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Why Did Eating Crickets Become Taboo in North America?

The practice of eating insects, also known as entomophagy, is prevalent all over the world - not so in North America. Why is that?

There are a few theories that explain this phenomenon. Let's dive in!

Where You Live

Who tends to eat bugs and who doesn’t? The answer could lie in geographical latitude. Humans in warm, tropical regions where insects thrive, generally have a habit of eating insects throughout their history. The bugs are plentiful, easy to catch and they supply adequate levels of nutrients.

On the contrary, in colder climates, people hunted larger animals to get sufficient energy so that they could survive the cold. Insects are also less abundant in colder climates, making it harder to catch a sufficient amount for dinner. 

Edible insect species by regions (Wageningen University & Research). The regions close to the equator have more options of edible insects.

 

But even taking our geographic location into consideration, it doesn’t explain the dislike for insects, or even disgust. So where does that ick factor come from?

The Ick Factor

How we interact with and perceive food is often a reflection of our social and cultural norms. We grew up thinking about insects as icky creatures. We hardly put much thought to distinguish good and bad bugs. All bugs seem equally unpleasant and should be eliminated, or so we think. We see insects as something alien and foreign, and putting insects on the dinner table is the last thing we want to do with them. Western ideals that are ingrained in us trigger a yuck factor almost immediately when the idea of an insect pops up.

Entomologist catching insects (Metanetworks)

The roots of this way of thinking may come from a historically European view that native inhabitants were uncivilized or primitive because they lived differently than the Europeans. Eating bugs would have been seen as disgusting, as this was not done in Europe at the time, and they were not open to accepting other cultures practices. 

Even nowadays, the thought of insects carries negative connotations of disease and danger in our subconsciousness, even though eating crickets from a farm is a completely safe practice, while people are often made sick from meats and even vegetables.

Eating insects was even given a special name: “entomophagy”. There is no word for eating chickens, or eating fish. The word is likely to have been created to refer to a strange eating habit that did not belong to Europeans. On the other hand, in cultures that see eating insects as being normal, the word “entomophagy” is intriguingly found to be absent, simply because it is not seen as a different practice.

Angelina Jolie tasting the leg of a spider (BBC)

How Our Perception Is Shifting

A growing world population leads to a rise in global food demand. This will pose a challenge given the limited natural resources we have to produce animal proteins such as pork, beef and poultry. A possible solution to this challenge is insects because they are very efficient in being turned into a food source while requiring little resources to produce.

Paving the way for bugs in your daily diets (Australian Geographic)

The ick factor related to how we see insects is mostly informed by cultural perceptions, but our perceptions can shift over time. With cuisines around the world becoming more multicultural and diverse, people’s growing acceptance of eating insects might take place faster than we think. With their rich nutrient profile and unique taste, combined with the great economic and environmental prospects, what's not to love? 

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