Winning Wednesdays: Would you welcome insects into your diet?

By Martin Zibauer »Martin Zibauer

August 10th, 2011



In The Atlantic, Daniel Fromson points out that there are strong environmental arguments for entomophagy, the practice of eating insects, both as an efficient use of resources and a less-polluting option:

Crickets, for example, convert feed to body mass about twice as efficiently as pigs and five times as efficiently as cattle. Insects require less land and water—and measured per kilogram of edible mass, mealworms generate 10 to 100 times less greenhouse gas than pigs.

But there’s a little bit of a cultural obstacle to overcome. Years ago, I heard Margaret Visser talk about insect-eating in Western culture. As I recall, she said Europeans, especially the unwealthy ones, did consume insects in the Middle Ages. But over time, we’ve abandoned insects and now our culture doesn’t like anything that’s neither here not there, anything in between or indefinite. That’s why many of us don’t like foods with a jelly-like consistency: It’s neither solid nor liquid. Insects, she pointed out, live in the cracks—not out in the open or deeply hidden. I’d add that we usually equate animals with mammals, so insects are a sort of animal, but not the real, furry kind. I’m not sure what the explanation is for our love of shrimp.

In the early 20th century, the French ethnographer Arnold van Gennep, who developed the idea of “rites of passage,” wrote about the liminal state—a status on the fringe of society, where people are neither in society nor completely out of it. Couples who are engaged to be married are liminal; neither married nor single, they’re somewhere in between, and they need a ceremony (the wedding) to bring them back into society. Whatever is in the liminal state is powerful because it has the potential to change, and so it’s both feared and respected.

I’m not sure what kind of ceremony we’d need to welcome insects back into our diet, but one step for EU farmers, according to Fromson’s article, would be redefining insects as livestock, not “agricultural waste,” as they’re currently designated. Food scientists in the Netherlands are also working on processing insect protein to include in familiar foods, such as granola bars and chicken nuggets. Seems a little sneaky, but the products have been well-received.

Are you ready to eat insects? I don’t have an insect cookbook to give away, but comment here today, and you could win a copy of another book in Jamie Purviance’s series for Weber: Chicken & Sides.


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Aug. 17, 2011

1:41 pm

I have already eaten a few. While in Oaxaca, Mexico we went to a huge market where a seasonal delicacy - a cricket-like insect - was cooked with chiles. Crunchy and quite tasty. We also visited a mesquite facility, and had a chew on worms...they were smoked on an outdoor grill first. Surprisingly good!


Aug. 12, 2011

4:38 pm

I am not ready to eat insects, obvious or hidden. It amazes me how popular this is in the Asian world!

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Martin Zibauer