According to Jewish dietary law, locusts are a permitted food. The permission is specified in Leviticus 11:20–23:

“All winged swarming things that walk on fours shall be an abomination for you. But these you may eat among all the winged swarming things that walk on fours: all that have, above their feet, jointed legs to leap with on the ground—of these you may eat the following: locusts of every variety; all varieties of bald locust; crickets of every variety; and all varieties of grasshopper. But all other winged swarming things that have four legs shall be an abomination for you.”

Joel does not mention this, but the people he spoke to probably found some compensation during the plague in the collection of these insects for human consumption and animal fodder.

Many people in Africa and the Near East have found locusts a good food source. One translator of the Bible into Kituba and Lingala (the two national languages of Zaire) ran into problems with a literal translation of Joel because in some parts of Africa locusts are considered a blessing, not a plague. The qualifier “destructive locust” had to be inserted in the African translation, and a note added that in ancient Israel a locust invasion was considered a calamity.1

Ronald L. Taylor in his popular book, Butterflies in My Stomach, quotes an African Bushman song, which says:

“Yea, even the wasting locust-swarm,

Which mighty nations dread,

To me no terror brings nor harm;

I make of them my bread.”2

Eating locusts sometimes meant survival in ancient Israel during times of severe plague. Even in recent years, Jews from Yemen and other Near Eastern countries generally regarded locusts as an attractive dish. According to a modern Israeli cookbook.

”Insect control has driven the locust away from Israel, to the eternal regret of the Yemenites, for whom this insect was both a delicacy and a way of life. Now they can only recall how it was, when the swarms came flying in. Spotters would then be sent to the surrounding hilltops, while the rest of the population, men, women and children, went up to the rooftops, looking forward to the excitement of the chase, and for the landing sites of the locust swarms….

“Returning to their homes, their hunting bags and back-packs filled to the brim with the big red or yellow locusts…everybody sat around communal fires to roast the insects.”3

Locusts are nutritious. One analysis found that they consist of 75 percent proteins, 7.5 percent carbohydrates and only 3.4 percent fats (less fat than tuna fish), They also contain tuna fish), They also contain many vitamins and minerals. Smoked or dried, they can be safely stored. In Matthew 3:4 and Mark 1:6, we read that John the Baptist “ate locusts with wild honey.” Although some traditions have euphemistically interpreted locusts here to refer to carob, the sweet fruit of a locustlike tree common in Israel (the fruit is still known as St. John’s bread), there is little reason to doubt the literal meaning of the text: that John actually ate these insects.

How to Cook Locusts

Next time the locusts swarm where you are, get out and harvets a few pounds of plump locusts. Then follow this recipe from the meat section of Yemenite and Sabra Cookery by Naomi and Shimon Tzabar:

“2 Kg locusts (about 4 pounds)

Heat the oven and when very hot, switch it off. Put the locusts in the hot oven and leave for half a day. Remove from oven, spread out to dry in the sun for one day. Before eating, remove head, legs and wings.
Serves 4.”

Bon Appétit!