Are insects a true “paleo” food? – Part 2
Today, it’s the second part of my series of posts about insects and the paleo diet. Program of the day :
- Were insects often eaten during the paleo period?
- Were they eaten by choice or necessity ?
- We will finish by “were insects only source of proteins?”
Before starting : If you haven’t read yet the first part, it’s here : “Are insects a true paleo food – part 1″.
Okay, now everybody is ready, we’re going back to visit our early paleo ancestors !
Are insects a true paleo food? – Summary
The paleo diet has become very popular for a few years. It is based on the idea that we should only eat what the first humans ate. This period was before agriculture raised, when our paleo ancestors were hunters and gatherers and ate primary vegetables, meats, grains and seeds. During this time, just as today, there were also of lot of insects…
Despite the little information available on the subject, it’s now clear that the first humans ate insects.
Were insects often eaten during the paleo period?
Daniella Martin dedicated an entire chapter called “The real paleo food” in her book on this subject. She tried to give us some clues about the importance of insects in the diet of the paleo period.
And the answer is : WE DON’T KNOW!, we have surely underestimated the importance and the quantity of insects eaten during the paleo period.
For trying to have a more defined idea, let’s enter in the cave of a real paleo couple and listen to a conversation between Stony Hunter and his wife Buggy Gatherer.
- ” Today, I’m gonna hang out and hunt some big mammals with my friends. It’s gonna be a great adventure, we will bring food a for a month and everybody will talk about this for years! See you soon”
- “Well, here we go again… Last time, he almost broke his leg when he was running behind this big beast and more over there are about 20% of chance that they come back with a prey… As usual, if we want some nutritious and delicious food for the dinner, I better grab a lot of grubs while I will be gathering some fruits and plants. Yesterday, I saw a termite mound not far from here, it will surely be there today. And as Stony Jr will be born soon, I would better eat some termites right on the spot for more energy!”
What does that means?
- The hunting of big preys was an activity mostly done by men. This should be viewed as a rewarding activity regarding the danger, the size of the preys and the team work involved, but there must also be a lot of fails…
- Insects were abundant and at least as nutritious, easy to catch, not very dangerous and their occurence can be predictable. They should have been mostly gathered by women during fruit and plants picking.
So even if the capture of big preys were surely more rewarding, insects were very often served around the fire during the paleo period.
As anthropologist Marvin Harris wrote :
“A big kill would have people talking about it around the fire for a year even while they ate insects and whatever else their womenfolk brought in from that day’s foraging”
But that this means that insects were only a food of scarcity?
Insects : a paleo food of choice or scarcity?
There are many reasons to believe that insects were also appreciated.
First, in the first part of this paleo posts, I talked about paintings on cavern walls depicting grasshoppers and a honey collection. The act of painting shows a kind of respect and appreciation for these animals. (Yeah, painting your comfort food on walls during the paleo period was the Paleo version of Pinterest or Instagram!)
Secondly, if we compare to all the rituals and totemisation involving edible insects in the last tribe of hunters and gatherers, it’s even a total disrespect thinking that insects are only a neglected food… For example, there are some rituals in Papua New-Guinea involving the palm worm and in Australia there is a totem for the Witchetty grub. Just as the 2 Billion people eating insects around the world today, our ancestors may eat them not only by necessity but also by choice and taste.
Maybe if the big preys were more valued, it was simply because eating a big mammoth was a rare and special event. (like the paleo big Thanksgiving turkey cooked by your uncle).
On their side, insects could be considered as a daily food gathered by women, the usual cooker (Your daily lovely food cooked by your mom during your whole life!).
This is a personal idea, related to a current French study which depicted “the normalisation” and the “kind a lack of gratitude” for the daily cooker and the daily food.
So our early paleo ancestors should have a real taste for insects and a respect for this food . After all, that’s normal : they are full of proteins!
Eating insects : The Paleo protein?
For so, insects should have been primary used as a source of proteins during this period… Well, not only…
As human, primate and even terrestrial mammal, we are genetically programmed for craving sugars. Sugar taste means that the food is safe (at least, originally!) and it’s a ready-to-use energy source. As sugar is the only taste we are naturally craving for, it is possible that the first insects sought were the sweet ones like the honey pot ants and the bee larvae and its honey. If we think more deeply about it, this was the first source of pure concentrated sugar…
The big felids are the only terrestrial mammals who are not attracted by the taste of sugar. Except for a tiger in a French zoo who loves grenadine syrup.
Unlike proteins (sorry umami and glutamic acid), the ingestion of fat is also very palatable, so maybe that the fatty grubs rich in essential fatty acids were the second sought. On their case, insects rich in proteins could be the last adopted.
As their nutritional values are very different, the species considered as food depend not only on their availability and taste but also on the other types of food available in the environment.
Thanks to the great scientist Dr. Benno Meyer-Rochow who provided me more information about this topic, I’m now able to give you an example :
- In the Australian desert, the Bushmen could hunt easily some small game like lizards for having some lean proteins but obtaining a substantial amount of fats and sugars is more difficult. That’s why the sweet honey pot ant and the fatty witchetty grub are regularly eaten whereas the grasshopper, available and rich in proteins, has never been really consider as food.
Moreover, all the micronutrients available in insects , such as iron and calcium, should have been play an important for the growth and health of women and children.
If we go back earlier, the first primates ate primary fruits with all the bugs on them and the first mammal was a true insectivorous.
I thought I didn’t miss anything and then I read some scientific papers from Dr. Victor Benno Meyer-Rochow… Insects could also have been used as medicaments since the early times… (Boom, a whole new window opened for me!) Cool, a new idea for an article!
In this part we have seen that :
- Insects were eaten a lot in the paleo period.
- This food was and is liked and respected.
- Due to the variety they are a total-super food which have a place of choice in every paleo diet
Regarding all these qualities, why aren’t we eating insects in the Western and why should we go back to bugs?Great questions, that’s the topic for the next and last part!
Take care and see you soon!
Anne Dupuy (2013) Plaisirs alimentaires – Socialisation des enfants et des adolescents
Daniella Martin (2014) – Edible: An Adventure into the World of Eating Insects and the Last Great Hope to Save the Planet
FAO (2013) – Edible insects : Future prospects for food and feed security (*)
F.S Bodenheimer (1951) – Insects as Human food
Julieta Ramos-Elorduy (2009) – Anthropo-entomophagy : Cultures, evolution and sustainaibility.
Joost Van Itterbeeck, Arnold Van Huis (2012) – Environmental manipulation for edible insect procurement: a historical perspective
Mila Tommaseo-Ponzetta (2005) – Insects : Food for human evolution
V.B Meyer-Rochow (2005) – Traditional food insects and spiders in several ethnic groups of North-east India, Papua New Guina, Australia, and New-Zealand.
V.B Meyer-Rochow (2008) – More feared than revered: Insects and their impact on Human Societies (with some specific data on the importance of entomophagy in a Laotian setting).
V.B Meyer-Rochow (2010) – Entomophagy and its impact on world cultures: the need for a multidisciplinary approach