Entomophagy: worth promoting or not?


We know that insects are a good source of protein, they can be produced worldwide, and require fewer resources to produce compared with meat. For these reasons they could present a sustainable dietary option. Entomophagy, however, is not widely accepted in many parts of the world, including North America. Shifts in social norms are very slow to occur and often require a lot of public health efforts to acheive.
Is it worth enticing the public to increase their acceptance of eating insects for reasons of sustainability? Or is it a lost cause?

Culinary arts
Laura Glenn, RD, MSc
11 months ago

5 answers


I think there are two very different groups of insects in this topic. Many native populations eat insects as a special dish, not as a basic food, in many cases it is a specific dish with a specific insect, can not use another insect to prepare it. In this case, insects are considered as a delicacy and when it is sold, it is relatively expensive. The other group is the set of common insects that we said are eatable and for different reason can be eaten by all people. Arguments are diverse as good protein source, cheap food source, alternative meat that do not need grasslands, safe food, low colesterol, etc. Than, the main problem is that we can eat an ant in chocolate for an entomology fair, but shure ants will not be part of our basic food. Two ways to change the situation: education and explain to our people that if we can eat shrimps, shurely we can eat insects. The other way is producing massively some insects, process and use it in prepared food, using only the insect flour. Hamburger "pure beef" generally are half soybean flour, so why not not half insect flour, at least it will be real meat. In the case of insects with a strong taste (bad taste), it is also possible to transform in flour and mixed with other stuff, could be animal food, like food for chicken. Anyway, it shurely worth the value of promote the different ways, even more if we taken in account that beef industry is taking big areas of land for his production.

Jean-Michel Maes
11 months ago
Liking your idea with the use of insect flours! Could be a great way to start acceptance of those products, without the visual "turn-off" that many of us have. - Laura 11 months ago

Definitely worth it! The shift in social norm is more of a general mindset that is cross-cutting and that solutions to sustainability will will be cross-cultural. Consider what others do in highly populated areas where other forms of protein are the favored norm. While the conversion from feed to protein might not be as great originally thought - still better than pork or beef. It's science and 'it's complicated!'

Virginia Bolshakova
11 months ago
Thanks for the reply and for sharing that link! - Laura 11 months ago

It is worth it. The human population continues to increase and so are the nutritional needs, however changing traditional norms is not easy. Many a times we read about herbicides, pesticides, and antibiotics accumulating in animal proteins because of intensive farming. The question as to whether insect protein (depending on how reared/ produced) may be healthier than current source of proteins like beef, mutton, pork, milk, eggs etc may provide an important edge. Pulling out pieces of relevant scientitic facts on human health issues related to domestic animal proteins as well as known values of insect protein would enlighten the society more. From an environmental conservation point of view, there are a number of advantages if society was to reduce dependence on domestic animal production including emmision of greenhouse gases. Promoting insects as a source of protein and packaging the knowledge in factual and attractive way would bear results, preferably starting with insects already acceptable, or incorporating insect protein in some form of food processing.

Charles Warui
11 months ago
Great points brought up, Charles! Which insects would you consider already acceptable? I see some products on the market containing crickets, are there others you know of? - Laura 11 months ago
Hi Laura, Again good to read from you. In Africa quite a number of insects are acceptable. I just mention a few here. 1. Mopane worms see and also: 2.Termites- Especially flying termites (Alates or swarmers). 3.Grasshoppers/ Locusts - The larval grub of Palm weevil (A beetle larva) - Charles 11 months ago

Eeeweu... nice try Laura.
I think there is an inherited, inborn distaste for insects, just as there is inherited, inborn fear of heights (as shown by psychological experiments).
The genetically-inherited distaste for insects is probably based upon 10,000's of years of human adaptation (some would say evolution). Those who ate insects and died would not pass on their genes versus those who abstained and lived would pass on their genes.
For example, take the North Korean who recently escaped and was found to have many parasites in his intestinal tract. I would guess that they came from eating insects to supplement a near-starvation diet.
So, if you would like to eat insects, go for it. As for me, I would much prefer a nice steak.
Charles Nilsson A.B., BSc, MSc

Charles (Chuck) Nilsson A.B., B.Sc., M.Sc.
11 months ago
Haha thanks Charles. I have not incorporated insects in my diet, personally, but it may be a growing trend. Many people initially had a repulsion for sushi (probably for the same parasitic reasons you mentioned), but with proper processing techniques we can certainly make these foods safe if it is so desired. - Laura 11 months ago

It has been shown scientifically that insects are a good source of protein, and that mass producing such a food source requires fewer resources compared to many conventional types of meat. Pound for pound the protein is of better, more acessible quality than commonly consumed meat. Also, many cultures in the eastern world are more open to using insects as a source of protein, however, the western world, due mainly to cultural reasons, shun the idea. If you also look into many world religions, some amount of entomophagy is accepted, in varying degrees, according to their various holy texts, but the adherents of these religions are often bound by the norms in the society they belong. Given the increased globalization of the human population and the continued mix of world cultures, it is only a matter of time before cultures have evolved to the point where entomophagy is seen as normal as the eating of conventional meats. Are we there yet? I doubt it, but people are becomming increasingly aware of the many products that are currently being cosumed that are derived from insects. Furthermore, much of the food we eat, being mass produced, adhere to certain international standards that do allow for certain levels of insect contaminants in parts per billion (or other accepable scales); many persons are NOT aware of this.
But, is it worth enticing the public to increase their acceptance of eating insects for reasons of sustainability? In my opinion, even if one makes a convincing argument for entomophagy's role in sustainability, people would still oppose it for the same reason people are inherently afraid of a butterfly because it "flew too close to them". But, it is worth it to educate people on the benefits, and already current levels of insects being unknowingly consumed? Cultural change is something that takes time, and entomophagy will only become more acceptable if people are adequately educated as to its current levels and the benefits to be derived from increasing the levels in the future - and this takes a lot of time and money to do. Only if a company is heavily invested in seeing the success of entomophagy and stands to benefit significantly would they see it fit to invest in such a venture. I know of none currently that has the financial capacity and long term tenacity to see such an effort embarked upon in any western society given the uncertainties that abound.
The road to cultural change is long and riddled with much unccertainty. It matters not how healthy and sustainable it is for entomophagy to be more adopted if the culture of the society refuses to change. The key lies in sustained education of the masses over more than one generational span. Even then, it is uncertain as to weather it would be enough to effect a change significant enough to make entomophagy into a commercially viable option. Let us do our part and hopefully we can see a significant enough change in our lifetime.

Delano Lewis
11 months ago
Hi Delano, thanks a lot for the detailed and thoughtful response. I remember learning about the allowable insect parts in certains food such as flours and initially being shocked. Now I think this fact has allowed me to see insect flour blends as an acceptable food. - Laura 11 months ago
Your are welcomed Laura. Yes, quite a lot of food additives eg: a type of food coloring, are made from insects and we unknowingly gladly consume them. Entomophagy is quite an interesting subject. - Delano 10 months ago

Have some input?