Entomophagy: The Practice of Eating Insects
Would you ever try eating a bug?
Photo of cooked crickets and larva on a stick (Ivan via Getty Images).
What is entomophagy?
Entomophagy is the practice of eating insects. Although it may seem gross, entomophagy has been around for thousands of years and originated in the Paleolithic era. The human diet started as insectivorous before we evolved to become omnivorous. Today, around 1900 documented species of insects are eaten around the world (130 countries with African and American continents eating the most insects).
Why do people eat insects?
According to anthropologists, it was believed that insects provided humans reproductive success by increasing fat stores in the abdomen. Many cultures also saw insects as delicacies, such as by the Romans and Greeks. In Asian cultures (i.e. during the Ming Dynasty), insects were eaten for their medicinal purposes. As cultures, behaviours, and available resources have changed, eating insects has become less popular, especially in western cultures. However, more western cultures are beginning to seek opportunities to eat insects, including celebrities like Angelina Jolie, who was seen eating insects with her children.
Insect lollipops (TeacherSource).
How are insects prepared for consumption?
Insects can be eaten in many different ways. You may have seen your favourite YouTuber try eating insects encased in lollipops or its natural form with spices mixed in. In prehistoric times, insects were mainly boiled, dried in the sun, and stored in ceramic pots. Many species of insects can be eaten at any stage of life. For example, giant grubs (larva form of many beetle species) are often recommended as a high source of nutrition when trying to survive in the wild (shoutout to Bear Grylls!). You can also find insects in Thailand and Mexico's restaurants and street markets, where they fry or barbeque the insects with different spices and sauces.
Can entomophagy help solve world hunger?
According to the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization in the United Nations), there are 805 million people in the world who are undernourished with a global food energy deficit of 67.6 billion kcal/day (84 kcal/day/person). Insects are known to have a higher nutrient profile than the livestock commonly eaten. For example, crickets contain about twice the amount of protein found in beef. Insects also contain many lipids, amino acids, and micronutrients that aren’t found in vegetarian diets. One study shows that if farmers contribute 10m^2 of farmland towards cricket farming, they can produce about 1kg (1402kcal) of crickets per day, covering a large amount of the 1500 kcal deficit seen by a five-person family.
Infographic comparing nutrient profile for 30g of beef and 30g of crickets (Aketta).
Insects as a sustainable food source
Compared to traditional livestock, insects are a much more sustainable food source, as it requires less land, money, and energy to maintain a large stock of insects. Insects also do not produce as many greenhouse gases as cows, a significant source of methane. Knowing that insects provide a large amount of energy and nutrients while also being more environmentally friendly, it is no wonder then that the United Nations are promoting insects' eating as an alternative source of food.
Aketta. n.d. About Aketta. Aketta.com http://www.aketta.com/about-aketta.aspx
Batat, W., & Peter, P. (2020). The healthy and sustainable bugs appetite: factors affecting entomophagy acceptance and adoption in Western food cultures. Journal of Consumer Marketing, 37(3), 291–303. https://doi-org/10.1108/JCM-10-2018-2906
Nadeau, L., Nadeau, I., Franklin, F., & Dunkel, F. (2015). The Potential for Entomophagy to Address Undernutrition. Ecology of Food and Nutrition, 54(3), 200–208. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03670244.2014.930032
RAMOS-ELORDUY, J. (2009). Anthropo-entomophagy: Cultures, evolution and sustainability. Entomological Research, 39(5), 271–288. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1748-5967.2009.00238.x
Article Author: Vanessa Wong
Article Editors: Victoria Huang, Maria Giroux