From Cringe to Crave… My Ignite Night Presentation 10/8 at The High Noon

September 30, 2014

I’ve been selected as  a speaker at Ignite Madison at the High Noon Saloon on Wednesday, Oct. 8th, 8-10pm (ignitemadison.org​). Ignite events are held nationwide and are like short Ted Talks, but in a bar. There are 10 speakers, limited to 5 minutes and 20 slides. Each night has a theme. The theme of the Oct. 8 event is Attainable Sustainable: Acting Today for a Better Tomorrow, which features “people who are passionate about reusing, repurposing and making the most of our natural, social and economic resources — be it through business practices, food choices, making (or remaking) things, home dwelling decisions and much more.”

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My talk—“From Cringe to Crave: How I Got Over My Disgust for Eating Insects”—came out of a group project for my Evening MBA marketing class. Edible insects are a highly sustainable, nutritious and easily-produced food source that could become increasingly relied upon as the global population grows. Even though most of the world incorporates bugs in its diet, this does not happen in United States. But taste is a culture construct and a construct can change. (See the history of lobster.) Our MBA project showed how changing this construct is a marketing problem and a compelling business opportunity.

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I was encouraged by this class project and am now developing a business plan around edible insects. But in order to create a business around convincing others to eat insects, I first needed to overcome my own aversion to bug-eating (i.e., entomophagy). I am going to use my Ignite presentation to talk through how I went from instinctually cringing at the prospect of eating a cricket, to craving its nutty crunch. The presentation will feature images of the bug foods I’ve eaten, the bug-cooking I’ve attempted, and the bug-food events I’ve hosted.

This is a philanthropic event. Tickets are $9 in advance and $14 at the door with all proceeds going to Sustain Dane. Sustain Dane is a 501(c)3 non-profit that connects world trends to local needs and interests to create innovative new projects. Come on out, support a cool event, learn some new things, and connect with a diverse community of sustainability champions.

Some Things I Learned at the Eating Innovation Conference

September 4, 2014

Last week, I went up to Montreal to attend the conference, “Eating Innovation: The Art, Culture, Science and Business of Entomophagy,” put together by Alimentary Initiatives‘ Future Food Salon Group, founded by Dr. Aruna Handa Antonella.

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Dr. Aruna Handa Antonella (Photo credit: Jan Keck)

It was an entire conference devoted to edible insects.

I’ve been thinking, reading, and writing a lot about edible insects, especially the business opportunity in the US.

So yeah, for me going to this conference was a little like the end of that Blind Melon video…

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To encounter so many people who have very deep backgrounds in entomophagy–which for the most part is a pretty obscure and cringe-inducing practice in the West–was pretty cool.

Even though we all came from a variety of orientations (entomology, engineering, cultural studies, consumer products), we instantly bonded over our uniquely-shared appreciation for and understanding of entomophagy.

It seemed we were all so used to explaining to others why we should be eating bugs, it took us a day to realize that we didn’t need to this reflexive explaining at the conference. It was an unnecessary, but still comforting, preaching to the converted.

Sometimes, you just want an “Amen.” There were amens all around.

The conference was held in the Montreal Space for Life, which included a huge Botanical Garden, Insectarium, and Biodôme

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Montréal Space for Life

It was a fitting and pristine setting. The Montréal Space for Life–having held their own entomophagy programs (cocktail hours, fundraising events)–were great hosts.

There were a cool booths at the conference, including…

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 Big Cricket Farms (Youngstown, Ohio), who launched their organic-grade mail-order crickets.

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Chilipines (Mexico City) had their Oaxacan-inspired cricket salsas and hot sauces.

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Third Millennium Farming debuted their snazzy cricket farms for home-growers.

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At the animanature booth (an entomophagy education program in Quebec), I was encouraged to hold a scorpion.

The program (which is good reading in of itself) describes the event’s ambitions as the following:

Eating Innovation offers those of us working in this emerging sector, and those of us interested in its development, the opportunity to come together to strategize about how best to fill research gaps, to lay the foundations, both strong and agile, and to establish standards with a view to building a food sector that is at once emerging and yet ancient, regional and yet global: a business opportunity fueled by imagination, hard work and innovation.

It definitely brought us together. But the challenges are pretty daunting as far as building an entire food sector.

I learned a ton. I and a few others tweeted out many compelling quotes and insights, which can be found on Twitter @ericbescak or with #ei2014, between August 26-28. I’ll elaborate on a few of those insights.

  • Globally entomophagy is decline. Despite the increasing interest entomophagy is getting in the West, it continues to be seen as a form of primitivism in developing countries. The educated class in those countries tend to dismiss entomophagy as a backwater practice, despite the substantial nutritional and environmental benefits the practice has for those countries most in need. As result, entomophagy is in global decline.  Colbert Report guest and the biggest entomophagy celebrity at the conference–David Gracer (founder for SmallStock Food Strategies)–commented on this trend: “That which can help the most is that which we hate the most.”

