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Source: Personal files

 

While visiting South East Asia earlier this year, I found how eating insects is a usual food tradition for locals and an adventurous experience for some courageous and curious travellers. Entomophagy it is not that strange to me, in one region of my country, a special type of ants is eaten as a luxury snack, something for what I have never been appealed. Wishing to get more into the culture of the region, I decided to give it a go, but I was stopped by the ‘yuck factor’ and hygiene issues around the way the insects were cooked and sold on the streets.  So, if I was going to try, I would do it in the best possible way: In a gastronomic restaurant! After a little research and by suggestion of a French friend, I went to a nice ‘Western’ restaurant owned by a French chef who wants to show that insects are not only edible but indeed delicious, offering a fusion of French and Cambodian cuisine with local ingredients, and a variety of insects. The experience went better than expected and I was quite surprised about the presentation, the cooking and, why not, the taste of some of those ‘delicacies’. However, I was (and I still am) not sure if I will be trying it again or be willing to include this food in my regular dietary habits.  After that experience and being aware that eating insects is currently recognized as one of the best environmentally friendly alternatives for feeding future populations, I wondered if it would be possible for insects to become a more common invitee on Western daily menus, rather than a curiosity in foodie, playful or adventurous contexts. Would it be feasible that Westerners could one day have a bunch of stewed crickets on their daily plate, or would it be more realistic to contemplate other ways to introduce discreetly, but consistently, these new foods?

To eat or not to eat. Entomophagy: a marginal phenomenon in Western world

The incorporation of insects into the Western diet has been a subject of discussion in recent years; they are nutritious, cheaper to produce and less harmful to the environment than livestock or intensive fishing. In 2013, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) issued a report urging governments around the world to encourage the consumption and production of insects and to integrate them into the basic diet as one of the ways to fight world hunger and food insecurity. With a world population growing exponentially, eating insects seems to be a reasonable and environmental-conscious alternative to feed future generations.

The consumption of insects is traditional in many countries around the world and not only in tropics[1]. However, this idea is still exotic, if not a complete taboo, and still shocks Western minds and tastes. Eating insects sounds disgusting and yet it is perfectly normal. Regarding food, human beings like what is known and have fears and reluctances about the unknown[2]. But, why is the reticence of eating insects very entrenched in western minds? Food plays an important role in cultural and social identity and there are different motivations, attitudes and preconceptions which define the human willingness to try (or not) a new food. As per DeFoliart (1999), one reason because western societies are reluctant to eat insects comes from that historically insects have been seen as destroyers of crops rather than a source of food. Entomophagy revives all prejudices against those animals, generally considered as harmful and disgusting, which should be killed, managed or contained, but never eaten.

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Source: United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization -FAO-

Thus, the entomophagy in Western countries is confronted with strong psychological and cultural apprehensions. Even if Western consumers are becoming increasingly sensitive to environmental issues, the ecological benefits of entomophagy seem not to have eroded those barriers. Recent studies show the limited acceptability of entomophagy in European countries[3]. Despite all advances, researches and efforts to introduce and commercialize insects as food, the consumption of them in Western countries remains a marginal phenomenon, although with a promising potential to be more accepted in the future. How to start to reach this stage?

Eye candy, easy eating

In my country it is common to say: ‘everything enters firstly through the eyes’, to underline that first impression of something/somebody is what guides you to make a decision or judgment. Some authors refers that for normalising the consumption of insects in Western societies, they should be sensorial noticeable (taste, form, etc.), in order to consumers become familiarised with them and chose this option instead of another equivalent one but tastier and cheaper. Nevertheless, some other studies[4] and I -as a prospective consumer- consider that due to the strong reluctance to eat insects, it is more judicious to start with little steps, helping consumers to get habituated and comfortable with these new products. Changes in dietary patterns require a gradual familiarisation with the new foods; in some cases, negative sensory and especially visual asperities, must be softened to reassure the consumer. In this way, insects’ by-products, such as flours, could be an ingredient for a variety of culinary preparations (pasta, bread, etc.). For example, recently one of Finland’s largest food companies has begun selling bread made using flour ground from dried crickets[5]. The consumption of insects can also be indirect, farm animals (poultry and fish) could be fed partly with an insect meal. Maybe the overemphasis on changing food values ​​ from overnight and setting unrealistic objectives such as seeing visible insects as a direct alternative to meat on Western plates, could be hindering the spread and familiarisation of entomophagy in this part of the world. A smooth and subtle yet consistent introduction of entomophagy in Western menus could be the better path to reach this purpose.

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Source: STAFF/Reuters

[1] According to the FAO, insects are also eaten in countries of temperate zones, such as China, Japan, and Mexico.
[2]  Martins, Y. and Pliner, P., 2006.
[3] See: Sogari, G., Menozzi, D. and Mora, C., 2017; House, J., 2016.; Caparros Megido, et al. 2014.
[4] See: Hartmann, C. and Siegrist, M., 2017 (op.cit); Séré de Lanauze, G(2013) and Caparros Megido, et al. 2014.(Op. Cit)
[5] Finland recently joint Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and Denmark to the group of European countries allowing insects to be raised and marketed for food use.

 

 

 


 

[1] According to the FAO, insects are also eaten in countries of temperate zones, such as China, Japan, and Mexico.
[2]  Martins, Y. and Pliner, P., 2006.