Eat Some Worms

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

New Yorker staff writer Dana Goodyear discusses her article in this week's magazine about entomphagy (eating insects) and the gourmet virtues of insects as a food source.


Dana Goodyear

Comments [14]

Daniella Martin

Here's something to consider regarding the vegan issue:

Many world hunger experts say that the problem lies not in the amount of food available, but in the distribution of it. Several nutritious insect species could potentially be raised on location in places where other food sources are not viable, thus sidestepping the issue of distribution:

By raising the status and acceptance of edible insects as a food source in the US, it can help establish legitimacy, support, and funding for research projects and outreach organizations geared towards utilizing insects in this manner. The Dutch have already committed 1 million euros to researching the viability of insects as a food source. The US is way behind.

Despite the fact that I consider veganism to be a beautiful and admirable philosophy, I think it is ultimately a privilege of food selectivity that the majority of the people on this planet don't have. Thus, from my perspective, a vegan person speaking out against eating insects is, in effect, helping to obstruct this practical method of increasing food availability, and the gradual shift toward more sustainable consumption in general.

Aug. 17 2011 05:52 PM
Henry from Manhattan

@ Daniella Martin

As for why veganism comes up in a discussion over entomophagy, I’ll throw out a few guesses.

The general (Western) public has a disgust of the thought of eating insects. People are generally turned off by eating animals with all their body parts intact, so it’s not so surprising that vegetarians may react with a bit more disgust since they don’t (knowingly) consume any animal products. Pointing out the fact that people consume insect parts incidentally doesn’t really override this physiological cultural revulsion and it makes sense that it would be compounded in a vegan's rejection of flesh foods. Insects still have arms and legs, heads and hearts, etc, whereas plants do not. Entomophady (insect-eating) has an aesthetic commonality with kreophagy (meat-eating) that phytophagy (plant-eating) doesn’t really share.

It could be the general matter of principal of not exploiting animals, including insects, by the classic definition of veganism. For vegans, bees and silk worms are considered to be insects worth leaving untroubled and not using them as means to our ends (incidental killing of insects isn’t desired, but it’s unfortunately unavoidable.) The question put to vegans is usually “Where do you draw the line?” and the original founders of veganism drew the line at animals and that’s that; it’s certainly less arbitrary than rules of eating most people follow (i.e. cat meat, wrong; pig meat, okay; hamburger, tasty; cow eyeball, gross.) This line drawing could be considered dogmatic I suppose, but the entomologist who called seemed to be suggesting that there’s more going on in insect life than we give them credit for, meaning that they may be worthy of not being exploited as a matter of vegan principle.

On the other hand, some vegans more motivated in a general less harm to higher-ups on the biological complexity ladder and would concede a gray area due to the low-level of exhibited sentience of insects, worms and the like. The notion of insects as an alternative green, more humane source of food facilitating the decreases in demand of traditional livestock and fish is worth considering. But it seems like if someone is advocating or considering such a cultural leap in diet to insects and grubs for the sake of green and humane alternatives, why not bring up what is considered “extreme” but is certainly less culturally bizarre as the idea of eating an exclusive plant-based diet instead. As a practical matter, shopping for plant foods in your local grocery is certainly more convenient than tracking down sources of critters to eat.

My final thought is that the entomophagy conversation seems to border into a genre of foodie boasting. It’s a different level of “meat” appreciation than hamburger recipes that vegans are accustomed to ignoring and resembles the type of exchange that lists the array of exotic or unusual animals consumed.

I don’t mean to say that’s the intention of the discussion, but it has that tone.

Aug. 16 2011 10:09 PM
Henry from Manhattan

@ Daniella Martin
“I don't think veganism will work for starving populations who are situated in non-arable areas,”

Who exactly is going to starving populations in non-arable locations and suggesting that they adopt veganism? What vegan pamphlet or literature did you read the advocacy of this idea from? This concern is irrelevant to anyone who lives in civilization, isn’t bound to their local food shed thanks to transportation technology, and is living in a arable area, pretty much most Americans (as there are vegans in all fifty states). In NYC, we’re not setup to provide local food and water to all the inhabitants, but no one suggests that NYC doesn’t “work.”

Whether or not veganism works for everyone, in every (extreme) situation, has little bearing on the relevance to someone’s (or a community’s) adoption of veganism. Similarly, if Alaskan Inuits in the non-arable northern climates can’t successfully raise insects for food, this has little bearing on the advocacy for entomophagy.

Starving people in poor counties don’t have access to higher education or decent health care; let’s close our universities and hospitals here to even things out, right? No, of course not. Or is the problem with the moralistic quality of vegan philosophy? Seems like we’re not going to have equality of women (or protection of children, or tolerance of homosexuals) across this planet anytime soon, but this in no way affects our culture’s adoption of the premise or even one’s personal convictions on these matters. If someone is reading this Internet comment on some sort of computer device, the chances are high that they can adopt a vegan lifestyle if they really wanted to.

And before someone chimes in that they can’t be vegan for this reason or that reason, that’s not really the point. The point is that Americans and other people who enjoy our degree of lifestyle comforts have the opportunities to make informed choices on how we choose to eat and consume and “people in starving” underdeveloped developed countries do not because they are in a state of survival. Starving people do not have as deep an impact on resource uses as we do in developed nations, insisting they “cut down” on anything or be able to willing adopt any sort of dietary or consumer advice when they are undernourished would be absurd.

Please, relegate this “starving peoples” argument to the dust bin, not because it’s insulting to vegans but because it’s insulting to reasoned discourse.

