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Who is eating insects? - General

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.


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.


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’?

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