This beautiful documentary is a celebration of the many cultures that prize edible insects, while simultaneously questioning the popular assumption that insects will solve our food security woes.
The world is buzzing about edible insects. Entomophagy is portrayed as a magic bullet for global food security, a solution that could provide protein and other nutrients on the scale required by a growing population. Insects require fewer resources, have excellent feed-to-food conversion ratios, raise minimal questions about welfare and ethics, and are incredibly nutritious. What’s not to love about eating insects?
Three adventurous young men from the Nordic Food Lab in Copenhagen, Denmark, explore this question and the mysterious world of bug-eating in a new documentary titled “BUGS.” Chefs Ben Reade and Roberto Flore and researcher Josh Evans, accompanied by filmmaker Andreas Johnsen, spend three years traveling the world in search of edible insects, learning from the two billion people worldwide who already eat bugs on a regular basis.
They try stingless African honey ants, squeezing the sweet ambrosia directly into their mouths; they catch and cook a revered queen termite, serving her on lettuce with mango; they dig out prized ant larvae in Mexico, sautéed and served in a tortilla; they roast three-inch grubs in the Australian Outback; and they catch venomous giant hornets in Japan, cooked in a tasty soy sauce. They witness the hunting of Ugandan ‘nsenene’, large grasshoppers of sorts, using enormous floodlights at night that causes widespread blindness in hunters. They feast on the famous Casu Marzu cheese of Sardinia that writhes with maggots.
As Ben Reade explains:
“There are many cultures around the world where insects are not just eaten, but where they are a delicacy, where they have a very rich body of knowledge associated with them – how they work in the kitchen, how they relate it to other spheres of life. Our goal is [learning] how to make more tasty food available to more people, and how to learn from these cultures.”
The filming is incredible, with up-close views of the nests, mounds, and roots where these insects live and are captured. The locals are eager to share their knowledge with curious foreigners and to show why these insects are considered such special delicacies. Reade and Evans are enthusiastic, devoid of squeamishness, willing to try anything. They attempt to describe the insects’ tastes and textures, but mostly they convey deep satisfaction. They make the food look utterly delicious.
One might expect such a film to be a staunch advocate for global adoption of entomophagy, but instead, as the film progressed, it became clear that Reade, Evans, and Flore are uncomfortable with the popular message that bugs will solve food security woes. They worry about corporate takeover of the insect world, where food companies like Cargill and Nestlé will swoop in and start producing bugs cheaply on an industrial scale. Reade explains why this is problematic:
“The thing is that all of this debate is happening within the paradigm of the current food system which is…recognized as something that’s destroying the planet. So, actually, the questions of whether and how insects should be involved to make it more sustainable is the wrong question; and the question should actually be, how can we change the whole system? But that’s not going to get anyone money, so that’s not going to get any press.”
Josh Evans says that arguments in favor of eating insects are based on a ‘misinterpretation of data’:
“We shouldn’t try to replace the current demand for meat with mass produced insects just because they might be more efficient at converting feed into protein. That’s not enough to guarantee that it’s sustainable.”
What they learn over the course of their travels is that the secret to sustainable food lies in diversity. By eating insects – and doing it in way that does not mask them as something they’re not (i.e. Reade can’t stand processed cricket bars) – local populations are able to ensure access to nutritious real food in a way that’s truly sustainable.
The problem with food security, therefore, does not lie in production, but rather in how food is distributed relative to the concentration of population, and what kind of power structures perpetuate unequal access to food. In other words, the problem is with the market, not agriculture.
Anyone who loves travel and food will enjoy the film, as the scenery is splendid and the meals look really wonderful. There’s less of an ick-factor than you might expect from such a topic. I, for one, will be delving today into the bag of fried chrysalises that came in the mail last week. Up until now I’ve been eyeing them but hadn’t worked up the courage to eat them. The film was an effective catalyst.
BUGS is currently showing at film festivals and at select venues. Visit the website to find out where you can view it.