It isn't everyday that you get to look a legendary innovation guru in the eye and refuse to show your openness to new possibilities. Yet there I was, sitting across the table from Lateral Thinking legend Edward de Bono as he urged me to eat a plate full of chocolate-covered worms. And I wanted nothing to do with them.
I've been thinking about this recently as I was reading Edible, An Adventure into the World of Eating Insects and the Last Great Hope to Save the Planet, a new book about eating bugs by entomophagist Daniella Martin.
As I read the book and was faced by all the evidence Daniella presents about why bugs are one of the best sources of protein available, I wondered: Why is it that we are so resistant to eating bugs? Is it because they're creepy-crawly? Or because we're sure they cannot possibly taste good?
Lets think this through. After all, shrimp definitely can be considered "creepy-crawly" - and they're delicious in so many ways.
And bugs are eaten as delicacies across the world - from Columbians eating toasted leafcutter ants like popcorn at movie theaters to skewers of fried scorpions in Thailand and roasted June bugs in Native American cuisine.
Rather, I think our resistance to eating bugs in Western cuisine is a symptom of the reluctance of humans to trying something new.
This attitude makes a lot of sense if you consider how dangerous it can be to experiment with potential foods. If you're ever starving in the wild, experts recommend following the 14-step Universal Edibiliy Test to determine if something is safe to eat. It's important to remember, however, that this test must be done individually for every part of the plant you want to eat. And don't forget that even if a part of a plant (e.g. the root) is proven to be safe raw, that doesn't mean it will be safe when it's cooked (and vise versa).
Consider the history of two foods widely consumered today. For over 200 years (until nearly the 20th century), tomatos were regarded as dangerous in Europe and North America. As it turns out, most deaths attributed to tomatos were a result of the lead plates they were served upon. However, until that cause of death became known, tomatoes were classified as a type of "deadly nightshade".
Unlike the tomato, the mushroom deserves its deadly reputation. Accidental mushroom poisoning is rumored to have caused the deaths of Buddha, two Roman emporors, the mother of Peter the Great and the inventor of the Fahrenheit temperature scale. Many poisonous mushrooms appear similar to safe ones, and a mushroom's toxicity can even vary due to geographical location. Thus, even the most experienced mushroom gatherers must cultivate a highly-suspicious nature.
For thousands of years, the survival of the human race has depended on being cautious about what we eat. Perhaps that's part of why we are so wary of putting strange new foods - like bugs - in our mouths.
Yet, at the same time, the success of the human race has depended on our ability to incorporate new food sources into our diets - allowing for migration to different climates, the evolution of hunting and agriculture, and everything else that has led to how we live today. Can you imagine how little the human race would have evolved if we only ate a single source of food like the endangered giant panda?
Our ability to adapt - and ultimately to innovate - has depended on us being open to new possibilities. So while our caution for strange new food sources is well-deserved, it's also an obstacle we should overcome.
So who will join me in reading Edible - and being open to trying new possibilities?