Why insects still aren’t a food staple in Western diets

What’s crunchy, filled with protein and much more sustainable to farm compared to chickens? Crickets, obviously! Tucking into a large bowl of those chirping grasshopper-relatives might sound like an episode of Fear Factor, howeverresearchers from the University of Copenhagen say that cricket farming may be a nutritious solution to lowering the environmental impacts of food production.

“Insects, oftentimes, could be comparable to meat and fish in terms of nutritional importance,” states the study’s lead  writer, PhD student Afton Halloran of the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports. “The simple fact that we’ve demonstrated here they can be created more environmentally friendly than meat usually means they represent a gigantic possibility of lowering the impact of the food creation .”

In the excerpt below, Waltner-Toews reasoned why we can’t appear to get past the ick-factor.  

How can we start to create sense of the conflicting cultural images [we’ve got of insects] and also the cultural and scientific entanglements where they have emerged? How do we mentally and intellectually create a mash-up of camel and Antz, malaria and creamy beetles, river blindness, dark flies, and clean water? How can we start to deal with our mental ambivalence about digging into a bowl of live termites, or outright revulsion at watching Star Trek‘s Klingons plunge right to a writhing bowl of Gagh?

A first step would be to identify the biases in our narratives and not only the flaws in others. Despite the brilliant and Herculean efforts of the excellent Swedish naturalist and polymath Carl Linnaeus to standardize our descriptions of living things, even the most hard-core of hard scientists still fall back on culturally based metaphors and stories, if not to describe the things themselves, then at least to talk about their roles in nature. These metaphors and stories influence the way we think about living things and, in turn, whether we want to consume them or not. Why do assassin bugs, as the name implies, kill significant leaders for political or religious reasons? Or are they simply insects that kill and consume other insects? Is the large female insect — the one who carries the flames and determines the genetic makeup of their beehive or ant colony — a queen? Surely not one who Elizabeth of England or even Lewis Carroll’s Red Queen would recognize as such. Likewise, the usage of the conditions employees and soldiers for ants, ants, and bees reflects political and social foundations in England and India.

Bert Hölldobler and Edward O. Wilson, in their own novel The Superorganism: The Beauty, Elegance and Strangeness of Insect Societies, compose that decision-making in a beehive “is really a highly-distributed procedure for friendly competition one of the dot mammals which distinguishes the ideal site. It is, in effect, a burglary.” Ah, so we now know. However, is it a parliamentary opposition, with a monument? And also the republican form more familiar to those American authors?

For people who are encouraging entomophagy, the ethnic baggage carried by insect names are far more than curiosities for ethnic critics and anthropologists. They create some quandaries. Bees are excellent protein sources should eaten directly — as good as or better than crickets and mealworms. However while Westerners could be quick to adopt crickets and mealworms, and haven absolutely no moral qualms about eating hornets and wasps, they may balk at a curry where infant honey bees are the main ingredient. Could it be because we secretly think in bee bodhisattvas, or extol the virtuous lessons of governance and democratic socialism the huh provides? Don’t ants, ants, and hornets offer you comparable lessons? Might it be because bees seem “cuddlier,” much more like pandas than grizzlies? Or is it because bees are now deemed a critical element in industrialized monocultures? It is, I’m guessing, a complicated, confusing mixture of those things.

It is 1 thing to boost up and magnify positive images of insects in culture and science. The fantastic challenge for people wanting to invent a sustainable food source that includes insects are going to be to find ways to acknowledge the evil along with the good, and to dance cleverly together with the stresses that emerge. Truly, unadulterated adorable and very good stories about insects might dis-courage entomophagy as much as those who characterize them as unrepentant and bad marauders.

At John Vernon Lord and Janet Burroway’s children’s story The Giant Jam Sandwich, the town of Itching Down (that isn’t “a waspish type of town”) is plagued by a swarm of four million wasps. The townspeople try all of the typical spray-and-swat killer responses, none of which work. Finally, Bap the Baker rallies the townspeople to a excellent community project: to make a giant jam jar in which to trap the wasps. In the long run, the townspeople prevail. In the conclusion of the story, the giant jam-and-wasp sandwich provides a feast for birds “to get a fourteen days .”

An upgraded edition might have the townspeople feasting on the sandwich themselves, but feeding the birds seems less selfish and more environmentally suitable. In any scenario, the secret to Itching Down’s answer to the wasp issue is the fact that it targets only the ones that are pestering the town and uses natural animal behaviors to eliminate the pests. No nerve-gas weapons of war involved.

At 2012, Doug Currie, Vice-President, Department of Natural History and Senior Curator of Entomology at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum, started Black Sweat Day as a antidote to the toxic commercialism of the afternoon.

The Giant Jam Sandwich caught me thinking about the way that we may celebrate Black Quarter Day. I see it as an overall party of insects, a day to give thanks to the pure water that black flies alert us to, even to get the crickety cookies from the oven, and to get the awesome and awful locusts from the wild. What if we had a grand celebratory feast and encouraged Aboriginal Australians, indigenous people from Africa and Amazonia, China and Southeast Asia, as well as farmers from Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Nebraska? What if we asked each of them to prepare a meal that included insects or insect goods, or goods that depended on insects, for instance, to get pollination? What when we researched the dark side of insects, the harvest insects as well as the malaria mosquitoes, even when we ate crickets or even mopane worms or even palm weevil larvae, pollinated nuts, legumes and fruits, honey? I suspect we would not all agree, which not everybody will be familiar eating bugs; however that, in my opinion, isn’t the point. Maybe we can start to alter the ethnic narratives and foods we all use to set ourselves. The purpose is to start to understand ourselves, and the planet we inhabit, in its rich diversity, only a little better.

Excerpt adapted from “Eat the Beetles: An Exploration into Our Conflicted Relationship with Sensors” from David Waltner-Toews. © 2017 from David Waltner-Toews. Published by ECW Press Ltd. .