L’Australie : des racines et des larves – LCM #4


G’day mate Today, we are visiting the australian bush and we’re not here to f*** spiders So don’t forget to pack a warm sweater little bit of sunscreen some mosquito repellent and most importantly: some vegemite Now, the australians they like to mess around with tourists For example, telling them that vegemite is actually edible For the love of crikey DON’T eat the vegemite! It is drop bear repellant! Drop bears are nasty little koalas who will drop on your face to eat your brains so to avoid drop bear attacks just dab some vegemite behind your ears and she’ll be fine Last but not least don’t forget to set your camera to southern hemisphere mode There you go, much better, eh? Australia is the first western country on our itinerary “Western”? Australia is not west at all Nah yeah but you know what I mean It’s in the Global North Also false Australia is in the southern hemisphere so you have to hold the map upside down and now it works. Here, two populations live together Aborigines and non-aborigines Aboriginal australians arrived in Australia 60 000 years ago which makes their cultures the oldest in the world And the non-aboriginal australians arrived 2 or 3 centuries ago and their culture is basically fighting venomous crocodiles surfing on kangaroos and messing around with tourists The sandwich is an older invention than the australian State And on the non-indigenous side of Australia like in the rest of the West people are starting to get interested in edible insects Especially at Rebel Food, in Tasmania Perfect! Let’s go to Tasmania to learn more about insect farming! Soooo yeah nah about that the plane tickets are a bit expensive and we spent everything on miniature sewing machines It works great Perfect! Let’s go to the hotel for a skype interview! To be fair, on the non-aboriginal side of the Force insects are, so to speak absent from the australian cuisine An indigenous history? Interesting! So how does this new australian insect cuisine relate to aboriginal gastronomy? This new australian insect gatronomy is developping independently from a much older cuisine that’s been using insects for several millenias The aborigines have been eating insects for 15 000 years longer before the arrival of europeans in Europe So we sold our sewing machine and we took the plane to the Northern Territory to meet the Aboriginal australians and learn more about insects in their cuisine Here, in the Northern Territory, it’s winter but the weather’s still quite nice It’s actually so hot that if you broke an egg on the sidewalk it would instantly stay raw Then again, it’s like 25°C here which is still good for winter! So it’s under the blue winter sky of central Australia that we drove to Ali Curung a small aboriginal community north of Alice Springs where members of the Warlpiri Warumungu Kaytetye and Alyawarra communities live together 4 of the 300 aboriginal peoples And it’s Zeza and Martha, both Warlpiri that we’re following today in the australian bush to try and dig out some bugs What you need to know about local edible insects is that they’re part of bush tucker which is basically everything edible you can find in the australian bush Berries, roots, seeds… Bush onions, bush tomatoes, bush coconuts… Bush tucker also includes medicinal herbs used to treat diabetes or skin problems for example and kangaroo or emu meat (even if those are more hunted than gathered in the bush) They have weird ducks around here The variety of seeds found in the bush can even be turned into flour to make bush bread They’re called damper Bush tucker can be classified in 4 categories Plants, sweet foods grubs, and meat And what have we here?? This definitely counts as insects! Bush tucker varies from one region to another so included edible insects are basically the edible insects available in your region For instance, in the south-east you can find bogong moths and in Ali Curung, in the middle of the desert honey ants and witchetty grubs are on the menu Fun fact: locusts and termites are plentiful and delicious but also barely eaten at all Too bad. Anyway Ants collect honeydew from mealybugs on mulga trees and stock them in other ants which will spend their lives on the ceiling to feed their comrades by trophallaxis Thanks, wikipedia Thanks, Bernard Werber Then again, trophallaxis is great for ants but a bit of a hassle for humans so you need to dig them out from under the mulga trees And then you can eat them raw or you can add them to bush flour to sweeten the damper Here too, ants are a seasoning and are classified with the sweet foods Then again, they don’t have the witchetty grubs’ consistency But I digress Let’s get back to our grub hunt with Zeza and Martha Witchetty grubs are the caterpillars of several wood-eating moth sub-species and they’re located in the roots of the witchetty bush another type of acacia So to get the grubs, you have to dig and to know where to dig there’s a whole technique Indeed, when the larvae turn into butterflies they leave their chrysalid’s moult behind and yellow sawdust marking which trees could contain grubs And then you just need to dig out the roots And bingo! We did find roots. Yep, that’s a root. and the holes indicate that grubs were around here some time ago With luck, he’ll have brothers and sisters or children still in the tree We’ll see We’re on the right track Bush tucker varies greatly with climate and seasons You can find ants and grubs all year long but they’re easier found after a good rain We were very happy about the aussie weather two days ago but now, not so much Martha may have found something Ah, at last! after hours of searching we may be about to find our first grub Or not Acacias everywhere, insects nowhere Ah, now eventually you do plan to have bugs in your bug documentary, right? Hello? Anyway The grub harvest was tough but we found some eventually! Nope. What? Not. A single. One. Well then, this episode’s over See you in a month for our