In the West, insects are not on the menu. It is very difficult for Europeans to imagine consuming something symbolically associated with uncleanliness and death. However, from a strictly nutritional point of view, a large number of insects are edible. Entomophagy has emerged as a future solution for the sustainability of food systems, but this requires a change of where insects feature in the Western culinary repertoire.

Larvae ready to be eaten
© GettyImages / Fernando Trabanco Fotografía

Abhorred insects

While entomophagy is a popular practice in numerous regions of the world, in Western Europe, insects are not invited to the table. The very idea of eating them provokes a strong aversion in most people. This is a cognitive aversion, not founded on objective facts, but on our perception of the foodstuff. In the West, insects are often synonymous with repulsive, swarming vermin, associated with uncleanliness and decomposition, disease and death. They are furtive, they sting, they are parasites and they frighten us. Consequently, eating them poses a problem. Incorporating insects into our diet is deemed ‘unthought of’ (Fischler, 2001) owing to prejudices relating to health. The very idea of it can provoke violent emotions and even physical reactions such as vomiting. Yet, this has not always been the case. Prehistoric human coprolites found in the soil in present-day North America prove that entomophagy is as old as humanity. According to the Bible, John the Baptist ate locusts in the desert (Matthew, 3:4). These crop-destroying insects are still a popular foodstuff in North Africa and the Middle East today. Pliny the Elder reported that the Romans smothered them in honey and regarded them as a delicacy, alongside cossi (stag beetle larvae) which they fattened with flour. More recently, in the 19th century, locals in the south of France ate cockchafer larvae grilled over a wood fire.

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