When it comes to edible insects and the consumption of foods that are based on processed insects, an exciting question arises: Would vegetarians eat insects?
Insects are consumed by almost 80% of the non-western countries. They are seen as a healthy, sustainable and nutritious protein. When thinking about edible insects, most people might think of the insect as a whole at first. Today, however, there are numerous products in which insects are processed without perceiving them apparently, like pasta, cereal/protein bars, chips/crisps, so called ‘Bug Burgers’, hummus-style dips and many other foods. The thing that makes these insects foods so unique and compelling is the fact that, in contrast to cows, insects require about 1000 times less water and 100 times less food, grow quickly, and yet are rich in proteins and nutrition.
There are several reasons why a person becomes a vegetarian. Some decide not to eat meat for sustainability reasons and the environmental welfare of the planet. Some believe that eating meat is unhealthy or that the taste of meat is disgusting. Others resign from the consumption of meet for ethical reasons, and yet others find the thought of eating a cute chicken or a cow repulsive. Are all these reasons also valid for the consumption of insects? Who could answer this question better than the vegetarian population?
A total of 227 people participated in the study which was a short online questionnaire based on the subject of edible insects. The aim of the survey was to guage vegetarian opinion on entomophagy. During a period of six weeks participants were able to voluntarily complete the questionnaire. The only criteria to be included in the study was being vegetarian, regardless of origin, age, gender or occupation. 44 people had to be excluded from the final dataset because they did not meet the inclusion criteria (being vegetarian). A dataset of 183 people was left for data analysis.
Most participants of the study were female. The majority of them, both female and male, were between the age 18-29. Only a small minority of the participants were younger than 18 and the same applies to the age groups above 29.
From the total amount of 183 participants the majority of both, female (115) and male (30), had never eaten insects. That left a minority of 37 individuals that had tried eating insects. In response to the question of whether the participants had ever eaten insects, the 145 individuals that answered ‘no’ were asked if they would consider eating insects in the future. The results show that again, the majority of both, female and male individuals would not consider eating insects. However, 33female and 12male participants can imagine trying insects at some point. In summary, it can be said that 88 of the 183 (48.09%) participants in the study have already eaten insects or would try them in the future.
Finally, the questionnaire tried to capture the reasons why participants decided not to eat meat and for what reasons they would consider eating insects and insect-based products. Most vegetarians decide not to eat meat because they do not like the idea of eating an animal, closely followed by being a vegetarian for sustainability reasons and not eating meat out of ethical reasons. Much further behind are health-related reasons and the taste of meat. When it comes to the question for what reasons people would consider insects or insect-based products the majority answered that they would consider it due to benefits to sustainability and the environmental welfare of the planet, closely followed by the high protein of insects, the curiosity to try them and for their nutritious values. Fewer participants would try insects for the taste or other imaginable reasons.
Discussion and conclusion
It can be concluded that around 50% of the vegetarians are still skeptical when it comes to eating insects. However, the question arises if that is due to the fact that they are vegetarians or if there still is a general aversion against edible insects in the population which influences this view. At bugsolutely, we tend to believe that once the distant, almost negative attitude towards the consumption of insects in the western world changes, we might get a different outcome on a questionnaire like the one we did today.
As summarized in the results most participants were female. That might lead to the conclusion that there are either more female vegetarians, that more female vegetarians have been reached by the survey, or that male vegetarians are less interested in the participation of an online survey. It has been scientifically proven that men are more likely to eat insects than women and one can therefore say that the result in this study is slightly distorted by the high proportion of women. However, the outcome of the questionnaire shows that on average more men have already tried insects and are also more likely to try them in the future. For future research it might therefore be interesting to have the same number of male and female participants to discover similarities and differences in their perception of the question if vegetarians would eat insects in more detail.
Also, it has been discovered that most participants are between the age of 18-29. The study shows that fewer people of higher ages seem to be vegetarian. This reflects a change that has become apparent in the population in recent years. Statistics show that more and more people are choosing to live the vegetarian way and that this trend is especially affecting the younger generations. Based on that it can be stated that the question of whether vegetarians would and should eat insects will become more and more important in the future. However, the most essential and important question, in my opinion, is WHY so many people choose to live vegetarian and whether these reasons can be reconciled with eating insects.
The questionnaire revealed that the great majority of the participants became vegetarian for three main reasons: They simply don’t want to eat animals, for ethical reasons and for sustainability reasons. But can their meaning be as easily transferred to insects? Let’s take a closer look at these aspects. Many people do not want to eat animals because they either have a picture of the cute animal in their heads, or because they are aware of the cruel circumstances under which the animals are bred and kept. Everyone knows the terrible pictures of chicken, pigs, etc. that are crammed together in a confined space and must endure terrible suffering. No wonder that so many people decide to give up eating meat at this sight. But what about insects? Obviously, if someone says that he does not eat any animal, no matter what breed it is, insects clearly belong among them. However, as far as their breeding and livestock farming is concerned, it behaves a little differently than for the known farm animals. Insects grow quickly, require little space and scientists are still debating whether insects can perceive pain, the way farm animals do. Theories suggest that insects lack the neurological connections needed to experience suffering of any kind. That brings me straight to the next aspect. Besides the little space that insects require, the fact that insects need 1000 times less water and 100 times less food than cows, for example, while producing significantly less waste makes insects highly sustainable. A vegetarian who, for reasons of sustainability, has decided not to eat meat can therefore think about consuming insects without having a bad conscience. Finally, all the aforementioned insect rearing features are also in favour of those vegetarians who do not eat meat for ethnical reasons. In addition to the environmental friendliness and sustainability of insect breeding, they hold enormous amounts of proteins that can ensure the supply of the world’s population. Besides that, with hundreds of millions of hungry people worldwide it might seem wasteful to grow crops to feed animals raised for meat instead of growing food for people. The low consumption of food that insects require, can contribute to this problem in great measure.
In the end, it can be stated that the reluctance to eat insects is a common problem in the population. As soon as the idea spreads in the minds of the people that insects are a serious source of food, which has nothing to do with disgust, also vegetarians can consume insects without remorse. It must be emphasized once again that the result of this study, namely that almost 50% of the vegetarians are not averse to consuming, or at least tasting insects, is a great success and an indicator that insects could, in future, become part of the vegetarian diet. So, when it comes to the question whether insects make their way onto the plates of vegetarians, the answer certainly is yes.