Introduction to Entomophagy (ἔντομον + φᾰγεῖν)…

Back in spring 2014, I was in my 2nd year of Undergraduate studies studying Geography in Aberystwyth University, Wales. During that time, I had to choose a topic for my dissertation. While deciding on the topic, I remembered that I used to watch people in Cambodia eating tarantulas on the TV show Ripley’s Believe It or Not! I then found myself talking about this with my good friend Vicky (from Hampshire, England) and she sent me a video about eating insects. After watching it, I could not have thanked Vicky enough for sending me that video. Not only did it become my dissertation topic, but it was also what got me into food security.

Entomophagy is defined as the practice of consuming insects. The term is derived from the Greek term entomon (ἔντομον) meaning insects and phagein (φᾰγεῖν) meaning to eat. The act of eating insects may appear peculiar to most people, but humans have been practicing entomophagy for a long time. The consumption of insects dates as far back to 8th century BCE, in the Middle East in the palace of Asurbanipal (Ninivé) the servants served locusts arranged on sticks to royal banquets. And as of today, approximately 2 billion people around the world consume insects regularly (mostly in tropical countries).

Entomophagy has gained more popularity in recent years following from an extensive study done in 2013 between the FAO & Wageningen University, Netherlands. They highlighted the benefits entomophagy could have on food security and sustainability which possibly can lead to solving world hunger. As of today, around 800 million people are malnourished and it is predicted that in 2050 the world population will rise to 9 billion people where food scarcity will become a tremendous problem. How can entomophagy possibly solve this issue? Let’s find out…

Sustainability & Entomophagy

The notions of food security and sustainability are intertwined with one another. There are numerous aspects to what food security entails and according to the WHO they express that it is a complex sustainable development issue. Sustainability could be understood through Gregory et. al (2009)’s critique of the term. They argue that sustainability can be fulfilled through achieving the ‘three pillars’ of sustainability: (1) social (2) economical (3) environmental. These three pillars could be applied to development policies. Furthermore, they can be applied to the sustainability of the production and consumption of insects.

The consumption and production of insects have elements of sustainability’s three pillars in them. Firstly, social, it is said that entomophagy is very healthy. Rumpold and Schlüter (2013)’s research shows that numerous edible insects contain adequate amounts of energy and protein, are high in monounsaturated and/or polyunsaturated fatty acids, meet amino acid requirements for humans, and are abundant in micro-nutrients. A comparative analysis of the nutritional value between yellow mealworms (Tenebrio molitor) and beef was explored by Finke (2002). While beef are higher in fat, certain amino acids and slightly more protein; mealworms had higher contents of vitamins and certain fatty acids. The nutritional value of beef is also compared to other insects (Table below…)

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Nutritional value of various insects & beef

Secondly, economical, the production of insects can have benefits on the economy. Although insects are reared mostly in tropical countries, more of them are now being farmed in colder countries. Farming insects is generally quite cheap, they also require minimal infrastructure and resources (insects can be fed on food waste). They can offer employment as well as revenue in both large-industrial levels and small-household levels. In developing countries, rearing and selling insects can provide income for poor families. Moreover, in developed countries, insects are sold at a higher price where they are bought and consumed as a novelty item.

Thirdly, environmental, insect production has less environmental impacts compared to that of mainstream agriculture. It is widely known that industrial agriculture is a major threat to the environment and major cause of climate change. Insect farming has been proved: to have fewer animal welfare issues, a higher feed-conversion rate (an animal’s capacity to convert feed mass into increased body mass), lower risk of transmitting zoonotonic infections, generally require less resources (energy and water), require less land use, have a lower global warming potential, emit fewer Greenhouse Gases (GHGs), and emit less ammonia.

Jackson & the CONANX group (2013) provide another critique of sustainability linking to that of food. They argue that the global food system deteriorates resources and produces waste and pollution on a scale larger than any other human activity. Furthermore, to achieve the sustainability of food, food needs to be produced in a way that does not damage the bases for future human lives and has the capacity to persist. With the current trend of mainstream industrial agriculture, it does not have the capacity to persist and it will damage the bases for future human lives. This is highlighted through the environmental impacts that they produce. On the other hand, entomophagy can be argued that it is sustainable. It conforms to the three pillars of sustainability and it has the capacity to persist due to its minimal impact on the environment which will protect the bases for future human lives.

Current Entomophagy Movements in the UK

Eating insects as a protein source is not widespread in Western society. Mela (1999) asserts that this might be because food choice is heavily linked to history, culture, environment and politics. When I was collecting data for my undergraduate dissertation, I was curious to find out whether entomophagy has reached the UK or not. To my surprise, the movement was more prevalent than I thought. I went to eat insects with my close friend Harry (from Hertfordshire, England) at Archipelago (London). We ordered the ‘Love-bug Salad’ and it tasted amazing! (Photo below…). I also found out that most insect food products in the UK try not to show the insect itself (e.g. Ento & Grub). It is done to appear more appetizing and appealing to most consumers in the country. This method is probably the best way to get people getting used to eating insects.

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Love-bug Salad (Archipelago, London)