For Most People, Eating Bugs Is Only Natural

Sharon Guynup and Nicolas Ruggia
National Geographic Channel
July 15, 2004

If you think eating insects is gross, you may be in the cultural minority. Throughout history, people have relished insects as food. Today, many cultures still do.

Ten thousand years ago hunters and gatherers ate bugs to survive. They probably learned what was edible from observing what animals ate, according to Gene DeFoliart, a professor emeritus of entomology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

"Eating insects certainly is an old tradition," he said.

The ancient Romans and Greeks dined on insects. Pliny, the first-century Roman scholar and author of Historia Naturalis, wrote that Roman aristocrats loved to eat beetle larvae reared on flour and wine.

Aristotle, the fourth-century Greek philosopher and scientist, described in his writings the ideal time to harvest cicadas: "The larva of the cicada on attaining full size in the ground becomes a nymph; then it tastes best, before the husk is broken. At first the males are better to eat, but after copulation the females, which are then full of white eggs."

The Old Testament encouraged Christians and Jews to consume locusts, beetles, and grasshoppers. St. John the Baptist is said to have survived on locusts and honey when he lived in the desert.

In the mid-19th century Maj. Howard Egan, a superintendent of the Pony Express in Nevada, observed a Paiute Indian hunt where the quarry was neither bison nor rabbit, but rather the wingless Mormon cricket.

Major Egan later described how the Paiute dug a series of large trenches, covered them with straw, then drove hordes of crickets into the excavated trap. The Indians set the straw on fire, burning the crickets alive.

Paiute women then gathered bushels of the charred bugs and brought them back to camp to make flour for bread—an important seasonal source of protein.

Insect Cuisine

Many types of insects appear on menus today. Bugs remain a traditional food in many cultures across Africa, Asia, and Latin America, DeFoliart said.

Continued on Next Page >>


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