In Leviticus chapter 11, in the Torah portion Shemini, the list of foods which are kosher – fit for a Jew who keeps the Jewish dietary laws to eat – includes locusts, crickets and grasshoppers, all four-legged insects.
Within the Christian Bible, John the Baptist, a Jew, subsisted on locusts during his desert meditations.
A few years ago, Rabbi Harvey Belovski presented a memorable session at Gefiltefest, the Jewish food festival, showing how to identify a kosher locust by a marking on its underside that resembles the Hebrew letter chet. The locust , he explained, was a part of the diet of Jews in countries where locusts are common, such as Yemen.
In recent years there has been much public concern about environmental damage caused by our reliance on meat protein from mammals producing beef and lamb, as well as overfishing, making our reliance on fish protein equally unsustainable for an expanding world population. As a result, the Reform youth movement, RSY-Netzer, caters vegetarian on its camps and vegan where possible.
One possible solution to humanity’s long-term protein needs is for more of us to eat insects (like crunchy locusts).
Today, one third of the world’s population include insects regularly in their diet. Insects use far less of the earth’s resources to breed than mammals or birds do, contain up to 70 percent protein plus amino acids and high levels of minerals good for human health, such as iron.
As the world tries to cope with a population expected to rise to nine billion by 2050 it may be that including locusts and similar in our diet will be part of the solution to keeping us all fed and healthy.
Like fish, they don’t need kosher slaughter and they can be eaten with cheese sauce – or even covered in chocolate!
- Rabbi Mark Goldsmith serves Alyth Synagogue