Between food delicacies and food taboos: A structural equation model to assess Western students' acceptance of Amazonian insect food
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Interest in commercializing insect-based foods is growing steadily. Nevertheless, most Western consumers still consider insects a food taboo. In this study, we investigated how persuasion strategies based on technology and social communication can intervene to reduce aversion towards the practice of eating a tropical insect from the Ecuadorian Amazon. We used a research design based on ethnoentomological information to place the insect-based food in its cultural context. The study is based on an online survey of 125 students from an international university based in a cross-border region of the Italian Alps. We used a covariance-based structural equation model to test the influence of the 6-item version of the Food Neophobia Scale and of the aforementioned persuasion strategies on stated willingness to consume insects. Results show that food neophobia negatively affects persuasion strategies but that the latter do have a positive influence on stated consumption intention. Additionally, the model shows that the negative effect of Food Neophobia Scale on the willingness to consume insects is fully mediated by persuasion strategies. Our findings are in line with previous studies which indicate that peers' recommendations on the safety and palatability of edible insects, as well as the practice of disguising them in familiar food, increase the stated willingness to consume them. Moreover, the importance of the commercial context where the insects are sold is a driver of entomophagous practices. Finally, our study suggests that the introduction of contextual cultural information about insects as a food source may help to preclude a priori false assumptions regarding entomophagy. This is also one of the aims of Regulation (EU) 2015/2283 on insects as novel food which recently came into force. We discuss the implications of the findings for both scholars and practitioners.
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