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Two new films are exploring how bugs are used in modern-day cuisine. (Rebecca Wellman)

Meeru Dhalwala pulls a tray of roasted crickets from the oven as a camera zooms in on the toasty mound of browned bellies, papery wings and floss-thin legs.

“Just like nuts, they get crispier when they cool down,” Ms. Dhalwala, executive chef and co-owner of Vancouver’s Vij’s and Rangoli restaurants, tells film director Ian Toews, before roughly grinding the edible bugs and mixing them into dough with chapati flour, jalapeno pepper, cumin, ginger and buttermilk.

Seven reasons to consider crickets

  1. Crickets are far more efficient at converting feed into protein than chickens, pigs and cows.
  2. Crickets can be farmed indoors, year-round and in urban spaces, cutting down on food-transportation distances.
  3. In developing countries where workers collect crickets by hand, crops are saved from the hungry bugs and the crickets become a source of income.
  4. Along with supplementing human diets, crickets also make excellent feed for livestock, further reducing their environmental footprint.
  5. Crickets reproduce at an impressive rate (females can produce 1,200 eggs at a time).
  6. Crickets can happily survive off of grocery store leftovers, keeping “expired” food out of landfills.
  7. When produced on a large scale, cricket protein is much more affordable than animal protein.


Cambodia's Bugs Cafe serves insect protein in all of its dishes.

“For me, the key is to make it taste beautiful,” she later explains, beaming over a grilled cricket paratha spread with tomato chutney, sautéed cabbage and kale. “I’m so proud of this dish, I can’t tell you.”

RELATED: Is it really okay to eat insects for a source of protein?

If the thought of eating insects makes your stomach lurch, brace yourself because Canadians are about to hear a lot more about entomophagy. As revealed in two new documentaries, bugs are the new superfood with nutritious – and delicious – potential to help feed our growing planet. And as a juicy side dish, it is interesting to note that British Columbia appears to be at the forefront of the bug-eating movement.

A child samples the local insects in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Both the B.C.-produced Bugs on the Menu (airing Tuesday night on the Documentary Channel) and the Danish-produced BUGS (starring the B.C.-born food researcher Joshua Evans and screening Wednesday night at the Vancouver International Film Festival) were inspired by a groundbreaking report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization titled Edible Insects: Future Prospects for Food and Feed Security. Published in 2013 and co-authored by Canadian Afton Halloran, who did her bachelor degree in global resource systems at the University of British Columbia, the report engagingly argued that with our human population projected to surpass nine billion by 2050, the time is nigh for Western countries to consider insects (already consumed by two billion people around the world) as an alternative protein source.

“B.C. has always been a leading province in culinary experimentation,” the Victoria-based Mr. Toews says, noting that most of the leading North American bug restaurants and entrepreneurs he discovered through his research are located on the West Coast. It’s no coincidence, he says, that Vancouver was one of the first cities to popularize sushi.

Caramel Cricket Crunch Sorbet. (Rebecca Wellman)

“Thirty years ago, people thought the idea of eating raw fish was horrible and frightening. A similar analogy could be made to eating insects.”

In addition to Ms. Dhalwala, one of the first Canadian chefs to put bugs on a restaurant menu, the B.C. film, produced by Mark Bradley, also features Tiny Farms. Co-founded by another UBC grad, Andrew Brentano, the technology company is using data-driven design to develop more sustainable methods of insect farming and offers free online kits for people who want to grow their own mealworms through a project called Open Bug Farm.

Big Wheel Burger chef Jason Ducklow. (Rebecca Wellman)

Shot on four continents over two years, Bugs on the Menu makes a compelling intellectual case for the normalization of insects as a moral, sustainable protein source. But the traditional talking-head documentary leaves the insect-curious diner wanting more. (Aside from Ms. Dhalwala’s beautiful paratha, some of the film’s crunchy, long-tentacled tarantulas and bacon-wrapped cockroaches aren’t terribly convincing.)

Enter BUGS, a gourmet take produced by Andreas Johnsen. The rollicking tour-de-creepy-crawly follows Ben Read and Joshua Evans, head cook and lead researcher at Copenhagen’s Nordic Food Lab, on an edible romp around the world to discover whether insects can be not just environmentally responsible, but also delicious. (The non-profit organization was established in 2008 by Rene Redzepi, head chef at Noma, the Copenhagen restaurant that is noted for its experimental dishes, in addition to being voted many times as one of the best in the world.)

The Bug Chef prepares grasshopper skewers for The Explorers Club banquet in New York City.

In Australia, the comical pair feast on witchetty grubs cooked in ashes that have a creamy, round flavour profile similar to “confit garlic.” In Uganda, they sear a juicy termite queen and serve it over a slice of mango. “It’s God’s handmade sausage,” Mr. Read enthuses.

But before long, the young adventurers become jaded and weary. They heap scorn on the manufacturers of tasteless insect powders and raise warnings about capitalist conspiracies to industrialize the farming of locusts and sell them at prices out of reach to the poor.

Graphic breakdown of water consumption of crickets versus chicken, pork, and beef.
Graphic breakdown of feed consumption of crickets versus chicken, pork, and beef.

“There’s enough food to feed 12 billion people right now,” Mr. Evans says, backtracking on his initial enthusiasm for bugs as a world-saving protein source. “The problem is greed and not agriculture.”

So, the elite chefs and researchers have already moved on to fight the next battle in the bug crusade. And while their mission may sound noble to the small segment of the global population that can afford to spend upward of $250 on a single meal at Noma, it still may take some time for the rest of the Western world to develop a more basic taste for cricket protein bars and parathas.