OUR ANCESTORS ATE INSECTS!

Why did we stop this practice?


Entomophagy, the act of eating insects, is already perceived as completely natural by more than 2 billion people in Asia, South America and Africa. They consume them as a source of food in the same way as other meats, fish, ... However, in Belgium and in Europe this is still far from being the case ... but how is this possible? Why did this practice disappear, knowing that our ancestors regularly ate insects ?


The first men practised entomophagy


According to scientific observations made on the fossilised jaws of the ancestors of primates (from which we are descended), the latter had an insectivorous diet. Over time, the dentition of our ancestors evolved to become frugivorous. How did the diet of primates evolve until the first bipedal anthropoids appeared 7 million years ago? It can be assumed, based on the study of teeth, that the vast majority of the different species of Hominidae (from which modern man [Homo sapiens] evolved) were omnivores. They were therefore opportunistic feeders. They necessarily consumed the food provided by their environment with the main criterion being a minimum expenditure of energy. Insects, because of their biomass and their abundance in all terrestrial ecosystems, could not escape the meals of our ancestors. Australopithecus and humans moved around according to the abundance of their food sources, both animal and vegetable. Like the majority of contemporary "primitive" peoples (Bushmen, pygmies, numerous Amazonian tribes, North American Indians (in the past), Australian aborigines, etc.), they probably ate insects accompanied by various plants.


References to entomophagy can also be found in ancient texts such as the New Testament, the Torah, the Koran, the texts of Aristotle and Pliny. In our temperate regions and in the more northern regions, entomophagy certainly disappeared more or less ten thousand years ago with the appearance of agriculture and animal husbandry. It has become a very secondary mode of feeding, perhaps only used during times of famine.



Cave paintings dating back to more than 30,000 years BC have been discovered in northern Spain, depicting different scenes illustrating the consumption of wild bees by man. In China, Mexico and in caves on American soil, remains of insect shells have been found among human excrement. Thus, before the invention of tools for hunting and cultivating the land, insects played an important role in human nutrition. Scientists even agree that through their nutritional benefits, insects would have made a particular contribution to our evolution.


As far as Europe is concerned, the Romans and the Greeks were fond of beetle larvae, locusts wrapped in honey or the cicada, which were particularly appreciated for their taste and nutritional benefits. In France, insects were also very popular, be it chafer, mealworms or silkworms. In the Middle Ages, men regularly consumed the larvae of the milliner's beetle and in the silk industry, the silkworm was also eaten and considered to be a choice snack. The cockchafer, which belongs to the order of beetles, was considered to be a quality food, some castelains even offered cockchafer doughnuts to their guests.


But then, what happened to make this custom so forgotten?


Why has entomophagy been forgotten in Europe?


In the West, entomophagy is now considered a rural practice, even from another time. The reactions of Western consumers are often disgust, fear, aversion, considering it as a "barbaric" or "primitive" act. But why is there such a difference in the mentalities of Western Europe and those who have already integrated insects into their diet?


The main reason would be that over the centuries, Western Europe has become more and more aseptic: the hunt for microbes, the senseless use of antibiotics, more and more processed products, ... Knowing that insects are very often associated with dirt and everything that is harmful, they are automatically associated in popular imagery with vectors of disease. This would lead to the conclusion that it would be better to avoid eating them for hygienic reasons and that removing them from our diet would prevent diseases. Nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, insects are further down the human evolutionary ladder than traditional farm animals and are therefore much less likely to transmit diseases to humans.


Secondly, another hypothesis of the disappearance of insects from the Western diet would be linked to their "primitive", "barbaric" aspect, referring to the idea of poverty and subculture. Thus, for our ancestors, this practice which took place at the time of the harvest would have been denigrated little by little. And finally, in order to achieve a certain social status, it was preferable to stop this practice, which was considered far too rural.


Another factor of disappearance would be the frequent association between insects and damage to agricultural crops. One often hears testimonies: "insects that are pests of crops", "swarms of locusts that eat everything in their path", ... While these are only a tiny fraction of insects, by association, they are often all put in the same basket. For example, through collective imagery, crickets will be negatively perceived as pests responsible for the damage caused to agricultural land when they are incapable of doing so.


Finally, another logical cause of their disappearance from the Western food supply is industrial development. Meat has become cheaper and more affordable for the poorer sections of society. The consumption of insects has become obsolete, giving way to large-scale cultivation and meat farming.


Finally, if insects have disappeared from our diet, it is not for "valid" reasons. It has been done little by little, under the social pressure of cultural differences and ideologies that totally neglect their benefits, whether for health, the environment or their taste qualities all over their benefits.