episode about Mexico! Well We did come to Australia to understand how local edible insects work Well, we’ve got our answer They’re really hard to find That’s how bush tucker works, actually You make work with whatever food you find in the bush and the availability of these foods varies greatly which makes the harvest super random It’s like a regular random harvest but with a cape Fortunatelly, we have several strings to our bow It’s probably not that convenient to shoot arrows but we still hit the road to Mudgee in order to meet Sharon Winsor managing director of IndigiEarth an aboriginal catering company IndigiEarth sources bush tucker at aboriginal communities around Australia and sells it here and there So, what’s on the menu? Vimatins are all good But aren’t there also some proteins to add to the shake? THERE AT LAST. The famous witchetty grubs! A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush Yeah because we’re in Australia so the bird is in the bush and we’re upside down okay, fine. ANYWAY. Time for lunch! So, how does one cook witchetty grubs? And if you don’t have a barbecue at hand a pan and a bit of oil will do fine So, as this larva has lots of carbs and proteins will there be a Maillard reaction? Thank you, Maillard. Thanks for reacting. The witchetty grub’s taste is quite different from the fried insects that we had up until now It’s a bit different from the sago worms we ate A bit, yes They’re not dry at all inside It’s a bit like egg white? Yes, indeed, it’s like egg white Those ones have a lot more taste than the palm weevils I think They have a very simple flavour But it’s very… Long It’s not strong, it’s just very lingering It has the flavour of the earth It reminds me of the vast landscapes of Australia These australian insects taste like Australia It’s incredible! This taste of bush tucker made us try out lots of foods that are very different from what can be found in Europe To us Australia is a continent of inexplored flavours Huh. You can grow the bush tucker? Indeed, there are several initiatives aiming at trying to grow the bush plants rather than wild-harvesting them the bush tomatoes in particular Okay for the plants But can you farm the insects? We saw it ourselves The insect harvests can be very unpredictible and random Managing to launch honey ant and witchetty grub farms would be a great way of getting to harvest them all the time And also the thing with the protection of wild insect populations But today, contrary to Thailand There are no commercial attempts at farming these edible insects Which does not mean that it is impossible! We did see farming of similar insects in Thailand with the self-managed weaver ants and the palm weevils who, much like witchetty grubs, also eat wood Setting up these rearing systems is potentially not impossible as long as the insects are not farmed on too high densities which would push them to bite one another However, we will need to get better in witchetty grub taxonomy Today, about 100 species of wood-eating moths are “witchetty grubs” If we want to farm them we’ll probably have to identify which ones have the most convenient life cycles Like, which ones have the shortest life cycles If one of them grows in two months rather than three that’s better Yeah, then again, for witchetty grubs it’s more 2 years life cycles With a life cycle like that farming may be complicated but not impossible To make a gross comparison some farmed fish, like bass also have a several year long life cycle But talking about life cycles we’ll have to learn more about that For now, this is what we know The grubs live in the roots feed on them and turn into chrysalids The adult moths come out and only have a couple of days to mate and lay their eggs on the tree bark The small larvae hatch and are carried away on little silk parachutes And that’s pretty much all we know The rest is a bit of a puzzle We don’t really know where these little bogeys hang glide to and how the transition goes between the bogey state and the bigger larvae in the roots The knowledge is incomplete And if we want to farm these bugs we really need to understand where the baby larvae are at Can you imagine if in your cattle farm you didn’t know where your calves went? Like, after calving, poof, they disappear And two years later poof, charolais cows appear in your barn In terms of traceability, some might complain Also, with their wood-based diet you can’t use witchetty grubs in local agricultural systems that recycle coproducts and food waste like those developed by Rebel Food Which is ok, as that’s not what they try to do anyway But let’s talk about this wood-based diet In Thailand, palm weevils eat well, palm trees And these palm trees are grown so no risk of running short In Australia however witchetty grubs eat well, witchetty bushes and those are *not* grown And that means that, in order to feed the grubs you would have to cut down acacias in the environment Which would be a bit dumb if the goal of the farm is precisely to not wreck the environment So if we want to build a sustainable farming system we also need to build a sustainable acacia harvest system that takes care of not overexploiting the bush’s ressources Especially if the witchetty grubs need two years to develop Because long life cycles means lots of life stages in one farm means big hungry livestock means big witchetty harvest to feed all these munchers In any case, going from gathering to agriculture could be a good development for bush tucker Especially if it comes with jobs for Aboriginal australians The question you could ask, though, is the one about cultural impact of this kind of development Let’s talk about the place of insects in aboriginal cuisine and more generally about bush tucker It’s a rich mix that has been gathered and eaten by several hundred peoples for 60 000 years There you go The italians brag about their granny’s cooking but aboriginal food is litteraly 6 times older than the invention of spaghetti Today, no need to