Not just a fallback food
Last week I had the pleasure of presenting research as part of a "Humans in Marginal Environments" symposium at the annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists. It is a general concept that edible insects are only consumed in areas where the local environment is not suitable for the production of domesticated livestock. From my experience, this has not seemed true. I have primarily worked in South Africa, where edible insects such as mopane worms and termites are harvested from agricultural fields and pasture lands and sold in the marketplace alongside a wide range of foods that are produced locally. I decided to test whether this pattern held worldwide by comparing prevalence of edible insects in a country to the percentage of arable land (defined as land under temporary crops, temporary meadows for mowing or for pasture, land under market or kitchen gardens, and land temporarily fallow) recorded for that country. Not surprising to me, there was no relationship between the two variables.
Julie Lesnik received her PhD studying the role of termites in the diet of fossil hominins and has since started exploring insects as food more broadly.