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!