get out in the bush to find food You just need to go to the nearest minimarket And they even have kangaroo tail! But in spite of this bush tucker is still gathered by lots of aboriginal communities in the country It’s not Woolworths who’s gonna stop 60 000 years of tradition Because there’s one thing you really need to understand about this country it’s that Australia is hot and dry especially in the middle These are difficult conditions and what can be gathered varies greatly with geography and climate So, structurally gathering bush tucker for food requires excellent knowledge of fauna and flora and how they evolve during the year The Aboriginal australians often talk about taking care of the land so managing the environment harmoniously to maintain a healty ecosystem and never running out of natural ressources For example, by burning some bush patches on purpose to avoid big bush fires Take care of your land, and your land will take care of you It’s a concept that reminds us of what we learned in the mountains of Japan and the role of the wasp festival Apparently, in hard environments taking care of your ressources is vital to people’s survival Who’d have thought? By the way, we talked about developing a sustainable sourcing in witchetty bushes earlier Aboriginal communities seem very well suited to handle that, if need be All this knowledge is passed down verbally and is part of what central aboriginal australians call Tjukurpa This is the famous dream time that you probably have heard of And it’s a really important notion to understand how aboriginal cultures work and the place of insects in it Basically, dream time corresponds to the time of the creation of the world when supernatural shapeshifting spirits walked the continent And where most of religions just have one creation myth Tjukurpa includes tons of very detailed legends that explains the creation of every bit of the world Just to be clear It’s not just ONE legend like that one random divinity scraped dirt from under their fingernails and poof! A universe with people! We’re talking about a complex system of songs and legends telling how supernatural beings shaped the landscape in its every details From the smallest boulder to the smallest creek It’s super complex and super detailed It’s like a musical military map of Australia These songs form what we call songlines stories with episodes that connect special places in the landscapes sometimes spreading across several hundred kilometers and forming a narrative and musical atlas of Australia And that’s not all These stories also hold very diverse aboriginal knowledge It includes the list of edible plants, cosmogony tribal laws and social rules Aboriginal religion is simultaneously an atlas a survival guide a civil and penal code and a recipe book directly inscripted on the landscape itself To the Aboriginal australians, Australia itself is a giant story book But, as it’s Australia, maybe you have to read this book upside down What? Like manga? No. And the tjukurpa about bush tucker is still passed down to this day It’s passed DOWN UNDER Okay, STOP And the tjukurpa about bush tucker is still passed down to this day Insect gathering or boomerang crafting techniques are still taught Because even if technically, Aboriginal australians no longer need to harvest grubs or hunt kangaroos to eat This knowledge is not just about how to get food but also about spiritual and social topics It’s a very important part of the cultural identity of lots of aboriginal communities Except that today, they hunt emus and kangaroos in 4×4 and they use rifles rather than boomerangs And that’s impressive because rifles don’t come back as easily Okay, but if we start farming and growing bush tucker That’s actually a radical change to this cuisine’s concept The principle of bush tucker is to be the result of an opportunistic and unpredictable harvest eaten almost on the spot We’re talking about standardizing production here and to make it less random But if you can get honey ants in farms will the Aboriginal australians just stop gathering them? And won’t they risk loosing all the stories linked to these insects? Their culture is almost exclusively passed down verbally So if they don’t need to dig out insects in the bush will they just stop passing down this knowledge? Wait, didn’t you say that there’s kangaroo in the supermarkets? Yes, what about it? Well, the aborigines still teach kangaroo hunting Yeah but they replaced the boomerangs with rifles And they still teach how to build and how to use boomerangs. Indeed they do. As we said earlier the stories about harvesting bush tucker are not just about the product itself It’s precisely because of their cultural dimension that they’ll continue to be passed down If the bush tucker is grown rather than gathered it’s probable that the transmission will go on without problems and the impact will be less cultural than economical Yes, the culture is saved! One more victory for gastronomy. Yeah we never said that. Given the important cultural dimension of bush tucker aboriginal perspective is essential IndigiEarth is actually taking part in this sharing of aboriginal culture by the aboriginal communities And maintaining their culture is a big stake for aboriginal communities today Because, I don’t know if you are aware but during the colonial History of Australia they suffered from intensely violent attempts of cultural erasure It’s essential that these kind of opportunities are handled by the aboriginal communities so that they can talk about their cultures themselves benefit directly from these job opportunities and continue to take care of the land This concludes our australian stop If you want to learn how to cook witchetty grubs the cooking video’s link is in the description And we’re going back on the plane to cross the Pacific and go to Mexico Until then, take care we’re leaving you with this slideshow of Australia’s bloodthirsty fauna

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