Bug Dinner Menu from 1885 – Entomophagy in History

1885 Bug dinner menuReprinted from BugsAndBeasts.com

In 1885, Vincent M. Holt published a slim volume, more of a pamphlet really, entitled “Why Not Eat Insects” to help persuade his fellow Victorians to give entomophagy a try. See the whole book online here, thanks to the cool folks at www.BugsandBeasts.com.

Holt prefaced the work by saying, essentially, “Look, I know this seems weird, but if you just hear me out, I think you’ll agree that this makes sense. My bugs be all organic and vegan, yo.” Or, in his own words:

In entering upon this work I am fully conscious of the difficulty of battling against a long-existing and deep-rooted public prejudice. I only ask of my readers a fair hearing, an impartial consideration of my arguments, and an unbiassed judgment. If these be granted, I feel sure that many will be persuaded to make practical proof of the expediency of using insects as food… My insects are all vegetable feeders, clean, palatable, wholesome, and decidedly more particular in their feeding than ourselves.

Holt goes on to explain the benefits of bug-eating, citing many of the same historic and cultural references you’ll hear from entomophagy advocates today. The question is, what will set our modern movement apart from efforts in the past? I believe that today’s world citizens are more interested than ever before in finding eco-friendly alternatives that don’t drastically inconvenience them, and eating insects could be just that. The main heavy lifting would be in making the mental shift about what does and does not constitute good food.

Many of us have a gut-feeling that eating insects is somehow wrong, gross, dirty, or otherwise bad, and we can’t even remember when we started feeling that way. Because we don’t remember how it started, we tend to believe it is a natural reaction, while history and global culture prove otherwise. Do you recall when you first heard that bugs were gross, dirty, or frightening? Is it possible that you simply absorbed this information straight from your parents at an impressionable age, possibly when they yanked insects out of your young, inquisitive mouth? I like to call this sort of inbred bias “the cultural matrix” – we don’t even remember how these ideas got there, and yet they are so ingrained that they feel, well, obvious. Especially when the rest of the world concurs, reinforcing the ideas even further.

I am currently researching the question of how exactly we got turned off to bugs as a culture. I believe the Bible was a strong influence; as it says in Leviticus 11:20:

All winged insects that creep, going upon all fours, shall be detestable to you.

Ok, so Moses wasn’t an entomologist. The Bible says the same thing, by the way,  about pigs and shellfish, a directive most Westerners have completely gotten over or ignored (because shrimp and bacon taste good, man!). Interestingly, amongst all of this abominate finger-pointing, locusts and their ilk were actually sanctioned by the Bible:

There are, however, some winged creatures that walk on all fours that you may eat: those that have jointed legs for hopping on the ground. Of these you may eat any kind of locust, katydid, cricket or grasshopper.  – Leviticus 11:21 and 22

 So how is it that pork and oysters have made it past the Bible-ban, while insects, certain types of which are clearly allowed in the Bible, remain in the “unclean” category? 

I’d love your feedback if you have an idea!


13 responses to “Bug Dinner Menu from 1885 – Entomophagy in History

  1. I always love lesser known bible verses like that. I’d also like to get Why Not Eat Insects in pdf form; I couldn’t find any available after a brief searching.

  2. In regards to your last paragraph that questions the “Bible-ban”, pork and oysters have not made it past the laws of our God. Like many other laws/rules in the Bible, not eating pork and sea creatures that do not have fins and scales, have been ignored. This article got me to read Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 (KJV), which helped to clear up some questions. Although, I love eating bacon, I was ignorant to this law prior to reading in Leviticus and will see what I can do about substituting bacon with mealworms or something else that is crunchy. Great article! :0)

  3. Marvin Harris has written an excellent book that offers some answers about this topic: Good to eat: riddles of food and culture.

  4. I imagine it stems from childhood. That and as a kid your simply taught, bugs are gross. Something tells me that it mainly stems from roaches and flies, the most common insect(pest) you’ll see.

    The bible says to do a lot of things. I’ll keep my bacon and shellfish thank you.

  5. Daniella! Listening to your interview on CBC.
    Great job so far! (5 min in :)).
    Happy to find you, keep it up!


    Savage Travels

  6. PS. When I blog about my Cambodian experience of eating tarantula.. I will surely provide a link to yours 🙂

  7. The Bible is different for Jews and Gentiles and Old and New Testaments. Have you heard DC Talk’s “Jesus Freak”? “With fur on his back and hair on his face, then thought he was crazed by the locusts he ate” is in reference to John the Baptist. There’s way more on biblical guidelines for eating, when the New Testament is included.

  8. Hello, I’m definitvely Fan about your website! One of the more complete on edibles insects 🙂 I’m webmaster of a website in France http://www.multivores.com you can visit it if you wish, i will make an article on your website because it’s very instructive for us. For information in french we say “insectes comestibles” for “edible insects” 🙂

  9. I see this so clearly. We already eat shellfish. Those things are really sea bugs after all. Whats the difference?:-)

  10. Jews only recognize the Bible’s Old Testament, which has the Kosher rules, including the verses you describe. Christians would have also followed those rules, were it not for the New Testament, where in the book of Acts, God tells Peter that all animals have become clean. So, Christians don’t follow the Kosher food rules that Jews do.

  11. Actually there was something in the bible about it supposedly being “okay” to eat locusts.

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