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David Gracer (Photo credit: Jan Keck)

  • A lot to consider when building an industrial insect farm. Dr. Robert Kok–a professor in Bioresource Engineering at McGill University–began his engineering research in industrial-scale insect farming as a solution for food and nutrient recycling in long-term space travel. He has developed schematics and processes around industrial-scale insect farming and overviewed 8 interrelated and complex challenges to building an industrial-scale insect farming sector. He’s often called into consult to countries like China and Thailand–where large-scale insect farming is already big (and hush-hush) business. For industrial-scale insect husbandry, there will be factors to consider that usually don’t occur in traditional husbandry. “Your crop will escape,” he assured us. “Have a plan.” He described a comical/nightmarish scenario where a mass of cellulose-starved termites his students were growing, invaded (and ate) a nearby library. To get industrial scale insect farming underway, there will be some awkward events like this to prepare for. And you also have to think about the type of feed. Dennis Oonincx of Wageningen University in the Netherlands (which is ground zero for entomophogy research) reviewed his new research on how feed significantly influences bug nutritional content in unexpected ways. Depending on whether we want many or not as many but high-protein bugs, will influence what you feed them. For the few ento-entrepreurs in the crowd (like me), Dr. Kok had this to say, “I hope you have a lot of stamina. Some of you will make it.” It was a sobering note in an otherwise overly supportive environment.

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Dr. Robert Kok (Photo credit: Jan Keck)

  • Overcoming food neophobias (before they start). Several presentations were devoted to the challenge I’m most interested in: how to encourage enough Americans to consume insects to make a edible insect business sustainable. Dr. Marianne Shockley of the University of Georgia introduced me to the term “food neophobia”  to describe the resistance to new foods. (I’m looking forward to trotting out “don’t be such a food neophobic” the next time I try to serve superworm tempura to resistant guests.) Dr. John Wood–professor of Biology & Environmental Studies at The King’s University, Edmonton–spoke to the important appeals we need to make to the imagination of eaters, as well as the importance of using edible insects to express hospitality (and not to elicit shock). He also noted how Oceanspray was able to create an entire market for cranberries–which is now big business in Wisconsin. But where cranberries are just another fruit in an established market, edible insects is an entirely new food category already mired by negative associations. To lower those barriers, insects scan be incorporated in the social role that food plays. Furthermore, the positive associations that insects do have (in children’s literature, for example) can be mobilized to help promote a nurturing image. Dr. Don Sudbrink at Austin Paey State in Tennessee advised simply, “Get them while they’re young.”

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Dr. John Wood (Photo credit: Jan Keck)

There was a creative component to the gathering, with artwork and installations supporting a creative atmosphere. The Marjan Verstappen and Han Zhang’s Chrysalis was the centerpiece, suggesting how this gathering might be a gestation for new ideas, from which we’ll burst forth as entomophagy-spreading butterflies…or something like that.

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We’ll become beautiful butterflies… 

And finally, there was definitely a food component as well. We had crickets and mealworms in a variety of ways…in salsas, salads, empanadas, rice, pesto. They were offered throughout the conference, at a cocktail hour, and as part of a 9-course solar-system-themed dinner.  Here’s me compromised in an food pic, again courtesy of the ever-present Jan Keck.

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My mouth, hands (Photo credit: Jan Keck) 

Many more of Jan’s awesome pics of the food, people, and events at the Eating Innovation conference can be seen on the Alimentary Initiatives gallery.

I was in the news over the weekend…

September 2, 2014

Over the weekend, The Capital Times published an article from a long, rambling conversation I had with food/culture reporter Lindsay Christians

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Cap Times also put together a pretty cool image gallery for the few items I brought in. Lindsay was game to try the cookies, Cricket Canape, and Cricket Leather (the last 2 from Daniella Martin’s Edible). The Superworm Tempura (from David George Gordon’s great Eat-A-Bug Coookbook) although pretty awesome-tasting when freshly fried, had become a tepid room temperature. She understandably resisted the urge to try those.

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Photo credit: Mike DeVries

Apart from wishing I still had my beard for the picture, I think it turned out pretty well. Although I’m not too comfortable with the title “entomophagist.”

Also, when she asked, “You said earlier that there are “so many good reasons” to eat bugs. Can you explain some?”

I responded, “Definitely environmental and nutritional reasons,” and then I go down a rabbit hole of feed conversion rates and agriculture stats to elaborate on the environmental benefits.

The “nutritional reasons” I spoke to in my overlong response were not included in the article. Although I’ve written about some of these benefits in previous posts (“Sustainable Paleo” and “No Mad Mealworm Disease“), I’ll add here the awesome table published in the UN Insect Food and Feed Report comparing the protein content of the most common edible insects and reptiles to that of cattle (as well as lobster, shrimp, and prawns).

