HELSINKI, Finland — Eating a handful of crickets may not seem like the equivalent of devouring a juicy steak, but to vegans, there’s little difference. A new study finds that while many omnivores and vegetarians are open to eating insects as part of their diets, vegans remain strict about what they’d consume and would largely be unwilling to feast on bugs.
Eating insects and insect food products is being more widely touted as a way to reduce the environmental damage of meat production on our ecosystems. Food made from insects has a much lower ecological footprint than meat products, making it more enticing as more people share concerns about climate change. Due to their high nutrition content, insects can be a sustainable supplement or even alternative to more common sources of dietary protein.
In most Western countries, insects are typically shooed rather than chewed; but research shows that the likelihood of people coming to terms with eating them increases with a heightened awareness of the environmental impact of food production.
For this latest study, researchers from the University of Eastern Finland and the University of Helsinki surveyed 567 people on their feelings toward the consumption of insect-based foods. The participants were comprised of omnivores (73%), non-vegan vegetarians (22%), and vegans (5%).
Of the three groups, vegans held the most negative and inflexible attitudes toward insect diets compared to the other two groups. They showed the least willingness to consider eating insects, and were significantly more determined to wholly avoid such foods, even if they were nutritious, affordable, convenient, and safe.
“It was also highlighted in the vegans’ survey responses that eating insects in the West doesn’t solve the world’s shortage of food, especially when edible food goes to waste all the time,” says co-author Anna-Liisa Elorinne, a professor from the University of Eastern Finland, in a statement.
Researchers say vegans’ weak intention, negative attitude, and overall rigidness reveal their separate dietary identity from omnivores and vegetarians.
Both vegetarians and omnivores, according to the survey, were more prone to agreeing that insect consumption is wise and a solution to the world’s nutrition and environmental problems. Yet no matter what, vegans view eating insects as irresponsible and morally wrong.
“This is something we expected: we expected there to be differences between these three groups, and we expected vegans to have the most negative attitude towards eating insects,” says Elorinne. “Vegans see insects as living beings, just like any other animals.”
The study is published in the journal Nutrients.