We spoke to Gloria Dickie, Winner of the 2017 Food Sustainability Media Award - Published Written Category, about her interest in food sustainability issues and how insects might play a bigger role in the future of our food systems.
Where does your interest in food sustainability come from, and what was your main motivation for entering this Award?
My background is in environmental journalism, looking at all the different issues that affect our environment, and food production is one of those. I do all sorts of stories, for example looking at biodiversity, conservation and systems-oriented stories, and the maggots story was one that I came across and had that 'huh' moment - I thought it was really strange and interesting. It was published two or three weeks before the Food Sustainability Media Award was announced, so when I saw the award pop up and it was looking at topics related to those that I address within the feature, I thought I would submit!
What role do you think journalists can play in addressing the challenges within our food systems?
I think it's up to journalists to translate a lot of the problems that are being discussed perhaps at international, high-level meetings or in scientific journals and make them engaging and relatable for the average person. I think journalists are the middle men and women on these issues. They take things from an abstract concept and make them digestible for people going about their daily lives.
What are the main obstacles you or others might face in reporting on challenges around food sustainability?
I think a large part of that, especially in the current media landscape in North America but probably globally, is a lack of resources. It can be hard initially to get editors to care about things like maggots, things that might seem strange or very small-scale, but that need a lot of time and resources. I think once you are able to find a way to make those things engaging people will consume them, but just getting out of the gate — having enough support for those stories in the beginning — that's the main hurdle.
Can you tell us a little bit about your experience since winning the Award?
I had a few things planned prior to the award, but it's definitely strengthened my interest in doing other food sustainability stories. I had a trip to the Arctic planned and I've actually incorporated a little bit of arctic farming reporting into that, merging my interest in arctic issues with my interest in food issues. When I was up in Svalbard I stopped by the northernmost greenhouse in the world where they're trying to grow crops for the community in Longyearbyen. The man who created that is also actually talking about using maggots to turn their food waste into feed for the quails they farm up there too!
How did you hear about this maggot story – and what led you to pursue it?
I first came across the idea when I was doing my masters degree. We had lecture series once a week with people from the community or scientific researchers. Phil Taylor, who ended up becoming the key character in the piece, came and spoke with us during a lecture one week. He was talking about wanting to create a farm for turning food waste into protein via maggots. I wanted to do the story and I pitched it to a few places who weren't interested, but then once bioGraphic said yes I started going to the farm much more as well as looking into farms around the country and around the world to find out who else was doing this.
The angle of insects for livestock – rather than directly for people to eat – is an interesting one. Do you think this is the way to overcome the squeamishness about putting more insects into food?
Yes, I think it's funny, once you have that layer of separation between people eating insects directly it creates so much more social tolerance towards making use of them. At the time I was writing the story there were quite a few stories in the media looking at initiatives being developed for people to eat bugs, and it just seems like in the Western world there is much more of a hurdle towards that catching on, whereas once the bugs have gone through a pig, a chicken or a fish, I think it creates that level of abstraction where it's then much easier to penetrate the market.
How much do you think we’re going to see insect farming grow in the future and what do you think might be the main obstacles to this?
I think it's pretty exciting looking at the next five years, because a lot of what's been impeding progress in recent years has been government regulations. Federal governments are slowly approving the use of maggots as insect feed which means now producers are able to sell their product to market, so I think we're going to see much quicker adoption in the next three to five years. People are already expanding their facilities quite a bit. There's a lot of investment going in and other people are getting involved and creating their own startups.
What’s next for you and your food sustainability coverage? Do you have any plans to cover any other related issues?
I'm working on some stories on arctic farming and I'm also working on a story looking at breadfruit and how it can be used to feed tropical communities struggling with food security issues. I work on lots of different topics, but food sustainability is definitely something that I’d like to move into over the next few years. I find it so interesting and I think it's also an area where there seems to be a lot of innovation and a lot of hope. As a journalist it’s rewarding to be able to tell stories that have solutions that can and will work.