"Rotten" on Netflix not entirely rotten


I’m watching some excellent close-up footage of activity inside a beehive, a joy for this beekeeper to observe. We see the queen, with her elongated yellow abdomen and learn she lays an amazing 2,000 eggs a day. We watch as worker bees seal honeycomb with wax and tend to their young brood. We even get to see a fuzzy, baby bee as she chews her way out of her cell and begins her life in the hive.

This turns out to be my favorite part of the new six-part Netflix documentary series called, Rotten, which explores some of the problems with our food system. For the rest of the episode, called Lawyers, Guns, and Honey, I spent way too much time watching evidence of international criminal activity stemming from the disconnect between the global supply of honey (not enough), and demand.

While we get that great footage from inside the hive, the program overall doesn’t seem to know where it’s going. Is this a show about the dangers facing bees? The hardships of commercial beekeeping? Or is it supposed to rival a TV magazine whodunnit, as it shifts into a disproportionately long exposé of the so-called Honeygate scandal? (Don’t ask.) It seems the producers of Lawyers, Guns and Honey aren’t exactly sure.

The Bees are disappearing - now what?

I was glad to see some coverage of colony collapse disorder (CCD), which describes the phenomenon of bees disappearing from a colony for no obvious reason. This is a troubling syndrome that recently afflicted one colony in my own small bee yard. No matter how careful beekeepers are, our bees are still vulnerable to forces beyond our control, and Rotten summarizes the causes briefly - a deadly combination of pesticides, commercial migratory beekeeping practices, pesticides, parasites and monoculture. The result is that bees are disappearing at a horrifying 50% per year.

The honey business is booming in an era when people are focused more on healthy, natural foods and an increasing number of producers are using honey as an alternative to sugar. We have a right to know what we are buying and eating, and clearly, it is important to be reminded that we don't always know what we’re getting when we buy mass-produced food.

But how can we trust the market? And what can we do to reduce the number of dying bees? The producers of Rotten don’t appear to have an answer, which makes it frustrating to watch. For me, Rotten left me feeling rotten, without a way to do anything about it.

Alison Evans is a writer and educator who recently completed her Master Beekeeper's Apprenticeship with the Oregon State University Extension.