The History and Current Global Practices of Entomophagy

Entomophagy is a fancy Latin word for a simple process: the human consumption of insects as food. You read that right, there’s a scientific name for eating bugs and the custom is catching on in the Western Hemisphere!

Humans have been eating the eggs, larvae, pupae and adults of certain insect species since prehistoric times. You may even recall seeing images of stick poking primates gaining access to nutrient dense insects using their makeshift tools. Did their foraging behavior provide the protein rich food source that contributed to brain development which helped them evolve? Is it possible our hunter/gatherer ancestors, out collecting edible plants, witnessed this primal dining and adapted the nimble dexterity and acute vision necessary to forage for edible insects? Experts have documented evidence of entomophagy among indigenous tribes, Egyptian Pharaohs, Roman Emperors and Ancient Greeks and as far back as 10,000 BC.

Currently, more than 2 billion people across the globe are consuming approximately 1000 species of insects as part of their daily diet. Beetles, bees, caterpillars, wasps and ants are at the top of the list with crickets quickly gaining ground in the US marketplace.

So we’re not just talking about the random guy who accepts a dare to eat the worm (actually moth larvae) in the bottom of the tequila bottle or the adventurous tourist who once nibbled a spicy roasted grasshopper bought from a street vendor in Bangkok.

Cricket flour and powder production is on the rise in the West giving crickets the status of the “gateway bug.” Forward thinking chefs are embracing entomophagy with delectable menu items including cricket crab cakes, scorpion sushi, meal worm fritters, salad with marinated wasp larvae and wax worm-infused vodka. San Francisco recently played host to a hands-on edible insect presentation and feast billed as “Bug Bites.” Nine appetizers and a special ‘bug cocktail’ were prepared by Brooklyn Bugs’ Chef, Joseph Yoon and David George Gordon, known as the Bug Chef and author of the Eat-a-Bug Cookbook.

Let’s sum up the reasons why consuming insects makes sense for a food secure future:

1) insect noshing packs a wallop of high protein with an impressive low fat profile and are incredibly rich in Vitamin B12;

2) micro-livestock, another name for insect farming, is more sustainable in terms of land use, water consumption, greenhouse gas emission and feed conversion;

3) entomophagy puts us in touch with an ancient practice that supports the collaborative efforts of local, national and global organizations that are working toward optimal health for all people, animals and our environment.

In conclusion, eating insects may seem unusual, or even weird, but with nearly one-third of the world’s population reliant on bugs as a portion of their daily diet, it isn’t exactly uncommon.
Are you ready to hop on the insect eating bandwagon?

-Shannon Jewel
artist, anthropologist, librarian, mother
(not necessarily in that order)

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