May 15, 2016, 7pm
Bugs on the Menu is a very eye-opening documentary about entomophagy, the art of eating insects. While not everyone like the-the idea of snacking on, for example, crickets, other countries around the world are already preparing it in culinary ways. In a grander sense, not every culture has the infrastructure required to raise farm animals like chickens, pigs and cattle (the big three) for feeding a civilization. When compared to the smaller environmental and ecological footprint required to cultivate these smaller creatures, the evidence of which is easier to grow is very clear.
This film began with a discussion of water conservation, and the massive droughts that some parts of the world face. Before I knew it, the discussion about how insects can be made as a new food source was in full force. It also makes a very compelling argument for changing over to a different organism to sustain a growing population, and in what I liked, just where people can go to try these insects is peppered throughout the film. When prepared right, they can add spice to any dish, including rice!
From Vij’s Restaurant in Vancouver, British Columbia to Typhoon in Santa Monica, California, just what kind of innovation that can be found needs further examination. The owners talked about how more people are opening up to trying these alternative tastes, and hopefully, more operations can continue offering insects on a regular basis! During the Victoria, BC premiere of this film, Choux Choux Charcuterie offered a very tasty Punaise Terrine (made with elk, porcini, sage, crickets, mealworms and thyme) on Origin Bakery’s Bug Nut Brown Bread. The pâté on top did more to salivate my senses while the bread only put the hors-d’oeuvre over the top. If I was not told it was made from cricket flour, I would not have known! Perceptions over what is told and not told means everything. I could be eating larvae eggs in place of caviar. Though the latter has a distinct taste, I imagine those people trying it for the first time would not even know! The Clay Pigeon also came on board by offering “hopcorn” seasoning.
The same trick can be done at franchises if they want to. One such place is Wayback Burgers, which was quickly featured in this documentary. There’s a single operation in Bellevue, Washington that offer crickets in their milkshake. Other establishments are more varied and one day, I will have to make my way to New Orleans, Louisiana to sample what Bug-Appétit (part of the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium) offers. For the Pacific Northwest, however, I believe La Carta de Oaxaca in Seattle was mentioned. In New York, the Toloache is famous for their grasshopper tacos, and I’m ready to jump cross-country just to try that alone!
This movie is great at showing how North America is very behind the times when it comes to accepting alternative sustainability options. Other countries like South Africa, Mexico, South Asia (Cambodia especially) are quicker to embrace not because they are a “third world,” but because it was a way of life for many even before English, Danish, French or Spanish explorers arrived in the 18th century. This detail makes for a great contrast to when modern Americans, as a whole, are still not ready. Interestingly, the aborigines of Oceania and the Americas have been dining on them before the coming of Western Civilization. Movements are occurring, but they are happening in small ways. In what this show nicely explores is in how places like Republic, Washington are looking to change. This town is host to The Grasshopper Festival.
This movie-length documentary also reveals how Europe made the first leap into acceptance, with cricket flour more widely available in markets. While FDA administration is definitely required to manage smaller operations entering into the scene, the bigger ones are doing fine. They even talk about the pitfalls of specialising. Big Cricket Farms is one such operation based in Ohio, but others existed for a longer time, like Ontario-based Entomo Farms. They once catered to fisherman needing bait but later expanded to sell to restaurants (and now directly to the public) where their product is milled to dust or served whole. I’m sure not many people would notice what they’re eating is made of insects until told. Boston’s Six Foods produces Chirp Chips made from powdered bugs, and I’d be interested in seeing a taste test in a mall by common folks to say which is better: insect chips, potato or kettle made.
One fun segment to watch is Seattle’s The Bug Chef David George Gordon taking on the challenge of cooking up a culinary delight for The Explorer’s Club. This segment was very engaging to watch and Gordon is a fun personality! He had to figure out how to feed a hungry club and hired a manager to do the math. Eventually, he found his bug, er muse…. The insinuation in this screenplay by director/writer Ian Toews can not go unnoticed. Gordon succeeded in changing minds. If he can do it, so can America accept eating beetles!
In the food that was served ranged from large grasshoppers to tempura spider. Lots of bacon was used in the preparation of the former, and that alone had me licking my lips. I was amazed at how grasshoppers would turn pink like shrimp when stir-fried, so I’m even more curious in sampling a larger species than tiny. In the film, the reactions from the members ranged from disgust to curiosity. I was wondering if Josh Gates (Expedition Unknown) was somewhere in the background since he’s a member. He’s always up to the challenge of trying new foods in his travels, but he was nowhere in sight! Unlike the contrast of African or Asian children who are used to dining on insects, the Americans were just unsure of what was offered.
If only I can go back in time for that event, I’d be wanting to try one of each and going back for seconds! With so much information crammed into an 80-minute film, I just may have to return Sunday for the second viewing to make further notes on what I missed. But that’s assuming I haven’t exhausted myself from spending the afternoon seeking out what the participating restaurants have remaining on Sunday for this bug hunter.
Participating restaurants include:
Big Wheel Burgers (341 Cook Street) producing a critter fritter burger – a veggie burger made of chickpeas, cauliflower and whole roasted crickets (limited supply).
Choux Choux Charcuterie (830 Fort Street) selling a terrine (very similar to a pâté), available as a take-out to put on crackers, bread and the like for parties. They might make this product again come Halloween as a novelty item.
The Clay Pigeon (1002 Blanshard) making orange ricotta cricket pancakes.
Origin Bakery (1525 Pandora) is making a bug nut brown bread that might be available on demand in the future (need to preorder).
OLO Restaurant (509 Fisgard Street) making a caramel cricket crunch sorbet for only Sunday.
Part and Parcel (2656 Quadra Street) has a cricket pasta garnished with meal worms (limited supply) and the chefs there will continue to experiment with cricket flour.