Differing Opinions Of Veg*ns And Omnivores On Insect-Eating
Despite the potential environmental advantages of replacing mammalian (or avian) protein sources with protein from insects, consumers report low willingness to eat foods containing insects, and it varies highly when considering insects of different species. In the Western world, such aversive attitude is said to be formed due to insects not being seen as a normal food option. Actually, most consumers in the West find the idea of eating insects disgusting and inappropriate for human nutrition.
In this study, a group of Finnish researchers set out to determine how attitudes towards entomophagy vary across vegan, vegetarian, and omnivorous consumers. A previous study in the Netherlands found that a significant portion of vegetarians would, in fact, eat insects for environmental reasons and because they are seen to “lack sentience or capacity to suffer” or simply are not regarded as proper animals. Meanwhile, vegans saw their diet as a part of their overall identity, thus their motives to stick to the diet strictly were typically stronger compared to non-vegan vegetarians.
In other scholarship, consumers who are highly aware of the environmental impact of food production have shown a higher likelihood of accepting insects as food. However, people who are prone to feel disgust are more averse to the idea than others. The researchers here explain that the complex matter of behavioral change usually follows the fulfillment of the following criteria: is the intended behavior change expected to be beneficial?; is there social pressure to change the behavior?; are there no obstacles to adopt the intended behavior?
Among the 567 survey participants, the large majority of the men were omnivores, while among women, although still minor, the proportion of vegetarians and vegans was higher. Of the eldest group, nine out of ten were omnivores and relatively few were vegetarians or vegans. Overall, the share of vegans was 4 – 6% in all age groups, and among those with the highest education, the share of non-vegan vegetarians was as high as 38%. Finally, there were more vegetarians and vegans living in the cities than in rural areas.
The results revealed that vegetarians felt most positively towards eating insects. They agreed the most with the following statements: insect consumption can be a solution to the world’s food problem; the use of insects should be promoted in food production; the use of insects as human food should definitely be approved in Finland; and, I want to be a responsible consumer and to eat insects since I know that eating them is sustainable.
On the other hand, vegans appeared significantly more averse towards entomophagy than other respondents. While omnivores agreed the most with “I will eat almost anything,” with regards to trying out new foods, vegans chose the following statements: if I don’t know what the food contains, I won’t try it; and, I am very selective in what I eat.
Statistically, most vegans (69%) were grouped into “unlikely consumers,” whereas 58% of vegetarians and 56% of omnivores were grouped into “likely consumers.” In particular, vegans regarded themselves as responsible consumers while not eating insects, the complete opposite opinion to that held by the other respondents – regarding themselves as responsible consumers due to eating insects because of their sustainability. In fact, vegans often simply cited being vegans: the act of eating insects was described as immoral and irresponsible, but they also did not consider foods of insect origin sustainable, pointing to other issues such as food waste that could aid solving world hunger.
Animal advocates will do well to acknowledge the factual environmental benefits of replacing mammals, birds or fish with insects. However, rising interest in choosing sustainably sourced food will encourage commercial-scale farming of insects for both human- and non-human animal consumption even further. This, combined with the potentially high willingness to take part in entomophagy among vegetarian and omnivorous populations, may result in unimaginable amounts of insects being reared and killed for food.