Waiter, What’s This Fly Doing In My Soup?

Eating InsectsThis is the sort of thing that gives environmentalism a bad name:

The UN has new weapons to fight hunger, boost nutrition and reduce pollution, and they might be crawling or flying near you right now: edible insects.

The Food and Agriculture Organization on Monday hailed the likes of grasshoppers, ants and other members of the insect world as an underutilized food for people, livestock and pets.

A 200-page report, released at a news conference at the UN agency’s Rome headquarters, says 2 billion people worldwide already supplement their diets with insects, which are high in protein and minerals, and have environmental benefits. Insects are “extremely efficient” in converting feed into edible meat, the agency said. On average, they can convert 2kg of feed into 1kg of insect mass. In comparison, cattle require 8 kg of feed to produce a kilo of meat.

Most insects are likely to produce fewer environmentally harmful greenhouse gases, and also feed on human and food waste, compost and animal slurry, with the products being used for agricultural feed, the agency said.

Of course, the FAO recommendation does have a real logic to it environmentally.  And from a humanitarian standpoint, it it outrageous to have people starve surrounded by food.

It does raise all kinds of cultural questions: why do we find some putative food disgusting and others not?  The French eat snails; the Chinese eat (inter alia) jellied duck’s blood; the English eat, well, English food.  India’s former Prime Minister Morarji Desai famously drank his own urine, and lived to the ripe old age of 99 (maybe he was right!).  (Mrs. Gandhi changed all the dishes in the Prime Minister’s residence when she succeeded Desai).  William Ian Miller’s classic The Anatomy of Disgust spends far more time on sex than on food, which probably says something about Bill (and if you’ve ever met him he would probably agree!), but the point is that perhaps we overdo these things.  It will not do to say that our disgust with some food derives from health benefits, in a sort of evolutionary explanation: many insects are extremely nutritious and healthful.  (Of course, it’s easy for me to say: no insect is kosher, so I wouldn’t have to deal with it.)

Maybe that’s the way we get climate deniers on board: move to clean energy, or get ready for grasshopper a l’orange.

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Reader Comments

6 Replies to “Waiter, What’s This Fly Doing In My Soup?”

  1. I still try to persuade others to experience the pleasure and health of cicadas quickly deep fried as soon as they emerge from the ground still pale and so very tender. Better than soft shell crabs, and much much cheaper …

  2. I still try to persuade others to experience the pleasure and health of cicadas quickly deep fried as soon as they emerge from the ground still pale and so very tender. Better than soft shell crabs, and much much cheaper …

  3. Entomophagy (eating insects) is common around the world, although it is taboo in the United States (oddly, however, Americans are comfortable eating functionally equivalent marine invertebrates like mollusks and crabs). The environmental benefits of entomophagy aside, when viewed in the context of international development history, the FAO’s move reads more like a correction to historical efforts to institute in lesser-developed countries American/European-style food and agricultural systems that rely on pesticides and destroy traditional insect protein stocks. Indeed, framing entomophagy as a move of desperation for starving people negates the fact that insects are eaten as a preference in many places around the world–just like Americans love lobsters and shrimp. I see this as the kind of thing that gives environmentalism a GOOD name, because it’s grounded in local realities and cultural contexts, and it doesn’t seek to impose one dominant cultural narrative on the world. (Environmentalists are frequently criticized as privileged liberals who are out of touch with the real world and aspire for everyone to shop at Whole Foods, etc.)

    On another note–I thought some locusts/grasshoppers were kosher?

  4. Entomophagy (eating insects) is common around the world, although it is taboo in the United States (oddly, however, Americans are comfortable eating functionally equivalent marine invertebrates like mollusks and crabs). The environmental benefits of entomophagy aside, when viewed in the context of international development history, the FAO’s move reads more like a correction to historical efforts to institute in lesser-developed countries American/European-style food and agricultural systems that rely on pesticides and destroy traditional insect protein stocks. Indeed, framing entomophagy as a move of desperation for starving people negates the fact that insects are eaten as a preference in many places around the world–just like Americans love lobsters and shrimp. I see this as the kind of thing that gives environmentalism a GOOD name, because it’s grounded in local realities and cultural contexts, and it doesn’t seek to impose one dominant cultural narrative on the world. (Environmentalists are frequently criticized as privileged liberals who are out of touch with the real world and aspire for everyone to shop at Whole Foods, etc.)

    On another note–I thought some locusts/grasshoppers were kosher?

  5. @Megan — “I see this as the kind of thing that gives environmentalism a GOOD name.” Just try to sell it politically to people who don’t have environmental commitments. “Environmentalists think people should eat bugs.” You’ve just lost the debate. I meant it politically, not substantively.

    And yes, you are right that there are four species of grasshoppers that are technically kosher, but the vast vast majority of insects are not. Theoretically, there are kosher locusts, but unless someone can point to a longstanding tradition of eating them, they are generally out.

  6. @Megan — “I see this as the kind of thing that gives environmentalism a GOOD name.” Just try to sell it politically to people who don’t have environmental commitments. “Environmentalists think people should eat bugs.” You’ve just lost the debate. I meant it politically, not substantively.

    And yes, you are right that there are four species of grasshoppers that are technically kosher, but the vast vast majority of insects are not. Theoretically, there are kosher locusts, but unless someone can point to a longstanding tradition of eating them, they are generally out.

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About Jonathan

Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic – Land Use, the Environment and Loc…

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