The idea of sustainable food is particularly vogue right now and to many, the more than 1900 edible insects seems like an ideal solution to the problem. The truth of course is far more complex. Bugs is a film about food and sustainability, but it’s also a film about the cost of holding onto ideals.
Scientists have known for a long time that edible insects are not only good for you, and non-western civilizations have known for even longer. And while the notion that insects may be the future of food is growing in popularity, most people in western cultures still cringe at the idea of eating bugs. Enter the Nordic Food Lab, where researcher Josh Evans and chef Ben Reade have set out to circumnavigate the globe to investigate the politics and flavors of this food source. Along the way they find diverse and rich cultures, each with their own unique relationship to these insects, and confront the idea of a world where insects are farmed not just by local villages, but also by Nestle and Pepsi-Cola.
Perhaps what’s most compelling about Director Andreas Johnson’s documentary is what is chooses not to be. This isn’t a film about how eating insects is going to save the world. The film’s primary subjects Ben and Josh are suspicious of such claims and have reservations about the idea of industrialized food entering the insect food game. In this respect, Bugs becomes a conversation about whether or not the corporate food industry is sustainable at all. Do you incorporate insects into a failing system to try to save it, or do you rebuild the system from scratch? Are we even capable of dismantling the status quo of food?
In this aspect, the film is as much about idealism as it is about food. Can you stick to ideals without becoming excluded from the conversation? Josh and Ben’s globe trotting journey is as much one of a disenfranchisement as it is one of discovery. Every new stop creates a new wrinkle that challenges our assumptions about sustainable food models. Ben discovers that industrially grown insects don’t taste as good as organically farmed ones, questioning the value of these industrialized models. On the flipside, they visit a village that is plagued by blindness because of the bright lights they use to catch insects at night. Bugs takes on some big topics, and forces us to ask big questions that stretch far beyond – ‘would I eat this?’
Verdict 4 out of 5
Bugs is one of most compelling documentaries about food in the past few years. It’s part travel diary, part culinary exploration, part political conversation starter. Andreas Johnson and editor Menno Borema balance big issues with intimate moments, exposing the scope of the conversation. Food is something that affects everyone, and we should respect our agriculture systems accordingly. Edible insects may not be the silver bullets to sustainability people want them to be, but they’re likely to be a vital part of the conversation. Bugs is an excellent entry point into what is a complicated issue. It also features quite a lot of people eating quite a lot of insects, which is fun too.