Sometimes, when my dad is craving something salty to accompany his meal, he will grab a can of beondegi from the pantry. The small brown silkworm pupae appear like small oval pennies. My dad eats the canned insects with relish, but to me, the thought of putting one into my mouth is enough to kill my appetite. So why is it that the idea of eating insects is so unappealing?
One-hundred-and-thirty of 195 countries around the globe, primarily in Africa, Asia, and South America, eat insects as part of their traditional diet. Yet here in North America, insects are rare or even absent from traditional cuisine. Instead, we rely on conventional sources of protein, such as chicken, pork, beef, or even tofu to get our daily protein.
Insects also have a smaller carbon footprint than most sources of protein. Food-conversion-ratio refers to how many kilograms of feed for the livestock is necessary for one kilogram of edible weight. Pork has a food-conversation-ratio of four kilograms to produce one kilogram of pork, and beef requires 8.8 kilograms of feed to produce a single kilogram of beef. In comparison, crickets have a feed-conversion-ratio of 2.3. But if insects are nutritious and so environmentally-friendly, why haven’t we adopted insects into our diet?
One theory as to why this may be claims that it’s notoriously difficult for humans to change first impressions, and that the idea of insects as gross and “definitely not food” has been drilled into our brains since we were young. Researchers Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber, from the France National Centre for Scientific Research, recently released a book in April 2017 called “The Enigma of Reason,” where they explored how people adopt new ideas.
They say that people adopt new ideas mainly as a form of cooperation. If one or two people decide to use a type of new social media, it’s difficult to convince their friends to join them. But once their friends are all using the new trendy app, they’re much more likely to sign up.
Here in North America, we only see insects being eaten on dramatic game shows, such as Fear Factor and Survivor, where they’re shown as gross and disgusting creatures. Though in other countries, like in Mexico, eating a roasted agave worm is just like eating potato chips.
Once we are shown how gross insects are, the thought of putting one into our mouth becomes unthinkable and revolting. However, it’s not like our diet is completely unchanging. Look at sushi, a food completely foreign from traditional North American food, but now sold even in local convenience stores.
Shockingly, insect-based food products are accessible even close to home. Entomo Farms raise crickets for human consumptions in Norwood, Ontario, about three hours northeast of Toronto. They raise crickets in large cricket condos that swarm with the insects. Once they’re about six weeks old, which is about the end of their life cycle, they are harvested to be processed into food. The crickets are washed with water, roasted, and then grinded into flour to be used in energy bars and other baked products.
Giovanni Sogari, from University of Parma in Italy, and his team of researchers studied the reasons why Westerners are less willing to eat insects than other countries.
In his study, researchers organized an experiment with students from the university who were self-described “foodies.” They served a cookie made with ground cricket flour, and asked the students about their opinion of the cookie and their thoughts about eating insects.
Most students ate the cookie because they were curious about how a “cricket cookie” might taste like. When asked afterwards if they’d be willing to try other insect food products in the future, almost three-fourths of the students surveyed agreed, and 94 per cent said they would recommend the cookie to other people.
The study concluded that as long as insect-based foods are processed enough to look appetizing, people would have no problems eating them.