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What is Entomophagy?

Entomophagy is the practice of eating insects - including arachnids (tarantulas) and myriapods (centipedes).

The word “entomophagy” derives from the Greek term éntomos, or éntomon, meaning, “insect(ed),” literally meaning “cut in two,” referring to an insect’s segmented body, and phăgein, “to eat.” Combined, the two terms mean, “insect eating.”

As a point of information the word itself is a rather new term. There’s no record of its coinage in the Oxford English Dictionary and its first usage to denote a human behavior may well be as recent as the 1950s.

There are no words equivalent to ‘entomophagy’ in the languages of the many ethnic groups that practice insect consumption, simply because these peoples never distinguished between insects and other varieties of food.

The History of Entomophagy

Insects have served as a food source for people for tens of thousands of years, all over the planet. Today insect eating is rare in the developed world, but insects remain a popular food in many developing regions of Central and South America, Africa, and Asia.

People from Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, China, Africa, Mexico, Columbia and New Guinea to name just a few, are regions where the inhabitants eat insects for nutritional value as well as for taste.

Some of the more popular insect and arachnids eaten around the world are: crickets, grasshoppers, ants, a variety of species of caterpillar, also referred to as worms, such as the mopani worm, silkworm and waxworm, and last but not least scorpions and tarantulas.

There are an estimated 1,462 species of recorded edible insects including arachnids. And in all likelihood, there are hundreds if not thousands more that simply haven’t been sampled or perhaps not even discovered yet.

Summary of
"What is Entomophagy?"

In short, entomophagy is:

  • An opportunity to question our own cultural conditioning, and broaden our ideas of what the word “food” can identify.
  • A chance for each of us to produce our own protein, and thereby be more self-sufficient.
  • A new way to interact with Nature.
  • A smart way to feed a huge population.
  • A lot more than simply “eating bugs.”

Nutritional and Scientific Facts on Entomophagy

According to the Entomological Society of America insects generally contain more protein and are lower in fat than traditional meats. In addition they have about 20 times higher food conversion efficiency than traditional meats. In other words they have a better feed-to-meat ratio than beef, pork, lamb or chicken.

It can best be understood at least in part with a comparative breakdown of cricket to beef. 100 grams of cricket contains 121 calories, 12.9 grams of protein, 5.5 g. fat, 5.1 g. carbohydrates, 75.8 mg. calcium, 9.5 mg. iron, 3.10 mg. niacin, 1.09 mg. riboflavin, 185.3 mg. phosphorous, and 0.36 mg. thiamine. By comparison ground beef contains more protein (23.5 g./100g.), but also has 288.2 calories, almost three times the amount of crickets, and a whopping 21.2 grams of fat, almost four times the amount of crickets!

Insects are exothermic, which means they get their heat from the surrounding environment, while birds and mammals are endothermic, which means they have to heat themselves up, requiring lots of energy and consequently a major impact on the environment and on natural resources. The big advantage to being exothermic in this respect is that insects save a huge amount of energy.

And comparatively speaking, being able to survive on a fifth of the amount of food required of familiar livestock is a major advantage when considering the impact of our footprint on the environment. Farming insects as miniature livestock is a smarter, more efficient and ultimately environmentally safer means of sustaining a healthy and convenient food supply.

Insects reproduce at a much quicker rate than cattle, are much easier to raise and need far less living space and are able to feed off of much less feed than traditional livestock require.

According to the University of Ohio’s Department of Entomology Fact Sheet Findings, if Americans could tolerate more insects in what they eat, farmers could significantly reduce the amount of pesticides applied each year. It’s also important to note that in farming and raising insects, there would be no labor intensive butchering of animals, no back-breaking farm work, no need for tractors, and no need for veterinary bills.

The Risks Involved

Practicing entomophagy does carry certain risks. Of course the same is true of most other kinds of food consumption; even foods produced by conventional commercial methods can have adverse health effects, as can be seen when perusing the news media.

Yet the toxicity of unknown species of insects (and there are toxic species in nearly every family of insects) is not the only potential issue. Most of the insects eaten around the world are wild-harvested, which means that no one can be sure of what the insects themselves have been exposed to.

Most agricultural methodologies include vast amounts of pesticides and other toxins. Where and how insects live and feed is quite important: even cicadas, which are sedentary for most of their lives, may have fed from roots of trees that absorbed fungicides or lawn chemicals or etc, etc.

An example of precautionary measures are simply that if you are allergic to shellfish or shrimp or even chocolate, it is probably best to avoid eating insects, until you figure out your tolerance levels. One should also never eat raw insects unless they’ve been bred and raised by a trusted source; because it is impossible to detect if a raw insect is tainted with pesticides.

In addition it is also difficult to know if a raw insect is carrying germs and lastly some insects store certain compounds that may cause sicknesses; just as some insects are poisonous. It is always better to be safe than sorry; know your source. A safe source equals a healthy diet - in all cases of the food industry.