The Internet's been abuzz these past few days over a newly issued, 200-page report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations about the viability of insects as a food source. The report points out that enthomophagy (the consumption of insects by humans) is practiced by approximately 2 billion people throughout the world and is particularly big in parts of Asia, Africa, and Latin America; that farming insects is better for the environment than farming cattle or pigs; that insects provide an easy-to-obtain source of protein and have a low risk of carrying disease.
There's just one problem -- people think insects are gross.
After 140 pages laying out the numerous and undeniable benefits of eating insects, the report gets to what it calls the "disgust factor" many Western societies still have toward eating creepy crawly things.
"Insects are still viewed as pests by a large majority of people, despite the increasing literature pointing to their valuable role in the diets of humans and animals," it reads, but adds that maybe through education and exposure, people will get used to eating insects the same way that they adapted to eating lobster (once viewed as the rats of the sea). "It is hoped that arguments such as the high nutritional value of insects and their low environmental impact, low-risk nature (from a disease standpoint) and palatability may ... contribute to a shift in perception."
It seems like an impossible gap to bridge -- intellectually I can get behind the idea of eating spiders or scorpions, but it still makes my stomach churn. Though the lobster comparison is a smart one. It's conceivable that as the world population continues to grow and the cost of raising meat (both in greenhouse gases and public health) continues to rise, we could turn to insects out of necessity.
And who knows? Maybe they could be a great delicacy. If The Lion King taught us anything, it's that insects can be an appealing foodstuff (who doesn't remember "the little cream-filled kind," a sort of insect eclair that Timon relishes?). Maybe Simba, who gets over his prejudice and finds grubs "slimy yet satisfying," could become the spokeslion for the movement just in time for the movie's 20th anniversary.