mixes – any product that had potential for an insect powder additive were strewn across every available surface.

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A gnarly-looking delicacy from South Africa

A gnarly-looking delicacy from South Africa

Our ‘Bug of the Week’ is the mopane worm – a caterpillar that becomes an Emperor Moth and feeds on the leaves of the African mopane tree. It’s a prized food in many southern African states and is eaten dried or stewed.

We’ve had a look at a couple of videos that explain more about these gnarly-looking worms and their uses as a staple food.

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From Bricks to Bugs – the journey of two ento-preneurs (1)

From Bricks to Bugs – the journey of two ento-preneurs (1)

The world of entomophagy is an exciting place to be right now. Thanks to a few trail blazers around the world, the West is slowly waking up to the untapped potential of insects in our food chain. But have you ever wondered what it would be like to quit your current 9-to-5 and join the ‘bug business’ yourself? Or maybe you already have and would love to share in the ups and downs of a fellow start-up? Well, our series of blog posts are aimed to do just that – we hope you enjoy!

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The Kushihara Wasp Festival

The Kushihara Wasp Festival

Even though Japan is often mentioned as a country where people eat insects, this practice pretty much remains confined to some rural areas.

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Eating wasps and hornets in Japan

Eating wasps and hornets in Japan

Fuelled by a fellowship to study entomophagy across the world, Nora Mishanec arrived in Japan just in time for the wasp festival, the hornet harvest, and last but not least, the following meal – wasps and hornets incorporated into a multi-course kaiseki feast – Japanese haute cuisine.

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My First Hornet Hunt (2): From hive to plate

My First Hornet Hunt (2): From hive to plate

Charlotte Payne about her first-ever hunt for giant hornets in Japan – make sure you've read part 1 first

We regrouped, elated at our success. "Now for the tough part." Nakagaki raised his eyebrows at me as he spoke, "ready?"

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My First Hornet Hunt (pt 1)

My First Hornet Hunt (1): Searching for the nest

"There! That tree, over there." Miyake pointed to the foot of a low hill that rose above the paddy fields. When we reached the spot, there it was - a giant hornet, crawling across the bark. I turned to Miyake in astonishment. How could he possibly have seen the insect at such a distance? 

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Feed the World

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Insects as food is one thing – but how about insects as feed?

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