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Eww world order: How the right-wing became obsessed with eating bugs

Forget Pizzagate, the new conspiracy du jour among conservatives involves an apparently nefarious plot to get us plebs to eat insects. Kevin E G Perry speaks to advocates of consuming micro-livestock about how their environmentally friendly messaging got hijacked by the right

Wednesday 02 November 2022 13:11 GMT
<p>‘People who know virtually nothing about eating insects will make the lowest denominator presumptions’ </p>

‘People who know virtually nothing about eating insects will make the lowest denominator presumptions’

Nicole Kidman tilts her head back, glances towards the camera and lowers a still-wriggling pale blue hornworm into her wide open mouth. Next she chows down on a teeming mound of mealworms, munches on crickets, and finishes off with a hearty plate of fried grasshoppers. This is not a long-lost outtake from I’m a Celebrity… if it were directed by Stanley Kubrick, but a YouTube video published by Vanity Fair in 2018. It’s one of a series of clips featuring stars showing off their “secret talents”. You’ve got Oprah cleaning up dog mess; Michael B Jordan doing his ironing. As for Kidman, daintily snacking on what she calls “micro-livestock” with chopsticks, her talent is a bit more arresting. “Two billion people in the world eat bugs,” she beams. “And I’m one of them!”

Where the casual observer may merely see a foodie actor keen to show off her adventurous palate, various conspiracy-minded corners of the internet have come to the conclusion that something more nefarious is afoot. To them, the two-minute video is nothing less than proof of a global campaign by shadowy elites to convince us that we should be happy subsisting on creepy-crawlies. The rich and powerful, meanwhile, will hoard haute cuisine for themselves. Earlier this year, one YouTube commenter wrote of Kidman: “Her dark witch laugh sent cold chills over me... that’s what the elite want us to eat: bugs [while] they dine on steak and every exquisite meal out there.” Another suggested there were powers greater than merely the editors of Vanity Fair behind the clip. “Well done Nicole!!!” they wrote. “You have secured your position as Bug Ambassador to the WEF!”

The WEF is the World Economic Forum, a popular bogeyman for far-right groups like QAnon, which posits that a “deep state” of wealthy, powerful people dine on babies while pulling the levers that control the world. “Any global institution is easy to paint as part of a conspiracy,” says journalist Nicky Woolf, who spent a year reporting on Q and its followers for the podcast Finding Q. “The World Economic Forum and the World Bank, because of their branding as much as anything, are often portrayed as part of a ‘one world government’.”

It’s not just QAnon types and YouTube commenters convinced that there’s a secret cabal pushing insects onto our plates. In July, Eric Bolling – a TV host on the far-right US news channel Newsmax – used a segment of his show The Balance to speculate that Bill Gates, George Soros and the “liberal world order” are eager to encourage bug-eating while stockpiling more traditional foods for themselves. “I really can’t see George Soros eating a roach burger or Bill Gates eating scorpion tacos or Nancy Pelosi eating grasshopper pie made with real grasshoppers,” pontificated Bolling. “No – that’s just for you and me.”

One man who really is trying to encourage the world to eat more insects is Brooklyn Bugs founder and chef Joseph Yoon. Five years ago, Yoon was inspired to become an edible-insect ambassador after reading the UN publication Edible Insects: Future prospects for food and feed security. Since launching Brooklyn Bugs – an organisation that advocates the appreciation and awareness of edible insects – Yoon often runs up against resistance from those who believe he too must be in on the conspiracy. “There are events that I go to where people will curse at me and get in my face,” he says. “That just raises the question of why these people [are] so triggered; why are they so threatened by new ideas?”

Yoon points out that, in truth, wealthy elites tend to have little interest in radical ideas like incorporating insect protein into our diets. “People who know virtually nothing about eating insects will make the lowest denominator presumptions,” he says. “‘Oh, the rich are going to make us eat bugs, and they’re going to eat all the meat’ – who are the rich they’re talking about? They’re the business-as-usual fossil-fuel people who are part of this broken system. They’re not the ones trying to get you to eat bugs.”

The reality is that there are a multitude of good reasons to eat insect protein, not least the environmental impact. Breeding insects such as crickets and grasshoppers requires less feed, land and water than farming traditional livestock like pigs and cows, and results in the production of much less greenhouse gas. That’s the message Yoon hopes to spread through his work with Brooklyn Bugs, which this weekend will take him to Egypt to share his expertise at Cop27, the UN’s climate summit. “The idea of eating insects immediately sparks one’s curiosity,” he says. “That enables us to talk about things that are incredibly meaningful to us in the areas of food security, food justice, sustainability and environmentalism.”

Nicole Kidman eats mealworms and hornworms on Vanity Fair

Today, there are two huge farms producing crickets in North America, and their products have already been sold to British supermarkets. In 2018, Sainsbury’s began stocking Eat Grub’s Smokey BBQ Crunchy Roasted Crickets for £1.50 per bag, while last month the founders of London-based insect-recipe business Yum Bug were among the contestants on the Channel 4 reality show Aldi’s Next Big Thing. Last month also saw cricket-filled truffles make an appearance on The Great British Bake Off. “Eighty per cent of the world’s nations already eat insects,” Yoon points out. “We should be learning about this as an ancient food that we’ve been eating since the beginning of time, not relegating it to something only eaten by poor people after the apocalypse.”

While conspiracy theorists may shout that they won’t give up their T-bone steaks until they’re pried out of their cold, dead hands, Yoon makes a convincing argument. What insect-eating advocates are really trying to do is give diners more options, not fewer. “We’re not trying to take anything away,” he says. “Really, we’re trying to add to your diet a nutrient-dense, sustainable protein that tastes delicious. You can add cricket powder to your smoothie for breakfast, or you could mix it in with tempura. The only limit with edible insects is your imagination.”

Rest assured, then. Nicole Kidman isn’t coming for your beef burger. She just knows good grub.

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