I gave a talk on the results of our project on the nutritional value of edible insects, and their relative 'healthiness' compared to meat.
I got some really interesting questions - questions about the effects of farming on nutritional content, the effects of life stage, the relationship between taste, texture and 'healthiness' (and from the consequent discussion, this idea was put forward: meat is often appreciated for its texture, but this texture tends to correspond to less healthy characteristics. Yet with insects, the texture that is appreciated by many cultures worldwide is a crispy, chitinous, crunch - 'kari-kari' (かりかり) in Japanese. in the language of the San bushman there is apparently word that is similar but ONLY used to describe the texture of insects, not other foods - and this texture is likely to correspond to higher levels of protein) - and then, I also got to listen to a brilliant presentation from Kenichi Nonaka. Here's one of my favourite slides from his talk - it shows crop pests being harvested all over the world.
Here is my rough translation of the abstract for his Oxford talk!
Fieldwork with edible insects: Value and Understanding
Kenichi Nonaka (Rikkyo University)
The collection and consumption of edible insects is a practice that is situated on an axis between the natural, cultural and social spheres. This presentation will cover field research undertaken on this topic since 1987, using methodology from geography, ecology and anthropology, and situated in Japan, Southeast Asia, southern Africa and Oceania.
The reasons for this research focus are that it is possible to understand the ways in which people interact with the natural environment through the ways in which 1) edible insects are chosen from within a diverse range of insect species living within a single habitat; 2) edible insects are a food that specific to certain regions and certain societies, not something eaten everywhere nor by everyone; 2) edible insects contribute both quantitavely and qualitatively to diets; 3) people hunt, cook and gather knowledge about edible insects.
In the past, research into edible insects was likely to be considered trivial, esoteric and insignificant. When I started to work in this field, I realized that insects were not a food that was universally popular, and I was relatively surprised at the extent to which they were used as food, but I saw this in a positive, not negative, perspective.
During the following thirty years of research, I have amassed a number of case studies in this area, and learned of the circumstances of people who eat insects, their enjoyment in collecting insects even if only gathering small amounts, and the importance they place on the subtle differences in taste depending on circumstances. Through this, I have come to understand the significance of experiencing all of the above – the circumstances, the enjoyment in collection, the subtleties of taste – in practice, and I have been converted to the view that a diet that includes insects is a diet that is delicate, rich in diversity, and extensive.
Insect consumption reflects the great cultural diversity found in the way in which traditional ways of using the environment develop from an interaction between human food culture and the local flora and fauna. Thus, there are many research topics related to natural resource use, such as the subsistence strategies and complex of traditional insect eating cultures, methods of resource management, and the influences of locality and globalization.
Insect foods may be a marginal resource, but exploiting them requires people to have a proactive relationship with the insects themselves. This originates in a familiarity with insects due to their close presence. Furthermore, this mutual connection enables people to understand and appreciate the appropriate habitat, development and emotions of insects.
I hope to continue study and learn from people who eat insects about their relationship (love, taste, understanding) with the natural world.