Susana Soares isn’t just making art; she’s making a statement. Her ongoing art project, Insects Au Gratin, asks why, precisely, we don’t eat bugs. Soares is using 3D printers to prove her point, generating lovely, edible structures out of, essentially, dried bug powder.
On its face, it’s probably a bit unsettling to most Western viewers, but it’s an important question nonetheless. Soares teamed up with food bioscientist Kenneth Spears and 3D printing expert Peter Walters for the project, which begins by grinding insects into a sort of bug powder. The substance is then mixed with something a bit more enticing to our own palates — an icing butter, cream cheese or water, plus a gelling agent and flavoring.
We’ll spare you the gory details on how, precisely, the flour is made, but those interested in watching insects get, quite literally, run through the ringer, can check out an informative and jauntily-scored video here.
Once that cocktail is done, it’s ready for the printer. The process is, at its core, not too dissimilar from most consumer-facing 3D printing (though the machine does look a fair bit more bare bones). The substance is spit out through a single nozzle, which moves along an x/y axis. This allows the printer to create different designs as inputted into a nearby computer.
The result is actually pretty beautiful: complex, pottery-like structures that curve and swirl. And that’s the whole point, really. As Soares puts it on her site, “One of the aspects that deters people from eating insects not only has to do with cultural background, but also with the aesthetics of the dishes themselves.”
So, if insect dishes don’t actually look like insects, are we more inclined to eat them? It’s an interesting question for a culture so removed from its food as ours. I’d probably be more inclined to take a bite out of one of the above structures than, say, crunching the head off of a giant cricket.
And, as the artist points out, in spite of all of our cultural hang-ups, bugs are actually pretty good for you — and require far fewer resources to produce. They’re basically natural machines that magically turn vegetation into protein. “100 kg of feed produces 40 kg of crickets,” Soares points out on her site, “but only 10 kg of beef.”
Maybe if the team started printing hamburger patties? Hey, it’s no worse than pink slime.
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