Last summer, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation promoted the consumption of insects as low-fat and high-protein snacks that could help ease hunger and protect the environment.
This prompted Viet Nam News last week to ask some of its readers if they would be willing to eat insects. The readers were also encouraged to share experiences, if any, in consuming bugs as food.
Rie Watanabe, Japanese, Ha Noi
I experienced eating insects for the first time when I was invited to dinner at my Vietnamese friend's home five years ago. I wanted to try a purely Vietnamese family meal, so the mother of my friend cooked most of the dishes. One of these was roasted pupae with lemon leaves. It tasted alright, but I have to admit that knowing exactly what food I was eating made the delicacy less attractive.
I love eating food that is well-presented and attractive to look at. So if I am served with good-looking dishes, I tend to enjoy tasting them much more. This also applies to eating insects.
I totally support eating insects as a way to protect the environment and increase one's nutritional intake. Speaking about the nutritional benefits, I do believe people who consume insects find it better for their health.
Let's consider the nutritional value of various types of food. Consumers can get 20.5 mg of protein and only 6.8 mg of fat from 100 grams of cricket. In comparison, they can get 26.1 mg of protein and 11.7 mg of fat from 100 grams of beef, and 19.8 mg of protein and 6.3 mg of fat from 100 grams of Atlantic wild salmon.
They will also find that, compared with beef and Atlantic wild salmon, crickets provide the same or more amounts of calcium, as well as iron, zinc, potassium, and magnesium. Clearly, we can see that insects can be a sustainable and nutritional source of food.
However, one problem in Viet Nam is that farmers are using various chemical pesticides that could make insects dangerous to one's health. I think the health sector should release a list of edible insects so that people can consume them in safety. Another good approach would be to set up farms to raise edible insect species that are safe to eat.
Peter Murphy, Australian
I am an Australian who has travelled all over Viet Nam. I am not of Vietnamese heritage, but I try to sample the local cuisine wherever I go in Viet Nam. I was in Kon Tum in 2006, and there were not many westerners in that part of Viet Nam at that time. While there, I ate fried crickets. In the same circumstances I would do so again. They were quite tasty, but it took a lot to fill me up. I have also eaten spiders in Cambodia.
Robert Fries, American, HCM City
During jungle survival training many years ago, I ate a few grubs. They had a nutty taste, but the idea of eating insects was not appetising then or now.
I married into a large family in HCM City and whenever I'm there, I eat traditional Vietnamese food. But after several years of doing that, I have yet to see or hear of people eating insects. This is true even when my wife and I were staying in a small village in Central Viet Nam.
Perhaps if I knew more about what insects are okay to eat and how to prepare them, I would be more willing to try them. For now, I would have to be really hungry and have no immediate prospects for food to eat insects.
Ryu Ueda, Japanese, Tokyo, Japan
I think the idea of entomophagy or consuming insects is quite exciting, especially when it's for nutritional and environmental protection purposes. Eating insects is eco-friendly, and insects are a sustainable food source. I am personally motivated to learn about edible insects and eager to see if they are good enough for me to make a dietary change.
I have learnt about an insect club in Tokyo which is also offering people fried cicadas, wasp larvae rice and smoked cicada nymphs. I will definitely give it a try here.
Huong Thieu Huyen, Vietnamese
I've had pupae and larvae in my daily meals and enjoyed fish sauce seasoned with ca cuong (belostomatid) essence while eating a traditional Vietnamese cake called rice rolling cakes or banh cuon. However, in the last few years, I have witnessed a boom in the consumption of insects such as ants, grasshoppers and stink bugs in restaurants, as well as beer and wine shops, in Ha Noi.
I used to think people never eat such insects, and I was quite surprised to know that they are quite expensive. Personally, I see it's normal to eat rotted pupae, but I'm scared to see others put grasshoppers into their mouths. I don't think we should eat insects that past generations of people didn't eat. Men usually choose to eat insects while having drinks at gatherings. If it is done to experience something new or strange and not to fill one's stomach, I think it's OK.
I agree with the recent warning from the Ministry of Health about eating insects after cases of insects harming people's health were reported. People are too reckless and curious about eating insects even when they're not sure it's safe. It's better if the Ministry releases a list of edible insects to help people avoid risky and dangerous ones.
Andrew Burden, Canadian, Ha Noi
I have eaten bugs by accident while driving a motor bike. I would eat insects or just about anything if they looked good and had a pleasant texture. I didn't like eating fish in Taiwan with the head on and the eyes looking at me. I feel the same about shrimp. My local friend said he felt the opposite way: no head, no eyes? Won't eat it. In fact, kids would run around the table battling to see who could get the eyes.
It's all about culture and what you grew up with. Certainly, insects are fresh and healthy and not complex organisms. Too much energy and waste is spent and produced just to make one hamburger.
It is no mystery which diets are healthy and which foods contribute to heart disease, diabetes and that sick bloated feeling after a heavy fried meal. With a little advertising and a good presentation, I would be willing to snack on bugs regularly. I think I'll pass on anything called "stink" though.
Trang Phuong, Vietnamese
In the past, the Vietnamese people, especially those living in rural areas, used to include insects such as pupae and grasshoppers in their daily meals.
Over the years, this custom has changed, and people today, especially the youth, are no longer interested in this kind of food. However, it has always been the quiche recipe of many drinkers.
In my opinion, going back to the practice of entomophagy to improve one's health is not bad. Also, it is good to eat insects to protect our environment. I think this idea will become possible if professionals can guarantee the safety of insect consumption. — VNS