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Edible Insects: 6 Barriers to Consumption in the Western World

barriers to eating cultural insects cover

Did you know that the consumption of insects is a common practice in many cultures? It is estimated that at least two billion people all over the world include insects in their diets!

However, it is not exactly traditional to have insects for dinner in the Western World. How come? Here, we discuss 6 barriers that prevent Western countries from including edible insects in their daily diets: culture, product unfamiliarity, product aesthetics, perceived cleanliness, price and demographics. Let’s get into it!

6 barriers to consuming edible insects in the Western World

barriers to consuming edible insects

1. Culture

The problem

Culture is identified as the root of Westerners’ reluctance to consume insects. Unlike the climate in insect-consuming countries, weather conditions in the Northern Hemisphere are not optimal for many insects. The warmer climate in Asian, South American, and African cultures is more suitable for insects to grow and reproduce.

This leads to a greater number of insects, which makes for an easy meal! This relatively important exposure to insects in the Southern Hemisphere may explain why eating insects is less frowned upon in those regions.

Possible solutions

By making the consumption of insects more normal, Westerners may become less hesitant. Even though such developments do not occur overnight, cultures change all the time!

Especially nowadays, when different countries are so easily in touch with one another due to the internet and social media, more promotion on edible insects is bound to have an impact on people.

That is why it would be good to educate people more about consuming insects. For instance, through informative accounts on social media and websites, much like the one that you are reading right now!

2. Product unfamiliarity

The problem

The second barrier, which is product unfamiliarity, goes hand in hand with culture considering that it is caused by it. Due to a lack of information and experience with eating insects, consumers are easily preconceived. There are many prejudices regarding insects being unsanitary, which biases Westerners into thinking that they are unhealthy.

In reality, if they are produced in controlled environments such as farms, edible insects are completely safe! On top of that, insects are quite good for you and have many health benefits. Read our article listing 4 known benefits of edible insects.

Possible solutions

Sticking to our first solution, there should be more information and education on insect consumption. If people were more familiar with the concept, there is a big chance that they would give a grasshopper steak a try!

Exposure through informative posts online could really help with this, especially when the benefits of insect consumption are included.

For some people, the health benefits would be the decisive factor in eating insects; for others, it may be that it is more environmentally friendly than eating meat. In any case, there are plenty of advantages which could be used to promote edible insects as our main protein source!

cooked crickets

3. Product aesthetics

The problem

Truth be told, this barrier is one that is not too difficult to understand. Insects do not look quite as appealing as other types of foods. For most people, if given the choice between eating spare ribs and bugs, they would opt for the mouthwatering piece of meat.

Possible solutions

Again, this is a question of habituation and culture. Based on this psychological barrier, the main strategy by edible insect companies to incorporate insect protein into human diets is by disguising them into foods. Not only visually, but also in terms of taste.

Companies invest substantial resources into developing insect products in the shape, form and texture of commonly accepted meat-based products such as burgers and sausages. An alternative way of incorporating insects into human food is by only using insect proteins as ingredients for products such as shakes, bread, pasta, and cookies.

protein shakes

4. Perceived cleanliness

The problem

Another big factor that inhibits people from eating insects is the fear of them being filthy. The main ambassador of the unsanitary insects' perception among consumers is, of course, the cockroach.

Everyone’s worst fear when eating at a restaurant is to find one of those little guys in their meal!

There is a big challenge in overcoming associations of insects, especially worms and flies, with dirt, faeces and general unsanitary environments. These associations contribute in large part to the disgust factor felt by consumers when presented with insects as food.

Possible solutions

Just like with any other food type, it is very important that insect production is thoroughly regulated and that strict sanitary rules are enforced in insect farms.

Additionally, consumers must be reassured that edible insects are grown in hygienic environments and that foods containing them are safe to eat.

By labeling products with quality certifications there is transparency to consumers regarding this. Of course, the stigma of insects being dirty will be hard to change. As long as edible insect companies are transparent about hygiene, people can know for sure that there is nothing to worry about.

It is important to remember that any other type of food that can be bought in the supermarket undergoes strict production regulations. Meat for instance: similarly to edible insects, it is ensured to be clean and safe, yet no one hardly ever second guesses whether it is actually sanitary.

essento burger

5. Price

The problem

It’s all about the money! Unfortunately, the edible insect industry is still rather expensive. Although the costs can vary a lot depending on insect type, production method and selling location, they are generally speaking higher than those of traditional protein sources.

This is because insects are currently produced on a smaller scale than chicken, beef and pork. Hence, they are more expensive to produce. Additionally, the cost of processing and packaging insects can be higher than for traditional meats, due to the specialized equipment and processes needed to ensure they are safe for human consumption.

It is important to highlight that the cost of edible insects can vary depending on the location where they are sold. In some parts of the world, such as Southeast Asia and Africa, edible insects are a common and affordable source of protein.

In these regions, insects are often harvested from the wild or raised on small farms, which can make them less expensive than imported meats.

Possible solutions

Overall, the cost of edible insects is still relatively high compared to traditional sources of protein in many parts of the world. However, as demand grows and production scales up, it is possible that the cost of insects could become more competitive with other sources of protein.

As we see in countries where insect consumption is common, there is definitely a negative correlation between popularity and price.

It can thus be suggested to make edible insects more common in the Western World so that production can be cheaper in the future.

Additionally, resources that are used for the meat industry could be utilized for edible insect production instead!

calculator at supermarket

6. Demographics

The problem

The final factor playing a role in people’s willingness to eat insects is based on demographics. Research has found that younger people are generally more open to insect consumption compared to older people. In addition, younger populations appear to be less sensitive to the barriers mentioned above.

Possible solutions

Early exposure to insects can familiarize younger consumers with insects as food and contribute to breaking down cultural and psychological barriers to which older populations are more prone to be affected. If we raise the next generation with a fresh view of the human diet, i.e. including edible insects, this will be a part of our future culture!

It is understandable that not every adult will be open to altering their diet protein source-wise, but if we work together with those who are, we can achieve great results.

Hopefully, if we educate our kids on the benefits of edible insects, the fear or discomfort that people currently have regarding insect consumption will be literally and figuratively of the past!

Final thoughts

To sum it all up, there is still a big psychological barrier preventing Westerners from eating insects regularly.

The cause of this barrier is mainly due to culture, familiarization, assumptions and money. Our suggestions to overcome these barriers are through education, promotion and transparency surrounding edible insect production.

Cultural changes happen all the time, even though we don’t realize it. So hopefully in the future, there will be less frowning upon and more chewing on insects!

farmed mealworms


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