Bug Eaters of the World Unite

The Food and Agriculture Organizations of the United Nations (FAO) in 2013 stated:

From ants to beetle larvae, crispy-fried locusts to beetles, it is estimated that insect-eating is practiced regularly by at least two billion people worldwide.

However, when the subject of entomophagy (the human use of insects as food) rises in a Western household we usually express disgust or marginalize the “creepy” practice to psychological endurance tests on big-money game-shows.

Problem is, it’s deep-rooted in our psyche not to eat something that could potentially be harmful, like for example rotting food. But we also learn to steer clear of things to which other people around us are turning their noses up. Unfortunately, for most Westerners this includes the thought of a crunchy locust sub.

Entomologist Louis Sorkin of the American Museum of Natural History, world famous biter of bugs and passionate entomophagist thinks we should stop being repulsed by the idea, and soon. In his opinion it can’t be too long before Westerners change their mind-set when one considers how many bugs are already eaten unknowingly.

“You have to get people to, I guess, swallow it here in the Western part of the world,” Sorkin told LiveScience four years ago.

However, most Westerners will still balk at the thought of entomophagy because they are taught to this day that bugs, no matter what size, what time of the year and where they come from are dangerous and should be controlled or eradicated.

Let’s make mincemeat, just out of something…

From a young age, here in the States we’re very rarely taught to differentiate between “good” insects and “bad” ones. We’re bombarded with movies and horror stories about giant or killer insects (The Nest, The Fly, Arachnophobia); we’re also taught to be careful of wasps and told stories of killer bees and biting ants. Apparently, they’re all “bad” creatures and if we know that then we can be prepared mentally to deal with their fate.

But they’re not all bad. In fact, most insects are beneficial to the ecology of the planet; famously of course bees are one of the good guys.

So if there are good bugs as well as bad at least in terms of the environment can’t we extend this thinking to our own nutrition? If we were to simply train our instinctive Western reflexes to see insects less a nasty bug and more a tasty one we might reap the rewards.

Doesn’t it just make sense?

That insects are nutritious is not disputed; it is widely accepted that they are rich in protein and fiber and a good source of healthy fats and minerals. Two billion people around the planet don’t eat insects because they’re insane or running low on chicken or trying to win a big prize fund. They eat an insect because they have a mind-set which allows them to appreciate what the creature is, what it represents, what goodness it holds and its inherent health benefits.

It is time we looked at things from a different perspective.

The Ubiquitous Bug

If you’re one of the 6% of Americans who suffers with acute insectophobia you may want to click back to your friends on Facebook; or, why not just take a couple of deep breaths and see where this blog is headed? Someone once said Knowledge is Power, so there’s a chance we might just be able to help you out.

Whether you’re on reluctant bug-patrol 24/7 dreading a shriek of panic from the bathroom or the attic, or you’re one of those macho types making serious attempts to keep your house empty of bugs and standing over your prey like a Greek Colossus, this blogs for you.

But wait up Odysseus, we have news for you. You’re as unlikely to keep your house bug-free as you are to find more batteries for your TV remote just as your program’s about to start. Sure, you might kill a wasp with a quick burst of tetramethrin or squash a mosquito with the last ever edition of The Oregonian but there are hundreds more creatures where they came from waiting in the wings…with wings, and legs, and crunchy bodies. Sorry about that, but you may as well get used to it.

In point of fact we share our planet with a massive and unimaginable number of insects. Research estimates for each human on Earth there are around 200 mllion insects. In the United States alone the number of identified and listed species is approximately 91,000 including beetles (23,700), flies (19,600), ants, bees, wasps (17,500), and moths and butterflies (11,500). A sobering thought especially when you’re faced with that one wasp you just can’t get a good hit at.

So actually Mr (or Mrs) Bug Buster you have your work cut out, and not just inside the house. In North Carolina, soil samples to a depth of 5 inches showed that there were around 124 million critters per acre, of which 90 million were mites, 28 million were springtails, and 4.5 million were other insects. A similar study in Pennsylvania yielded figures of 425 million animals per acre, with 209 million mites, 119 million springtails, and 11 million other arthropods.

Indoors the numbers are still high. A report in January from Wired.com suggests there are 1000 insect species or more living in what we thought was a bug-free home, made up from around 93 species. In one study of 554 rooms in randomly inspected homes more than 99% had “extra guests”. Everywhere hosted flies, beetles, spiders, and ants and the research didn’t even touch upon rodents!

In truth, what difference have we made to how you feel about your home? Your home is your home and sharing it with so many creatures is a fact of life. Insects were in existence thousands of millennia before we came along and we’ve coped in sweet harmony, well, maybe not sweet but definitely in harmony. After all, sharing the planet with other creatures means we bring them with us, they live with us, live on us and in us and let’s not forget as feminist Mary Astell once said: “even the poorest Insect has its Use and Vertue.”