Insectophobic Neophobia

Our previous post explained why promotion of insects for food and feed is unlikely to be a part of a vast government conspiracy. However, the conspiracy theory itself is based on a serious reluctance of people in the so-called Western World to eat insects. Proponents of insectivory often dismiss this reluctance as a sign of neophobia: since historically European cuisine did not include insects, people have an irrational fear of eating them. In other words, they are crazy not to eat bugs. Only a coward and / or a nutcase will not partake of a juicy caterpillar.

While it is always tempting to dismiss someone who disagrees with you as a mental defective, it is usually both untrue and unfair to people who indeed have mental disorders. Furthermore, it is counterproductive for getting one’s point across.

While in severe cases neophobia may become a disorder in need of medical attention, it is not recognized as a separate mental disease in the United States, and for a good reason. If we think about it carefully, moderate food neophobia is an evolutionarily advantageous adaptive behavior. More than a few prehistoric hominids died after eating that cool-looking unfamiliar mushroom. Their more cautious peers, on the other hand, lived long enough to tell their children “Remember Uncle Urgh? Probably not. You were just a toddler when he died after eating what we now call a death cap mushroom. If you do not want to end up like Urgh, do not eat anything new without telling us first.” Since we are a fairly young species on an evolutionary time scale, these early experiences still haunt us. The same, by the way, applies to conditions like nyctophobia (fear of the dark). Most large predators are nocturnal; therefore, nothing good would usually come out of the dark as far as a large hairless ape is concerned.

Does this mean that insects will never enter the culinary mainstream? Not necessarily, but it will require an effort to make it happen. As with other new ideas, education will likely be a key to success. In the next posts, we will go over a few examples when initially rejected novel items eventually turned into everyday staples.