Movie Review: Bugs

"That's research I guess. What you set out looking for is different from what you end up finding." - Ben Reade, Chef and Star of Bugs

Eating Bugs Can Save the World!

Ben Reade and Josh Evans begin Andreas Johnsen's documentary film, Bugs, with aspirations of using their gastronomic skills, and the influence of Noma-backed Nordic Food Lab they work for, to promote eating insects as a sustainable and delicious alternative to current Western diets.

And their multi-year investigation starts promisingly. As the two traipse around the world from Australia to Uganda, and Mexico to Japan, they indulge - almost orgasmically at times - in delicious traditional insect delicacies. And while a pulsing hot-dog-bun-sized queen termite looks hard to swallow at first, believe me that your saliva glands will be pumping by the end of watching Ben and Josh cook and devour this unusual (for us Westerners) fare. 

"God's sausage" in Ben Read's words, aka a queen termite. Video from the Kibo Group

Or Maybe Eating Bugs Won't Change A Thing?

But as they get closer to home, their enthusiasm is crushed. They visit a large-scale insect food producer in the Netherlands and attend an edible insect convention and discover that the wild, wonderful world of 1,900 species of edible insects is being commercialized with only a couple of mass-produced species that taste "like cardboard".  

The duo confront the reality that, in Ben's words, "While on the one hand there is a lot of attention on eating bugs," which is good for environmental awareness, "on the other they (the bug companies) are not interested in people. They're interested in money."

One large European bug farmer's response to Josh's question about the risk of industrial bug food production benefitting big corporations and not consumers or the environment is, "We are so busy I'm not busy with that type of thought". Another, when talking with Ben about whether or not his product smells like bugs, says "It smells like money". 

This isn't what was supposed to happen. This isn't the biodiverse Shangri-La future of eating insects Ben and Josh had envisioned. And this brings an unexpected sombre twist to the back half of the movie. 

"We did a literal circumnavigation of the world and I got food poisoning once. And that was from a burger in Sydney." - Ben Reade. (Image Source: Nordic Food Lab)

"We did a literal circumnavigation of the world and I got food poisoning once. And that was from a burger in Sydney." - Ben Reade. (Image Source: Nordic Food Lab)

The disillusioned duo's perspective switches completely. "The question", as Ben realizes, "is not how to get people to eat more insects. The question is how we should change the whole (food) system... but that's not going to get anyone any money."

What's the Real Problem?

The bug food movement has gained momentum because the UN's FAO hailed it as a solution to sustainably increase food production 70% to feed the estimated 9 billion people living in the world by 2050.

But what if that's not true?

The World Food Program, another UN organization, says increasing food output isn't the issue. In fact, they say, we already produce enough food to feed 12 billion people. As Josh realizes, "Food production isn't where the problem lies. The problem is power structures. It has to do with the market rather than agriculture."

So the question Bugs ends up raising is bigger than how to shift Western tastes from beef to bugs. The question they propose to focus on instead is how to shift the food industry's focus from profits to people. But on this topic, the movie doesn't offer any possible solutions. 

Maybe, hopefully, they'll make a sequel where they suggest some solutions in as entertaining a fashion as they share the problem in Bugs.

Until that sequel arrives, watch the movie. It will amuse and entertain you and get you thinking differently about eating bugs - and food in general - regardless of your point of view going in.