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Why not eat insects, by Vincent M. Holst (1885) - Part 1

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PART I: WHY NOT ?

"These ye may eat; the locust after his kind, and the bald locust after his kind, and the beetle after his kind, and the grasshopper after his kind." — LEV.xi. 22

Why not eat insects? Why not, indeed! What are the objections that can be brought forward to insects as food ? In the word "insects" I here include other creatures such as some small mollusks and crustaceans which, though not technically coming under the head of insects, still may be so called for the sake of brevity and convenience. "Ugh! I would not touch the loathsome things, much less eat one!" is the reply. But why on earth should these creatures be called loathsome, which, as a matter of fact, are not loathsome in any way, and, indeed, are in every way more fitted for human food than many of the so-called delicacies now highly prized? From chemical analysis it appears that the flesh of insects is composed of the same substances as are found in that of the higher animals. Again, if we look at the food they themselves live upon, which is one of the commonest criterions as to whether an animal is, or is not, fit for human food, we find that the great majority of insects live entirely upon vegetable matter in one form or another; and, in fact, all those I shall hereafter propose to my readers as food are strict vegetarians. Carnivorous animals, such as the dog, cat, fox, etc., are held unworthy of the questionable dignity of being edible by civilized man. In the same manner I shall not ask my readers to consider for a moment the propriety or advisability of tasting such unclean-feeding insects as the common fly, the carrion beetle, or Blaps mortisaga (the churchyard beetle). But how can any one who has ever gulped down the luscious oyster alive at three-and-sixpence per dozen, turn up his nose and shudder at the clean-feeding and less repulsive-looking snail? The lobster, a creature consumed in incredible quantities at all the highest tables in the land, is such a foul feeder that, for its sure capture, the experienced fisherman will bait his lobster-pot with putrid flesh or fish which is too far gone even to attract a crab. And yet, if at one of those tables there appeared a well-cooked dish of clean-feeding slugs, the hardiest of the guests would shrink from tasting it. Again, the eel is universally eaten, fried, stewed, or in pies, though it is the very scavenger of the water —there being no filth it will not swallow—like its equally relished fellow-scavenger the pig, the "unclean animal" of Scripture. There was once an equally strong objection to the pig, as there is at present against insects. What would the poor do without the bacon-pig now?

It is hard, very hard, to overcome the feelings that have been instilled into us from our youth upwards; but still I foresee the day when the slug will be as popular in England as its luscious namesake the Trepang, or sea-slug, is in China, and a dish of grasshoppers fried in butter as much relished by the English peasant as a similarly treated dish of locusts is by an Arab or Hottentot. There are many reasons why this is to be hoped for. Firstly, philosophy bids us neglect no wholesome source of food. Secondly, what a pleasant change from the labourer's unvarying meal of bread, lard, and bacon, or bread and lard without bacon, or bread without lard or bacon, would be a good dish of fried cockchafers or grasshoppers. "How the poor live!" Badly, I know; but they neglect wholesome foods, from a foolish prejudice which it should be the task of their betters, by their example, to overcome. One of the constant questions of the day is, How can the farmer most successfully battle with the insect devourers of his crops? I suggest that these insect devourers should be collected by the poor as food. Why not? I do not mean to pretend that the poor could live upon insects; but I do say that they might thus pleasantly and wholesomely vary their present diet while, at the same time, conferring a great benefit upon the agricultural world. Not only would their children then be rewarded by the farmers for hand-picking the destructive insects, but they would be doubly rewarded by partaking of toothsome and nourishing insect dishes at home.

After all, there is not such a very strong prejudice among the poorer classes against the swallowing of insects, as is shown by the survival in some districts of such old-fashioned medicines as wood-lice pills, and snails and slugs as a cure for consumption. I myself also knew a labourer, some years ago, in the west of England, who was regularly in the habit of picking up and eating any small white slugs which he happened to see, as tidbits, just as he would have picked wild strawberries.

It may require a strong effort of will to reason ourselves out of the stupid prejudices that have stood in our way for ages; but what is the good of the advanced state of the times if we cannot thus cast aside these prejudices, just as we have caused to vanish before the ever-advancing tide of knowledge the worn-out theories of spontaneous generation and barnacle geese?

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