A new documentary from the Dane Andreas Johnsen, who has previously brought us for Kidd Life (2012), and Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case (2013), Bugs is his latest work that is produced alongside the Nordic Food Lab in Copenhagen and sets out to find out just how effective insects are as an alternative food source.
The Nordic Film Lab is a non-profit organisation that conducts research into the preparation and production of food. From this lab, based in Copenhagen, researchers and chefs Josh Evans and Bean Reade set out to discover new flavours, especially ones derived from insects. Despite the fact that it has been included in many environmental programmes at film festivals, Bugs is not a documentary that proclaims the usual rhetoric that eating insects is our future. Instead, the documentary seems to show that eating insects can come with fantastic flavours. Reade and Evans set out on a culinary adventure to find out just what these insects taste like and how they have been adapted into local cuisines. In this film, his style feels very forced as we watch Evans and Reade approach the bugs in an open but somewhat dramatic way. They emphasise the flavours in such a way that at times it feels like a parody on Masterchef.
But this documentary isn’t just a culinary adventure, it does lay down some very hard facts. There will be over nine billion people on the planet by 2050 and in order to feed them all food production will need to increase by 70%. And while travelling, our presenters realise that eating insects is actually already adapted into certain cultures from Australia, Kenya, Mexico, Italy, the Netherlands and Japan, amongst other countries. Both Reade and Evans are swift to point out that the revulsion against insects is largely a Western prejudice (despite travelling to Western countries where insects are eaten), and they hope to rehabilitate insects as a food source similar to how sushi – raw fish – has transformed from unthinkable to a delicacy. This is an example of how the two presenters can be rather annoying and pretentious at times, travelling to exotic lands and listening to lectures from experts about westerner’s destructive tastes for junk food and then sampling some insects to prove a point.
Bugs isn’t just a Travel Channel-style documentary in which two food connoisseur’s circle the globe sampling food, and the tone becomes increasingly sombre as the documentary progresses. They show how many poor African villagers routinely suffer snow blindness working all night under heavy powered lights harvesting locusts. At an international expo on insects as a food source, Reade and Evans encounter venture capitalists who practically salivate at the thought of a cheaper way to produce food. Both realise that far from saving the world, insects might just be another way to further entrench global capitalisation and the continued economic subjugation of developing countries who depend on bugs as a staple. These are very important points that are brought to the discussion and actually provide a rather fresh perspective for an environmental documentary, but they are not fleshed out to the point of being effective. They are dropped for more culinary adventures and focus on the presenters.
Overall, Bugs sets out to answer one question: are bugs tasty? Perhaps, but it opens up so many other questions about how the eating of insects is going to be implemented on a global scale. Considering the risks and greed associated with this thought, it is a much scarier point that will hopefully be addressed.