I learned a new word today: entomophagy. It means eating insects, and it’s the subject of an article in the Wall Street Journal on how insects are the meat of the future.
Almost as interesting as the article itself are the dozens of comments posted by readers. Some agree with the article’s authors that insects are good to eat and that using insects for food is wise for nutritional, ecological, and economic reasons. A few point out that we eat shrimp and lobster, which are more closely related to insects than to mammals. Others want nothing to do with six-legged food:
- Regardless of the nutritional value, I just cant even bare them touching me let alone eating them.
- Ya see, this is just the kind of indoctrination speculation article we get from libe-left wing eco-fascists ‘testing the waters’ so to speak to infect and infest the mind by planting the seed of just another control freak ideology.
- Chickens eat bugs. I eat chickens. I like to stay one step removed from vermin.
Some of the comments dispute the need to switch from eating beef and pork to eating insects due to overpopulation. Deal with the causes of overpopulation in developing countries, they say, rather than pushing everyone to eat insects so that we can feed more people. The population issue is another huge matter that I’m not inclined to get into, but it seems to me that if there are good reasons to consider eating insects, they are good even if we’re not forced into it by food shortages.
They are a more efficient means of providing protein, the article explains. They require less land, less water, and less food, and they produce less waste (both in terms of their own excrement, and the amount of their bodies that cannot be used as food). The authors also claim that raising insects would be more humane, because unlike cattle and poultry, insects do not mind living in crowded conditions. (One commenter asks, how do we know that?)
I’ve never been particularly squeamish about foods that bother a lot of people. I remember being surprised, when eating beef tongue in France, to see other Americans at my table refuse to eat it once they found out what it was. In Spain, I was asked by our landlady not to let the other Americans (who did not understand Spanish as well as I did) know that we were eating horse meat. I enjoyed tripe and thought it silly that other Americans refused to try it.
I admit I’ve never eaten insects intentionally. During my teenage years I planned on being a missionary and expected that someday I would need to get used to eating insects, and enjoying them, if that was on the menu wherever I ended up living. One reason I figured I would be a good candidate for living in a “primitive” area was that I wasn’t bothered by the idea of eating insects (or having live ones around – I grew up in a house where insects were considered preferable to insecticides).
But as the article points out, all of us have no doubt eaten insects – at least parts of them – without knowing it. I remember learning in eighth grade social studies, in a unit on consumer awareness, about the FDA’s rules about what could be allowed in foods such as ketchup and hot dogs. (A number of girls refused to eat such foods after finding that out; I figured if I’d been eating them for years without ill effects they weren’t going to start hurting me just because I knew what was in them.) If you don’t mind finding out what you may have been eating, this page lists what the FDA allows in some common foods.
I’m not going to go out of my way to eat insects. (I have enough trouble getting around to eating enough fruits and vegetables – though I did finally make my own hummus this weekend, and I enjoyed munching on raw broccoli and cauliflower served with a very generous portion of hummus.) I work at finding meals to prepare, especially on weeknights, that are easy enough that I won’t be tempted to just pop a frozen pizza in the over instead. It will be a long time before adding insects to the diet approaches the ease of mixing ground beef with noodles and cheese sauce.
I see from some of the entomophagy pages I looked at that growing mealworms is one of the easy ways to get started preparing foods including insects. As it happens, last week when I was teaching a Junior Achievement session on Global Trade, the classroom teacher showed me the mealworms her science class has been growing. The idea of eating them, if they were prepared in a way that tasted good (including texture, which is an important component of “taste”), doesn’t bother me. But there’s no way I’m going to try to get my family to eat them. I’ll sneak oatmeal into their food. Not mealworms.