By HELENA WU, junior

If I told you that eating bugs is perhaps one of the best ways you can help the planet right now, you’d probably back away slowly and take off without further ado. Even though the statement about bugs is completely true, it’s funny how ideas in the mind – which do not tangibly exist as far as the rest of the world is concerned – heavily influence and control your behavior in this situation. Your gut reaction would be disgust and outrage at my impudence. But if you think deeply about it, this is just an instance where the only barrier preventing people from adopting healthier, more efficient practices is literally the power of cultural stigma and stubborn mental opposition.

But why eat bugs in the first place? Consuming insects on a wide scale would greatly alleviate the global food crisis. I know, here in the United States it is outlandish to think that food production would ever struggle to feed us: after all, grocery stores and fast food joints abound, and all of them have shelves always seemingly restocked to the brim. Yet while the entire planet churns out more than enough food to feed the worldwide population, there are still hundreds of millions of abjectly hungry people. There is also dereliction and neglect in the food system that keeps sufficient aid from reaching those who need it. Back at home, our food bounty inflicts a heavy price on capital, the environment, and the workforce. Raising animals for slaughter is surprisingly intensive on the resources that go into the process: massive amounts of water, feed, and space are needed to produce disproportionately small amounts of meat, and the resulting waste is ungodly, to say the least. There is no way this pattern of cultivating animals for protein can sustain a voracious global population that is only skyrocketing. But if insects were added to the equation, the ratio of input to output would be vastly improved.

The UN and other leading global organizations all made such recommendations after their own rigorous investigations. Insects, obviously, are chock-full of protein. They provide much-needed micronutrients, fiber, and plenty of healthy fats. In fact, those who eat insects hardly ever complain about the taste; several appetizing dishes,  around the world, like fried grasshoppers or roasted termites, feature bugs.

The big problem is that no one wants to eat insects, even though doing so is completely normal (yes, even in the context of the human diet). In fact, several cultures around the world continue to enjoy arthropods and other animal specimen that are unfamiliar to us. Early humans thrived with “creepy crawlies” like crickets, caterpillars, and beetles. Remarkably, the modern stigmas of repulsion are a huge paradigm shift when compared to the circumstances mentioned above. Cultural mores – ideas and customs, as well as the behavior influenced by them – evolve drastically. Popular mindsets about basic habits, like the types of food we eat, affect how we interact with the world and place strong yet unnecessary limits on us.

Is it really worth it accepting preconceived notions that could obstruct the world’s future ability to thrive and live happily? Of course, the example about impending food crises is a dire one, and most of us can barely relate to it (and probably will continue to eschew insects). But it still highlights how open-mindedness offers brilliant solutions that are otherwise not possible. To begin to have an open mind, there needs to be critical thinking. There are more close-to-home habits that have dubious origins, such as divulging test information to your friends who might go on to outscore you, or studying for classes by poring tediously over text and taking mindless notes because that method seems to be the norm. These cases, and many more, can be handled more intelligently, but the common responses are so second-nature that few people bother to challenge them.

Every action has a motive – sometimes well formulated, sometimes nebulous. We should be wary of a crowd mentality that seems to impede other alternatives, which may be better. In any case, try searching your own life for instances where your behavior is influenced by sweeping cultural consensus. Standing out and changing your methods for improvement is healthy – almost as healthy as chowing down on bugs.

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