On the Menu: Fried Cicadas, Hummus, and Guacamole

This post was originally published at Sociology In Focus on July 8, 2013.

Bugs. They’re what’s for dinner? The foods we eat are a product of our culture and as our world becomes more interconnected we have seen the delicacies of one culture spill over into another. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath defines this process as cultural diffusion and explains why she just might serve fried cicadas at her next dinner party.

A feature of culture is that it varies across time and space. Think about it. The clothing that you wear as a young adult probably looks a bit different than what your grandparents wore as a young adult. Food, like clothing, is a cultural artifact and what counts as food varies across time and space. Along with your clothing, the food you eat probably differs from the food people in other cultures eat and perhaps deviates from what your grandparents ate when they were your age. For example, I never ate guacamole until I was an adult and have since introduced it to my 90-something-year-old grandmother.

Today, guacamole is quite commonplace and no longer “exotic.” Hummus, is another example of a once “exocitc” food for Americans, yet is increasingly popular. Hummus originates in the Middle East and its popularity has spread to the United States. The process of cultural products (e.g. foods, clothing, music, etc) gaining popularity in one region and then spreading around the world is known as cultural diffusion. As foods and other cultural products diffuse into a new region they can quickly go from being “exotic” to being “ho-hum”.

Let’s consider eating bugs for dinner. 

Though I like to think of myself as foodie and a semi-adventurous eater, I have only knowingly eaten a bug once. I ate chocolate covered ants (tasted exactly like a Crunch bar) in my sociology of food class (yes, that is a real class and it was awesome!). They were good. This barely counts as eating bugs, as there was maybe one entire ant in the large piece of chocolate. I probably unknowingly ate more bugs with my breakfast cereal.

Bugs are a legitimate and already consumed food source by humans. “The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization recently released a report touting the nutritional and environment benefits of eating our many-legged friends (or pests)” (Hill 2013). Moreover, as cicadas emerged in the Northeast, the blogosphere lit up with posts of recipes for cicadas.

Will American culture change to include bugs as both an acceptable and normative food source? Cicada recipes emerged alongside the emergence of the cicadas. Taken together, sharing cicada recipes and the promotion of bugs as food by the UN, suggests insects as a food sources is not as deviant as Americans tend to think. Bugs are already a common food in many regions of the world.

Regardless, I think I just might serve fried cicadas alongside hummus and guacamole at my next dinner party.

Dig Deeper:

  1. Can you think of any examples of food Americans eat that outsiders might view as deviant? What is it and why did you select it?
  2. Ask an older relative about the food they ate when they were your age. Do they eat the same foods today? Why or why not?
  3. With 2-3 classmates, do research presenting either an argument for or against eating bugs. Be prepared to discuss your argument in class.
  4. Try a new food. What new-to-you food did you try? Why did you select this food item? What was your reaction to the food? Will you incorporate this food into your regular diet? Why or why not? Share your experience with your class.

Reference

Hill, Kyle. 2013. “I Hate to Break it to You, but You Already Eat Bugs.” Scientific American Retrieved June 12, 2013 (http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/overthinking-it/2013/06/05/i-hate-to-break-it-to-you-but-you-already-eat-bugs/).