The Agency of Insects: The Ethics of Eating Crickets

It is easy to empathize with the plight of animals in the modern food industry, but as insect-based foods gain traction are we creating an even greater ethical dilemma?

This morning on the radio I heard an interview with an Iowa woman who started her own independent business producing edible crickets and cricket-based foods. At one point the discussion turned towards ethics and the response of vegetarians/vegans, which was brushed aside in favor of the sort of terrible puns and one liners morning radio shows have plagued our airwaves with since the beginning of mics. Even though I am not a vegan or vegetarian, I understood right away the troublesome ethical implications.

Part of this argument may already be familiar, as it has long been used to counter some vegan claims. If we work from historical farming models in which crops are grown outdoors in soil and animals are left to graze in relatively wild habitats, then we are faced with an issue. While you might be able to feed as many or more people from vegetation on the same amount of land required for a single animal to graze upon, when you develop the relatively wild grazing pastures towards that purpose you inevitably kill countless living things and destroy numerous habitats.

So if one cow dies to feed humans, or hundreds of rodents, reptiles, amphibians, and probably millions of insects and other tiny organisms do, which is the more ethical outcome? Are cows more important because they are bigger and more attractive than mice and worms? Where and how do we draw the line?

I think that the logic most often used to resolve this issue is based on a neurocentric worldview, that is, that experiences arise merely as a result of brain activity. Those who argue the primacy of the cow will suggest that a larger, more evolutionary advanced brain means cows have more mental activity than crickets. Since smaller beings have less developed neural mass, their senses are too limited to object to our trespass against them, goes that logic.

The fact is that the question of mind is an entirely unresolved issue, and neurocentrism must be taken on faith, since…