Eating Bugs And Other Things: An NYU Alum’s Foray Into Adventurous Eating

On a recent episode of the online documentary series The Perennial Plate, filmmakers Daniel Klein (a Gallatin alum) and Mirra Fine follow David Gracer, an expert on entomophagy–the practice of eating bugs–as he traipses through a lush meadow, net in hand and eyes glued to the ground.

After catching a few grasshoppers and katydids, Gracer returns home and proudly exhibits his basement refrigerator, which is terrifyingly stuffed with insects of all kind, some as big as his hand.

A few minutes later, as East Flatbush Project plays in the background, Klein pops something small into his mouth with a skeptical shrug. The camera zooms in and it is suddenly obvious that he has just eaten a waxworm. 

This episode is just one of nearly a hundred produced by Klein and his girlfriend Mirra Fine, who began filming short episodes focused on adventurous and sustainable eating in 2009. The series has gained a huge following–about 30,000 views per week–and has entered into a never-before-seen realm of food activism and interactive documentary.

“Three years ago, I was thinking of opening a restaurant, but decided against it,” said Klein, a Minnesota native who concentrated in social movements in Latin America and New York while at Gallatin. “I kind of took stock of what I was doing, which was mostly film stuff and cooking. This brought those things together.”

Since then, the duo has done it all: tried moonshine made from North Carolina corn, helped scavenge a trunkfull of perishables from a Trader Joe’s dumpster, hunted invasive giant Canadian geese in Virginia wine country, and (in one of the best episodes) even ate road kill.

Klein, who learned to cook at his mother’s bed-and-breakfast and worked at many top restaurants, is the main figure in most of the episodes. Fine films strikingly vibrant videos that show both the gruesome realities of food production and its mouthwatering results. A central focus of The Perennial Plate is the connection of the food we eat and the environment it comes from.

“The environmental impact of food runs across the general philosophy of the episodes,” Klein said. “Our current system of overconsumption of meat and factory farms is just not a good thing for the environment.”

This season is focused on the pairís cross-country food-exploratory road trip, while the first season was filmed over a year in Minnesota. Klein and Fine seek out people who find local, sustainable, and (most importantly) delicious ways of preparing and eating what they call “Real Food.” Their website is incredibly interactiveónot only do Fine and Klein personally respond to viewer comments, they also offer to hold dinners and events in small towns, and encourage people to volunteer their farms, ideas, and Real Food stories.

“It’s rewarding to get to all these people who donít necessarily have the same perspective as us,” said Klein. “We want to get people to think about food, to get them excited about thinking differently, to challenge the way they operate. Weíre living outside the norm.”

After watching Klein swallow a fried waxworm, raise his eyebrows, and give a quick shudder, it’s clear that The Perennial Plate is definitely outside the norm.

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    3 Comments

  1. says

    This is a nice write-up, but there’s one substantial correction to make: Daniel had eaten a couple caterpillars, not maggots. While both are insect larvae and therefore more-or-less equivalent, there’s a rather large conceptual difference. These caterpillars are called ‘waxworms’ because they feed on beeswax and pollen, and in fact can be serious pests in beekeeping operations [whereas maggots sometimes feed on decomposing matter].

    Sure, “maggots” is a more dramatic term, but after all that’s part of the whole conversation I seek to have with society. Most people willing to try insects find that the idea of eating them is far worse than actually doing so.

  2. Cameron Shahr says

    A lot of these foods mentioned are mainstays of various different cultures’ food. But I guess when a bougie, college-educated, white dude eats them it becomes “newsworthy” and relevant.