November 18, 2020

EPSTEIN | Entomophagy and Me

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One of my earliest memories was when, as a toddler, I ate a grasshopper-flour cookie with flies baked into it. I was four years old, on a trip to a natural sciences museum that had a special insect exhibit offering foods made from insects, with an enthusiastic attendee that was encouraging all the children to try one. I don’t remember anything else from that day besides the apprehension before eating the cookie, the discomfort while chewing the cookie, and looking down apologetically at my bumblebee rainboots after finishing the cookie.

Eating bugs, or entomophagy, might not appeal to many Cornellians. Culturally it can be daunting, as it was to toddler-me, and rightfully so as throughout our lives we develop strong definitions of what is and isn’t food according to the societies we are brought up in. However, entomophagy is a huge part of the human culinary experience across the world, and there’s a lot of value in eating bugs while opening the door to a whole new culinary frontier that I think is worth trying.

Across cultures, there’s a reason insects are eaten by over two billion people around the world as part of a traditional diet — they taste good. From juicy sausages to high-end ice cream, insects can be used to make some pretty delicious dishes. Even prominent figures in the Western dining world have taken notice — take it from celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey, who was inspired to make his own recipe for an Indian dish consisting of ant chutney, after calling the original “the world’s best chutney.” 

Apart from their taste, insects can be extremely nutritious as well. Insects are a great source of key nutrients such as protein, iron, calcium and healthy fats, all while being low in carbohydrates. By virtue of being so nutritious, insects can help prevent disease in bolstering the immune system, which can be reflected in the efficacy of certain traditional Eastern forms of healing focused around insects. The health advantages of eating insects can even help in facilitating weight loss and building muscle, as their protein-richness can reduce hunger and cravings, rebuild muscle after exercise, and boost metabolism.

Most importantly, eating bugs can help save the world. In the face of rising food scarcity as our global population continues to rise, a world that mass produces poultry and cattle using an exorbitant amount of resources, and where the effects of global carbon emissions are exponentially increasing, eating insects is a simple and effective way a Cornellian can reduce their carbon footprint. The more we switch to eating insects, which require less water and resources to produce than cattle and poultry, the less carbon emissions we have, the more water we preserve, and the more feed we can give to those who are in need. Nearly 20 years ago, Professor Emeritus David Pimentel (who has since passed), ecology, predicted that if the grain consumed by livestock were to be used to feed those who are food insecure, we could feed nearly 800 million people, which can really put into perspective the gravity of promoting eating insects. These changes all have to start on the individual level before insects will be mass produced, so in eating insects and supporting those who rear them for consumption, Cornellians can support a better future. 

So, if you’re looking to travel vicariously through food during a time where physical travel can be restricted, bolster your diet and do your body a favor, and help fight climate change without having to commit to veganism or vegetarianism, adding insects to the menu could be a really easy and impactful way of accomplishing all three.

Joshua Dov Epstein is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences, and can be reached at jde74@cornell.edu. His column, Heterodox, appears every other Tuesday this semester.