What was your relationship with insects before you decided to start The Gateway Bug project?
JBK – Mine was minimal. As an Australian living in New York I’m always being asked about bugs back home but the reality is I come from Melbourne, a bustling urban city where insects are considered pests just like they are here and across Europe. Early last year I was production designer on a film called The Other shooting out in California for a few months. Our friend Tyler Isaac lives in Santa Barbara so we caught up with him and he shared his UCSB research with us over a casual brunch. I learned that humans are running out of food, along with fish and chicken being insectivores, most humans eat bugs too, and industrialized agriculture is essentially responsible for the majority of global warming. The potential for insects to mitigate these urgent issues so critical to our survival greatly impressed me.
CMM – I didn’t have much of a relationship with insects prior to creating The Gateway Bug. I would gently usher Ladybugs out the window and remove ants and roaches whenever possible, but I thought of them as pests without much value. The process of creating this film has opened my eyes to the importance of, and various uses for insects.
Tell us a little about the project…
JBK – The Gateway Bug is a documentary feature film on global food security, the environment and the booming American edible insects industry. We’re currently editing over 50 interviews with industry leaders that we shot in one year across a landscape of 15 cities in North America. From celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern to the head of NIFA at the USDA Dr. Sonny Ramaswamy, food chemists to cricket farmers share tips on how we can fix global warming with achievable, everyday food choices. Entomophagy, the technical term for eating insects, is currently practiced by 80% of countries on Earth and offers countless advantages over traditional protein sources like beef, poultry, soy and fish. From Harvard to Wayne State and UCSB we’re documenting the tipping point of this emerging food revolution, addressing its primary challenges in the USA.
Do you think that showing people eating the whole insect could be impressive for potential entomophagy beginners?
JBK – We’ve just returned from the Eating Insects Detroit conference where I learned that when shifting cultural tastes, it’s important for people to become familiar with that issue. The West is the last frontier in terms of eating insects so we’re a long way from nuances in other cultures as to which are the bugs we eat and those we do not, how to prepare them, farm them and so on. Showing the whole insect is just as important as showing this – bugs being farmed, in art, fine dining and food truck settings. Their diversity is a big part of their appeal.
CMM – I think showing the whole insect as a meal, in addition to all of the innovative ways insects are being combined and formed into food, is very important. Showing the whole insect as food creates a deeper connection to the source of nutrition and food. Hamburgers and hotdogs for example, completely remove us from the original food source, the cow or pig. Eating the whole insect is certainly more adventurous to the average consumer, but I believe eating the entire animal in one go is an important step in changing the stigma of bug eating.
Are you both entomophagy enthusiasts?
JBK – Absolutely we’re for anything that helps reduce our imprint on the planet, promotes a sustainable future and reduces pressure across the globe from lowering emissions to improving nutrition, particularly in areas that need it most like food deserts. Crickets for example, use significantly less water (it takes only one gallon of water to raise a pound of crickets versus 2,000 gallons of water for a pound of cow), they can be farmed vertically so require less land, the footprint they have on the land is minimal and they produce 100 times fewer greenhouse emissions than cows. Having just seen a host of amazing entomophagy consumer products from bolognese and pasta to ice cream, protein bars and cocktails the opportunities appear endless. But sustainable protein sources are going to require a real boost in infrastructure if we’re to feed our exploding population in the future. But reducing our meat intake isn’t just good for the planet – last year the World Health Organization issued a report warning red meat is carcinogenic so it makes a lot of sense to me.
CMM – Before we began principal photography of the film, I went online and ordered a bag of whole crickets to see how I could incorporate them into daily food items: instead of two eggs in the morning, I’d eat one egg and a tablespoon or two of whole, roasted crickets. I’m generally an adventurous eater, so I was pretty excited to get my hands on whole insects, and look forward to eating as many more varieties as I can in the future.
Will information and communication have a crucial role in the acceptance-process of edible insects-based foods in western countries?
JBK – No doubt. In this internet age we need to consider media the new educator, it’s partly what inspired us to make this film. We read newspapers, we’re concerned with the environment but I had honestly never really heard of Westerners eating insects until February of 2015. When there’s so much noise out there it’s hard to know who to listen to. We hope by condensing leading expert opinions against a backdrop of how food industries operate, we can deliver the issues in one cohesive story. In the early 80s eating raw fish was considered disgusting, unhygienic and a little bit crazy – sound familiar? How do cultural taboos change? We believe education is key to progress, this empowerment can make significant improvements to global food security, nutrition and climate change one meal at a time because if everybody that sees this film changes just one meal a day – think of the impact that could have!
CMM – We’re very much in this bubble of entomophagy advocacy having just attended the Eating Insects Detroit conference and pursuing this movie over the last year, but the general American public is still largely unaware of bug eating and the sustainable/nutritional benefits associated with it. It is up to us, as documentary filmmakers and everyone else who is sustainably-minded, to open the public’s mind to alternatives and cause them to question the status quo.
Do you think US companies will lead the edible insects global market?
JBK – Well as a filmmaker I’m not really qualified to answer political economic questions, but there are currently a bunch of established American companies that seem to be really thriving in the industry, despite existing cultural taboos. US companies are known for succeeding in big numbers thanks to large domestic markets and given the influx of interest in the field and the internet’s ability to spread awareness, I’ve no doubt they’ll be up in that area yes. The US also has the biggest nutrition problem in the first world. Obesity, diabetes and heart disease are rampant so healthy eating hacks are urgently needed. Crickets have half the fat, one third more protein than beef, fibre and all the essential amino acids – superfoods might just be the beginning but I think it’s a great start.
CMM – The US has an enormous domestic market for new food products in general and we are already seeing some of the most successful entomophagy product brands coming out of the States. Americans generally like to think we are the first and best at everything, but in this case I think there is still a lot to learn from countries and regions that already eat bugs. With the right balance of cultural appreciation and capitalist ingenuity, I think American brands will find great success, but as everyone in the industry says “rising tides rise all boats”, so it’s important to strike that balance of looking to our worldly, culinary past and our dire agricultural future.