ANTH Colloquium - Julie Lesnik (Wayne State University)

Monday, October 21, 2019 - 12:00pm

3260 South Street, Penn Museum Rm 345

Where are all the women and bugs? Rethinking the evolution of the human diet

Early hominins likely utilized insects as part of the dietary shift that helped to support brain size expansion although this food source has rarely been seriously considered in anthropological literature. In order to recreate what this part of the diet looked like, clues can be found in how insects are consumed today by modern foraging societies and by our closest living relatives in the order Primates. For instance, chimpanzees use tools to forage for social insects such as termites and it is the adult female chimpanzees that perform this task the most. Similarly, women in foraging societies tend to collect and consume insects more than men likely due to the fact that they can keep their children with them and out of harm’s way while working. These parallels run throughout the primate order and suggest that this pattern has an ancient past. Today, insects are consumed mostly in tropical regions. And although environment explains the historical lack of insect consumption at the northern latitudes of Europe, it is not sufficient for explaining aversions. With a look at the European colonial history in tropical latitudes, whereby explorers portrayed indigenous people consuming insects as beast-like, it becomes clear that our opinions today are rooted in the propaganda used to justify the enslavement of colonized peoples. Therefore, in order to understand the value and potential of insects as food both a feminist and a decolonized perspective are necessary.