Aug. 16 2011 09:52 PM
Daniella Martin

It's interesting how often vegan commentary and food philosophy arises in the discussion of entomophagy in America. Where are these sentiments in the standard, "Five New Ways To Serve Hamburger" articles?

What most entomophagists advocate for is a better alternative to the current livestock situation -- the one against which many vegans argue. Insects, by their very biology, can be raised and processed far more humanely than cows, pigs, chicken, fish, etc. For example, mealworms would suffer no psychological harm from being crammed in with their brethren in a bin of bran. This is completely natural for them.

Beyond the humane aspects, raising insects would result in far less ecological impact than even many vegetable crops. Since they can be fed on compost, you could quite literally turn two pounds of vegetal waste into 1 pound of viable protein.

I respect and admire vegans. I don't think veganism will work for starving populations who are situated in non-arable areas, however, and I do think that insects are a fantastic, eco-friendly, nutritious and tasty alternative meat.

On a personal note, my respect for, interest in, and care for insects has risen immeasurably since I began eating them on a regular basis -- as has my awareness of just what goes into each piece of meat I eat.

Aug. 16 2011 03:49 PM
Henry from Manhattan

@Matthew from Brooklyn

“Why should plants be exempt from their allegedly moral perspective?”
Two reasons:

1.Plants have no eyes, ears, or brain, no limbic system or any form of sentient consciousness as we can comprehend it. Yes, they do react, existing in a realm of chemical existence, and while whether they do experience pain or awareness as “subject of a life,” is ultimately unknown, it is very unlikely because plants just don’t have biological hardware similar to organism that do possess these qualities.

2. “True vegans would have to starve themselves to death, actually”
See, that’s not really a constructive option. If you have some plan for people interested in avoiding harm to s to all living things, while not starving to death, because that clearly is unreasonable, please feel free to share it.

“The rest of the moralists, not to say fundamentalists, who eat only veggies predicate their diet on the killing of millions of bugs.”
Again, if you have some practical way to grow crops without killing any insects or small mammals in the process ever, than please feel free to share it. If the argument is, insects and small animals are killed, may as well kill large animals too, that’s an line of reasoning that could justify any atrocity since no one lives a life of perfection. Not being perfect doesn’t mean, go ahead and with any damaging behaviors you want, we all try our best.

Yes, sometimes vegans refer to not killing “living beings” in the vernacular sense to mean, “beings that are sentient and are subjects of a life and if we aren’t sure we offer the benefit of doubt, but some beings like plants we have a pretty solid biological basis that they are not, besides starving to death isn’t an option.” However, if you really think veganism means not killing any living thing ever, well, you need to do some research on the subject.

But perhaps vegans do fall short of their own ideals. The question is how does that compare with everyone else? People claim that it’s important to treat animals kindly. People claim that if you kill an animal for food it shouldn’t suffer and should have a quick and painless death. People claim that environmental concerns regarding food sourcing are important. But the realities of practice for 99% of the animal products people consume are done under horrible conditions that are egregious violations by their own metrics.

And if that’s not bad enough, majorities of people just don’t think about these issues or even care one way or the other.

“The fanaticism of vegans always amuses me.”
The cynicism and apathy of most people depresses me.

Aug. 16 2011 02:42 PM
Matthew from Brooklyn

The fanaticism of vegans always amuses me. Why should plants be exempt from their allegedly moral perspective? That's so animal-centric it's absurd. True vegans would have to starve themselves to death, actually. The rest of the moralists, not to say fundamentalists, who eat only veggies predicate their diet on the killing of millions of bugs.

Aug. 16 2011 12:07 PM

I agree with the entomologist who called and said that we don't have to eat every living thing. I am a vegan and became one as my protest against the practice of animal warehousing. Also, once we get a taste for something we see how voracious people can be at the expense of anything living. If a taste for insects really took hold we can predict the path it would take, massive amounts of species being bred in confined conditions, perhaps pumped with growth hormones and synthetic feed . . . who knows.

Aug. 16 2011 12:04 PM
William from Manhattan

I assume/hope the entomologist/vegan who said we "shouldn't eat living things" misspoke. Unless he lives in a vacuum chamber, he certainly consumes living things, most obviously plants. BTW, A botanist once told me that ethical vegetarianism was based on a biocentric fallacy. He argued that plants are the more advanced life forms. We feel superior because of our central nervous systems, which we need basically because we have to walk around to find food. Plants make their own food, hence no CNS needed.

Aug. 16 2011 12:03 PM
Lonnie from Brooklyn!!!

Leave it to bored Manhattanites. . .they'll eat ANTHING to avoid learning how to cook normally boring but good meals.

Aug. 16 2011 11:57 AM
Amy from Manhattan

No, vegetarians won't eat bugs because they're living creatures. They're not an animal product; they're classified as part of the animal kingdom. So you don't have to be a vegan to not eat bugs.

Aug. 16 2011 11:57 AM
John from Ditmas Park

In Thailand, my wife and I tried some that were fried. If you'd close your eyes and ignore the fact a leg might get caught on your lip or detect a wing with your tongue. They were a bit like an over done fry. Open to trying more.

Aug. 16 2011 11:53 AM

If an ant were the size of a lobster, I might eat it.

Aug. 16 2011 11:52 AM
Curious from Brooklyn

Is it true that there is almost always ground roaches present in all coffee?

Aug. 16 2011 11:51 AM
Sophie from Poughkeepsie, NY

Yuck! I won't knowingly eat bugs. Just the thought makes me want to retch!

Aug. 16 2011 11:09 AM

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