Adjunct Faculty, Research Investigator, Bastyr University, Seattle
Dr. Pantuso reports no financial relationships relevant to this field of study.
- Vegans differ from non-vegan vegetarians and omnivores in their attitudes regarding insect consumption with a low willingness to consume insects.
SYNOPSIS: Insect consumption may be a solution to resource-intensive animal meat production in the future as global dietary protein demands increase. However, attitudes regarding insect consumption are not well understood.
SOURCE: Elorinne AL, Niva M, Vartiainen O, Vaisanen P. Insect consumption attitudes among vegans, non-vegan vegetarians, and omnivores. Nutrients 2019;11:E292. doi:10.3390/nu11020292.
Entomophagy, or insect eating, has been a common practice in particular cultural or regional groups throughout the world.1,2 In China, specific cultural groups have consumed insects for more than 2,000 years for their medicinal and nutritional properties.1 The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization considers edible insects to be of value and a food source.2 Traditionally, the Western world has not embraced the consumption of insects. Currently, entomophagy is experiencing popularity as a potential sustainable alternative source of protein.1-4 Dietary protein is pivotal to human health, and animal-based protein-dense foods are considered to be high-quality protein sources, as they are easily digested and absorbed and contain essential amino acids.3,4 Unfortunately, the production of sufficient amounts of conventional animal-based protein-dense foods to meet global dietary demands may not be feasible, with the global population projected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050.2
Identifying sustainable protein sources that are culturally acceptable to meet dietary protein requirements is an important issue. Previous researchers have demonstrated that various social and cultural factors affect the acceptance of insects as food. For example, not much is known about vegans and non-vegan vegetarians and their attitudes toward insects as food. Along this vein, meat consumption has been shown to be affected by the demographics of the population studied. Meat consumption is higher in men than women, whereas higher education status and higher income are positively related to the adoption of plant-based diets. Elorinne et al hypothesized that vegans, non-vegan vegetarians, and omnivores have different attitudes toward the consumption of foods of insect origin and that vegans show less willingness to eat foods of insect origin than non-vegan vegetarians and omnivores.
The authors recruited participants involved in a large online survey in Finland. The online survey was a structured self-administered questionnaire. The request to respond to the insect consumption survey was delivered using social media and in digital versions of one national and one metropolitan area newspaper. A total of 567 consumers responded to the survey; 379 (67%) identified as women. In addition, 150 (27%) identified as some kind of vegetarian, and 417 (73%) identified as omnivores. The authors merged semi-vegetarians (n = 97), lactovegetarians (n = 25), and lacto-ovo vegetarians (n = 3) and labeled this group as the non-vegan vegetarians.
The survey was comprised of four sections. The first section included background and demographic questions, the second section included the Food Neophobia Scale, and the third and fourth sections focused on attitudes, norms, behavioral control, and intentions. All questions were presented with the answer in the Likert scale format (1 = totally disagree, 7 = totally agree). At the end of the survey, participants were asked to answer an open-ended question on their reasons to eat or not eat foods of insect origin. To identify the underlying relationship between the measured variables, eight constructs were designed to measure the answers to the questions. These constructs were designed based on the internal consistency of the variables and also on the a priori hypotheses of the researchers. The eight constructs were intention, attitude, subjective norm, perceived behavioral control, healthiness, safety, convenience/price, and food neophobia in relation to insect consumption. Researchers analyzed the data using One-Way ANOVA and Chi-square test; a Bonferroni post-hoc test was used to analyze differences between the dietary groups.
More women (32 women) than men (16 men) identified as non-vegan vegetarians and vegans. Respondents who resided in cities had higher levels of non-vegan vegetarianism and veganism than those in rural areas. The vegan group significantly differed from the other groups in their attitude toward insect consumption, as they had a less positive attitude compared to the other groups. This attitude was significant between vegans and omnivores
(P < 0.001), between vegans and non-vegan vegetarians (P < 0.001), and between omnivores and non-vegan vegetarians (P < 0.05). Non-vegan vegetarian attitudes were the most positive regarding insect eating compared to the other groups, but they were not significantly different from the omnivore group.
For the vegan group, social pressure was significantly less of a factor in food choice compared to the non-vegan vegetarians (P < 0.001) and omnivores
(P < 0.001). Vegans also had significantly higher perceived behavioral control, with more agreement with statements measuring behavioral control (i.e., “I can easily control that my diet doesn’t contain insects,” “it is totally up to me whether I buy foods made of insects”) compared to the non-vegan vegetarian (P < 0.001) and omnivore groups (P < 0.001). Vegans also demonstrated more fear of new foods than the other groups, with more agreement with statements (i.e., “if I do not know what the food contains, I won’t try it” and “I am very selective in what I eat”) compared to the omnivores, who had high agreement with “I will eat most anything.” The vegan group significantly differed with the intention of non-vegan vegetarian (P < 0.001) and omnivore groups (P < 0.001) to eat foods of insect origin.
This article is interesting in that it demonstrates an openness among omnivores and non-vegan vegetarians to consume foods of insect origin. Individuals who adhere to a vegan diet may be less likely to consume foods of insect origin. This is not surprising, as many vegans do not consume honey, which is a product of insects, and the fact that insects are animals. Much research needs to be conducted to understand the safety of insect foods, particularly the industrial scale of growing and processing, before they can be brought to market.1 Another safety concern is the potential for insect contamination with a plethora of impurities, such as unsafe insects, elevated levels of heavy metals, toxins, pesticide residues, and pathogens. Best practices for safety testing in insects have not been established.1 Once safety can be established, foods of insect origin have the potential to be a sustainable source of protein for humans.1-4
- Gao Y, Wang D, Xu ML, et al. Toxicological characteristics of edible insects in China: A historical review. Food Chem Toxicol 2018;119:237-251.
- Van Huis A, Van Itterbeeck J, Klunder H, et al. Edible Insects. Future Prospects for Food and Feed Security. Rome, Italy: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; 2013.
- Churchward-Venne TA, Pinckaers PJM, van Loon JJA, van Loon LJC. Consideration of insects as a source of dietary protein for human consumption. Nutr Rev 2017;12:1035-1045.
- Lynch H, Johnston C, Wharton C. Plant-based diets: Considerations for environmental impact, protein quality, and exercise performance. Nutrients 2018;10:E1841. doi: 10.3390/nu10121841.