Insect Meat in Western Culture

The conventional wisdom is that the majority of the world, outside of North America and parts of Europe, already consume insects as part of their natural diet.  Never mind that many insects offer a healthy source of protein and other nutritional perks.  People in western cultures, by and large, haven’t caught on.  It isn’t part of the collective psyche, which is to say it just isn’t done.  Instead, we regard consumption of insects through the lens of stigma, or (as is often the case) with revulsion.  My guess, beyond the apparent psychological dissociation, stems from the assumption that eating insects automatically = eating whole, unprocessed insects in some form or fashion right off the dinner plate.

But if we’re to feed a world population of 7 billion and growing the wealthy (animal meat oriented) societies are going to need to shift some of their omnivore-centric consumption habits into the realm of insect meat.  Consumption of prepared ‘bugs’ versus thoughtful integration of insect meat is the critical and key distinction between the notion of eating a plate of whole insects, versus integrating fully-processed and neatly packaged insect meat into existing or slightly modified recipes already associated with European/North American diet.

Consider the present common approach to facilitating this paradigm shift by way of introducing quirky and questionable (sometimes even outlandish) gimmicks that, in my view, consistently fail to address the major obstacles inherent in fostering a healthy shift in perception of the average American consumer.  You see things like bug dessert toppings, or specialized ‘bug’ entrees, or special insect breeding kits designed for the kitchen (!?); and these are all novel, possibly even clever, but not whatsoever helpful with respect to encouraging any sort of meaningful pivot away from animal meat (which is unsustainable at current consumption levels) toward the often healthier alternative of regulated and processed insect meats.

To those who would encourage the integration of insect consumption in western cultures, either for moral/sustainability reasons, or for profit (or both)… It will serve you well not to forget one of the most necessary factors for breaking into the existing market or, as the case may be, laying the groundwork for an emerging industry.  Let’s call it the ‘Culture’ factor.  Because…

Plain and simple. Insect consumption will not get going in America until the process and product are sufficiently hidden from the consumer.  Listen.  The majority of Americans do not go to the grocer looking for a piece of raw cow parts – they are in search of ‘beef’ (for example) which has already been processed down into something that is easy on the eyes and doesn’t evoke revulsion. Likewise, people do not want to even think about, let alone prepare a bowl of “bugs” but… with a little education and social conditioning they may slowly warm to the idea of processed insect ‘meat’ as in small blocks of ‘meat’ that don’t actually look anything like “bugs,” which Americans are not interested in (except for to brag about as a culinary adventure at some trendy dive).

Don’t fail to underestimate the effects of economic incentive either, coupled with environmental consciousness and animal well-being as, along with health benefits (but only to a lesser extent), key components in brand development.

To all Insect consumption proponents and entrepreneurs:  If you want to get a foothold in the North American market (I for one am rooting for you) then stop showing people pictures of “bugs” or even cleverly prepared bug entrees.  Instead, begin by creating tidy euphemisms for insect meat (along the lines of “pork” and “beef”) and look into creative ways of processing the raw material into consumer-friendly and meal preparation friendly packaging (think tofu).  That’s just the starting point.  From there you’ll need to take the long view in terms of generating demand, and creation of new markets based on the established craft of social engineering already employed in other industry.

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Published in: on October 13, 2013 at 10:47 am  Leave a Comment  
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