There is a formal word for it: entomophagy. It means the consumption of insects by us, human beings. Okay, we are not insectivores (eaters of insects), although, it must be admitted, our primate cousins regularly feast on insects. Sure, but those relatives live in trees, and swing from branches, and we don’t. Okay, you say, snails, those slimy garden pests, are relished as a gourmet food, most famously by the French, who are otherwise not interested in garden life. But, I counter, snails are not insects. They are mollusks, and I’d like to think that makes a difference.
What I’m talking about is eating true insects, those with six legs, three body parts, hard exoskeleton, and two antennae. We can extend this definition to our eight-legged arachnids (spiders and scorpions), as well. These are creatures people just don’t eat. At least, that was what I thought, until I met a personally as well as ecologically-friendly young man, Peter Ferguson, who advocates insects as the ultimate in culinary delight. Why? Peter explains, ‘For a start, there are many insects, about 10 million species, and a huge biomass of high quality calories, and we just ignore them. In a world having trouble feeding itself, that doesn’t make sense.’
Ignore them we do, at least in Western culture, where we have long had much better alternatives. Animal husbandry has characterised our societies, giving us pork, poultry, and cattle, upon which we regularly feast. Yet other cultures don’t have it so lucky, in Africa, in Asia, and among aboriginal or ethnic groups in Oceania, insects have an equally long history as an important dietary supplement, from butterflies and moths, to bees and wasps, cockroaches and ants, beetle grubs or larvae, caterpillars and worms, scorpions (a delicacy in southern China) and tarantulas. Even the Christian Bible states that John the Baptist lived on locusts and wild honey, locusts being grasshoppers in their swarming stage. These same insects, incidentally, are commonly eaten in Thailand, where a visit to a market there will reveal multitudes, deep-fried in glistening piles for the delectation of passing shoppers.
Consider the African mopane worm, for example. To begin with, the name is a misnomer. The creature is actually a large colourful caterpillar, which, in the fullness of time, turns into a rather dull-looking moth, although most never reach that stage. The hairy yellow- striped creatures are eagerly sought after, hand-picked from trees in the wild, pinched by the tail-end to squeeze out the slimy green intestinal tract, after which they are most often sun-dried or smoked, thereafter ready for consumption. Tins of mopane worms in brine, or in tomato or chili sauce are common in supermarkets. They can be eaten straight from the can. fried into crunchy snacks, or added as an ingredient to conventional dishes. The harvest and sale of wild mopane worms is now a multi-million dollar industry, feeding millions of people, mostly indigenous Africans.
Peter is enthusiastically telling me why he does it. ‘Insects have protein, and all the vitamins, minerals, and fat you could want.’ When I remain skeptical, Peter holds up a fried grasshopper. ‘This has lots of calcium’. Then comes the (you guessed it) termite paste, a black smear with the look, smell, and consistency, of an industrial solvent. ‘Iron. Very rich.’ Then comes the grublike larvae of some form of moth. ‘Essential trace elements such as zinc and copper.’ Anything else? ‘Insects don’t produce greenhouse gases, and don’t need antibiotics.’ Peter even cites my mopane worm example. ‘Three kilograms of mopane leaves will feed a kilogram of worms—-a 30% payback. With cattle, it’s less than 10%. Insects are cheap to buy, cheap to breed, and easy to manage.’
One can’t argue with that. The phenomenal rate at which insects breed is well known, and more than makes up for their small size. A female cricket might be a fraction of the weight of a huge beef cow, but lays up to 1,500 eggs a month, converted into food at 20 times the rate of beef, whilst using only a fraction of the space and water. The ecological argument for entomophagy is undeniable, although there are significant concerns about internal parasites, and the accumulation of pesticides and toxins inside many wild insects. Allergic reactions have also been reported. Cooking insects well is recommended, and their consumption should, of course, be avoided, after intensive pesticide use or commercial spraying of local agricultural lands.
But what about the taste? Here, Peter hesitates. He finally comes out with a suspicious, ‘You get used to it.’ When I nod skeptically, he comes out with a far more confident, ‘Actually, you’re eating insects already, all the time.’ Yes, apparently, insects find their way into the human food chain, whether we like it or not. For example, most of those who eat rice (as I do) are inadvertently eating not just a few rice weevil larvae, and probably benefited by this, given the additional vitamins these larvae supply. Whole insects, insect parts, insect detritus, larvae, and excrement, appear in all our food, but in such small quantities that they are basically unnoticed and insignificant. Peter smiles. ‘In that sense, we’re already insectivores. We’ve just got to take the next logical step.’
Do the following statements agree with the information given in Reading Passage One?
TRUE if the statement agrees with the information
FALSE if the statement contradicts the information
NOT GIVEN If there is no information on this
1. The French are well known for eating insects.
2. Peter Ferguson is a nature-friendly person.
3. Insect eating by people is a modern phenomenon.
4. Some insects are used for religious purposes.
Complete the table. Choose NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS from the passage for each answer.
|Insect||One fact||Another fact|
|Grasshopers||contains (5)…………………||popular in (6)……………….|
|Mopane worms||primarily eaten by (7)…………….||eat (8)………………|
|Scorpions||are popular in (9)………………||are a type of (10)……………….|
Choose the correct letter, A, B, C, or D.
11. Mopane worms
A are appropriately named.
B usually reach their moth form.
C are extensively raised for profit.
D are usually treated before being eaten.
A multiply quickly.
B are best eaten raw.
C are mostly safe to eat.
D produce small amounts of greenhouse gas.
13. The author
A likes snails.
B probably eats mopane worms.
C believes insects can taste good.
D probably eats rice weevil larvae.