Take a couple of grad students, toss in some crunchy insects, a dash of social media and a whole lot of intrigue and you’ve got yourself a culturally curious concoction waiting to start an interesting dialogue… in western cultures that is. In certain parts of the world, for instance Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, farming insects for human consumption doesn’t seem strange.
According to an announcement by the United Nations (UN) in 2013, over 2 billion people in the world eat insects, bugs, etc. as a source of fiber and protein. The majority of these people participating in what is called entomophagy (eating insects) predominantly reside in Eastern cultures. The statement from the UN encourages westerners to adopt insect farming and insect consumption as a new food practice as the production of edible insects is less intrusive on the environment.
So, why do two grad students care about eating insects? Well we don’t know if we do yet, but we were curious about the reactions of our friends, family, and co-workers when we presented them with the idea of not just looking, touching, but actually consuming these critters.
In Vancouver, I was armed with $20 and an unusual prayer that I would find insects in my neighbourhood of Kitsilano that would be scrumptious enough for my friends to eat. Naturally, I was able to source out some living, hopping, wiggling, and (I was convinced) even twerking creatures of the Earth at the trusty neighbourhood pet food store. The store owner was extremely helpful and actually calmed my squeamishness by explaining to me that if he was to add an insect to his diet it would easily be the Wax Worm, which has a honey-like sweetness to it.
When he generously offered to let me try one, I wasn’t jumping at the chance to pop one out of the Fear Factor-esque pile of creatures in my mouth but it was a solid option to add to my list. Overall, the owner did not seemed phased by the idea that I was studying alternative food sourcing with the star attraction being insects; in fact, he was so comfortable with the idea that he started showing me his whole buzzing collection in an attempt to coax a reaction out of me. Having made my purchases, I was out of there with my little white grocery bag of bugs.
Making my way down to the beach to meet my friends, or should I say, subjects, I stumbled upon novelty crickets, scorpions, and worms covered in sweet candy and savory snack coatings. Thinking that the cute packaging of these dried up creepy snacks might seem more palatable to my friends sipping Coronas by the water, I picked some up as a backup plan.
As it turned out, I wasn’t successful in selling the idea of dried up Bacon n’ Cheese flavoured crickets to my apparently not-so-adventurous girlfriends on the beach. I brought these critters to my work the next day with the hopes of pawning them off on my fearless colleagues, who work with me in developing, supporting, and spreading the newest trends in the food industry. You can imagine that some were excited to try them. One commented that the cricket tasted like a crispy Cheesy, while I toyed with the idea of a new garnish sprinkled on top of a creamy tomato bisque.
Meanwhile in Toronto, my partner was chilling multiple bottles of Sauvignon Blanc, setting aside perfectly polished wine glasses, and grabbing a bowl large enough to hold her recent overseas purchase of giant toasted ants all in anticipation of a swanky dinner party. Wine, check. Glasses, check. Guests, check. Outrageously priced ants, check. Everyone was dressed up and ready to party and out came the ant tasting – recorded and posted to Instagram, of course. Some jump at the chance to crunch down on what the hostess is offering as they note the popcorn-like qualities of this foreign treat. Others, however, firmly declined with looks of disgust. The reviews were mixed, but the hostess started a unique dialogue among her guests, which is always the sign of a great social gathering – coming together to share stories and creating unique memories to inspire inside jokes for weeks to come!
So, should western cultures look to change the current methods of food sourcing and are insects the way to go?
Big Cricket Farms in Ohio, USA is the first urban cricket farm in North America that is farming edible crickets for the sole purpose of human consumption. Founder Kevin Bachhuber started craving the delicious snacks that he tried in Thailand upon returning home to the United States and decided to start up this new farming concept in April 2014. When I asked if Bachhuber thought people in western cultures should look at changing the way food is currently sourced, he confidently replied, “I don’t think that we have the option to not change.”
Bachhuber‘s critical points on the depletion of our natural resources on land and in the oceans were food for thought. I began to wonder whether insect farming for human consumption could permanently change the current landscape of the food industry, and thus shift how we perceive our current healthy and sustainable diets that we have worked so tirelessly to master.
It is exciting to see new avenues opening up for food sourcing alternatives. It seems as though the binary divide of western vs. eastern cultures may dissipate as we encourage our own communities to become more responsive to change and invest in the future of food.
Kelsey Lee and Kiran Gill are masters students in intercultural and international communication at Royal Roads University. Check out Kelsey and Kiran’s Facebook page Why Eat Bugs? #WhyEatBugs to learn more about edible insects and decide for yourself – Yum or Yuck!