The future of food: ‘Bugs’ at the Wheeler, insect dinner at the Little Nell
If You Go …
What: ‘Bugs’ at the Wheeler Monday Docs series
Where: Wheeler Opera House
When: Monday, March 6, 6 p.m.
How much: $15/movie only; $60/dinner and movie
Tickets: Wheeler Opera House box office; www.aspenshowtix.com
More info: The film will be preceded by a complementary “Bubbles & Bugs” reception at the Wheeler at 5:30 p.m. It will be followed by an insect dinner at Element 47 at the Little Nell, prepared by Little Nell executive chef Matt Zubrod and guest chef Jose Carlos Redon.
‘Bugs’ Dinner Menu
Ants – Chicatanas
(Beef tartare, coffee-poached yolk, arugula)
Grasshoppers in the Garden
(Pepita, winter vegetables, soil)
(Crispy pork belly, cricket mole, collard greens)
Maguey Fried Ice Cream
(Salted caramel, churro, bitter chocolate)
More info: www.wheeleroperahouse.com
By 2050, the world’s population is expected to top 9 billion people, which the United Nations estimates will necessitate increasing food production by about 70 percent from today. One revolutionary (and tasty) protein supply for a growing and hungry world: bugs.
Chef Ben Reade and scientist Josh Evans have circled the globe researching local recipes and insect delicacies, dreaming of feeding the world with sustainable, delicious bugs. Filmmaker Andreas Johnsen — himself a Copenhagen-based restaurateur — followed the pair around the world for three years.
“When they told me about this project, going around the world and doing adventurous fieldwork on edible insects, it just sounded so amazing,” Johnsen said in a recent phone interview.
The result is the revelatory new documentary, “Bugs,” which screens Monday night at the Wheeler Opera House. The film will be followed by an insect-based dinner at Element 47 in The Little Nell, prepared by local chef Matt Zubrod and guest chef Jose Carlos Redon, who has been on tour with the film cooking bugs.
The film includes stops in Australia, Kenya, Mexico, Uganda and Japan, where Reade and Evans dig in the dirt and cook with locals, studying customs and looking for tasty, healthy dishes.
Along the way, they prepare maggot fat, make tabbouleh with migratory locusts, fry noodles in larva fat, bake termite muffins, pull larva from rotting cheese and undertake a giddy honey-eating session amid swarms of African stingless bees.
As they pan fry a queen termite, fresh out of the ground, with locals in Kenya, Reade quips “It’s like God’s handmade sausage!”
What Reade and Evans find in their travels, they bring back to the Nordic Food Lab in Copenhagen, where they test recipes, eat and share their results. The possibilities for how to cook and prepare insects are vast, they find.
“Asking how to cook insects is like asking how to cook mammals,” Reade says in the film.
While “Bugs” is a wildly entertaining culinary adventure, filled with tasting notes on countless creepy and crawling things, it’s not a cheap “Fear Factor” gross-out fest. These guys have their eyes on food diversity and deliciousness.
“Our goal is to make more tasty food available to more people and to learn from these cultures,” Evans says in the film.
They compare eating insects to eating raw fish. A generation ago, the idea of sushi disgusted most westerners. Today it’s a grocery store staple. Edible bugs, they believe, may follow a similar trajectory although laws around the world haven’t caught up yet.
“We do have to warn everyone, before they eat this, that it’s not legally recognized as food,” Reade says before one tasting session.
Ironically, over the years of travel and eating strange bugs, the only brush with illness for the “Bugs” team came when Reade got food poisoning from a hamburger in Sydney, Australia. He points out in the film that the industrialized beef probably had traces of hundreds of cows in it, and was far less healthy than their more adventuresome meals.
“There’s nothing natural about that at all, whereas foraging for insects, this is a very human thing to do,” he says in the film.
Johnsen, the director, noted that most Westerners worry disproportionately about hygiene and food preparation when they travel abroad, while the industrial products in the daily diet of the average American are far more dangerous.
“I think that says a lot about our phobias and what we are afraid of and how silly all of that stuff is,” he said.
While Reade and Evans are looking at insects as a way to feed the world and make sustainable, healthy global food systems, there are more powerful players in the growing field of edible insects. In the third act of the documentary, Reade and Evans grow distraught and somewhat disillusioned after they attend a conference on insect food production. There, they run into corporations and interests that see massive profit potential in insects (one attendee suggests using bugs for Fritos). Yet when Evans gets the opportunity to address a United Nations delegation in Switzerland regarding his research, he faces mostly empty chairs and little interest from world leaders.
He notes that the World Food Program estimates there is enough food in the world right now to feed 12 billion people, although many of the 7 billion people on the planet right now are going hungry.
“Food isn’t the problem,” Evans says, “it’s how food is distributed, the power structures that perpetuate inequality of access to it. It has to do with the market rather than agriculture.”
Johnsen, meanwhile, is less than hopeful that eating more insects will revolutionize the global food system. More than likely, in time, insects will be industrialized in the same way beef and vegetables and fruit have been, he predicted.
“To be honest, I don’t think we have a chance against the huge corporations that are already controlling politicians and all the money around the world,” Johnsen said. “But I think we should still try to do the best we can for eating healthy, knowing what we’re eating, and feeding our children properly.”
He is hopeful that his film — and events like Monday’s dinner in Aspen — will help inspire people to think more about what they eat, how they cook, and where their food comes from. Johnsen — like the subjects of his film — is not on a crusade to make people eat only insects: “It’s more just to open up to other cultures and other techniques of cooking, and maybe be inspired by that — and just to eat healthy stuff that’s in your area.”
Asked what the best insect-based dish he ate in his travels with Reade and Evans, Johnsen was quick to point out that insects are part of a rich tapestry of delicious world cuisine.
“If people have a tradition of eating something, it’s probably because it’s damn tasty and also healthy,” Johnsen said. “So I don’t want to separate it into ‘all the insects were great,’ because all the other stuff we were also eating was great. … Anything that you eat around the world that people value and appreciate is tasty, whether it’s insects or other stuff.”
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