Ancient Customs offer Future Solutions

Ancient Customs offer Future Solutions

As savvy Western consumers turn to insects as a sustainable source of protein, African cultures that have long adopted this practice are being disrupted by Western diets. Some international organizations are stepping in to preserve these ancient customs for the future. 

Food Customs at Serious Risk

Insect bars and cricket flour have only recently been introduced to the Western world. Part of the argument for doing so has been that two billion of the world’s population already eats insects, engaging in some form of entomophagy on a fairly consistent basis. It’s an entirely human—and increasingly pressing—behavior to practice. The combination of sustainability and high nutrition makes it attractive for Western consumers. This same equation has led peoples elsewhere to honor insects in their myths and cultural traditions. As Severin Tchibozo and Michel Lecoq report in Metaleptea:

In Africa, where malnutrition problems are probably more acute than elsewhere, insects often occupy a prominent place in human nutrition, as in the myths of various ethnic groups. Insects are not only consumed in times of scarcity, but often because of their taste and their established place in the local food culture (van Huis, 2003). They are a highly nutritious food source, rich in protein, iron, and vitamin A.

What’s ironic about the West’s recent embrace of entomophagy is that in some places where it has been a mainstay of the local diet, the practice is threatening to disappear as locals increasingly turn to a Western diet high in processed foods. Tchibozo and Lecoq point warn “there is a significant risk that cultural and ecological knowledge about entomophagy will be lost because in a globalized world newer Western dietary patterns are gradually being adopted.”

Archiving Cultural Food Practices 

To help preserve these local traditions, international projects such as the Francophone LINCAOCNET have stepped in to archive as much as possible, including documented entomophagy. 

The resulting database, Edible Insects of West and Central Africa, is housed within the Royal Museum of Central Africa. The home page contains a clickable map of West and Central Africa, dotted with clickable location points.

Clicking on one of the points pulls up a list of species traditionally eaten in that area, with pictures and detailed information about each insect located in the Details:

insect list

It’s exciting to see projects like this preserve and highlight traditional customs that are in some ways the also the future of food across the globe.


Severin Tchibozo and Michel Lecoq. “Edible Orthoptera from Africa: preservation and promotion of traditional knowledge,” Metaleptea 37(2), May 2017, 24-29.

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