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Pound for pound, crickets, termites, silkworms, cicadas, and grasshoppers have equivalent offerings for protein to the red meat gold standard.

The UN report also has numbers on amino acid profiles, which also compare nicely.

Bonus: Where insects have comparable amounts of protein and amino acid offerings, the have comparably less–and even minimal–saturated fat. You can check out chapter 6 for all the details…http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3253e/i3253e00.htm

But, whateves. I do go on. I’m surprised how comprehensible the interview did come out, given how prone I am to digression. Admittedly, I was a little out of it from the bug party I hosted the night before.

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Post-interview, mid-hangover selfie 

Some mentions were included for a lot of the folks and groups who have helped me so far in just the very early thinking and planning for a edible insect business, including…

Unfortunately, some important folks who have helped this along weren’t mentioned…and that may be their preference when it comes to a bug-eating article. Nonetheless, I’ll mention them here because they’re awesome.

  • Cheri Schweitzer, top-notch Madison restaurant consultant of Credible Consulting, food safety expert, and instructor for WWBIC’s very worthwhile “Business Planning for Your Food Business” whose Facebook post about trying some cricket cookies got the media attention that prompted the interview.
  • The Evening MBA Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and in particular, the class of 2015, who have all been surprisingly game with the idea of a US entomophagy business and have provided thoughtful input and only occasional jokes.

And to my good friends and “very supportive” girlfriend who have bravely tried my few insect food experiments. Hopefully, they’ll get better. I’ll soon have a few pounds of homegrown mealworm to deal with.

Seriously, I need a brave, open-minded chef/food expert. Anyone know any?

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My attempt at chocolate-covered crix were kind of a mess…

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but the superworm tempura were awesomepants.

Why Eat Bugs #8: Great For Gatherings!

August 22, 2014

I hosted my first “bug night” to test whether edible bugs are a good addition to a social gathering.

I invited over a small group of four friends who were game, and one very supportive girlfriend.

To prepare, I visited PetSmart again. In addition to the wax moth larvae I’ve already successfully experimented with privately, I grabbed a few boxes of live crickets and superworms.

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It’s oddly pleasant to travel with cricket song inside your car.

I also bought a lot of alcohol.

I was getting pretty excited putting together the menu and working with all these new ingredients. In my enthusiasm, I sent out a pic to my guests in advance of the event.

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I do not advise this.

Guest reactions ranged from backtracking to reluctant acceptance. For example…

  • “So is eating bugs mandatory tonight? I may just stick to the wine.”
  • “Jesus… I’m gonna have to be all kinds of messed up to eat that, like Tyrone Biggums on Fear factor kind of messed up.”
  • “I’m still in….I’m sure I’ve eaten worse in my life.”
  • “Still in as well [crybaby emoticon]”

Nonetheless, they all showed up.

In addition to items that unintentionally had bugs in them (guacamole, salsa, chips), the menu also included:

  • Cricket Leather: From Daniella Martin’s Edible, a fruit roll-up type of thing made of apple, cranberry, honey, and cricket flour (roasted and ground crickets).

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  • Cricket Canape: Also from Daniella Martin’s Edible, an aesthetically-compelling hors d’oeuvre of a lightly-fried fresh fig, goat cheese ball, and topped with a more-fried cricket.

 

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  • Wax Moth Larvae Tacos: Again, inspired by the Don Bugito food cart in San FranciscoI’m getting pretty good with this one.

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  • Crickets on a Log: My own quasi-literal interpretation of the childhood treat with celery, peanut butter and chocolate -covered crickets.

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As guests arrived, some felt they were taking a big step by joining the party. Here’s one literally taking that step, with a six-pack in hand…

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There was giddy excitement as everyone gathered around the table filled with bugged treats…or I could have been projecting my own giddy excitement. Nonetheless,  the table setting did attract attention. Many pics taken and posted.

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And all items were enjoyed, for the most part. The cricket leather and wax moth larvae tacos were hits.

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Although I thought it would be a harder sell,  the superworm tempura also went over well. All were eaten. However, a guest remarked that one puffed-up worm exploded in his mouth, surprising him and making it hard for him continue to chew. For future reference, give your guests warning of potential juicy bursts.

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I thought the canapes were the most aesthetically awesome. But with the in-your-face cricket garnish, they were the least indulged in. As the night wore on–even after several drinks–everything was eaten but for 2 lonely figs.

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“You’re lucky I like goat cheese so much.”

Edible insect do indeed make for a nice addition to a gathering. Although, you do need to gently prepare your guests and be careful how you manage the evening. And alcohol helps. Nonetheless, great conversations were had, fun pics were taken. Have a bug night, too!

Why Eat Bugs #7: Easy to Cook (But Awkward To Get)

August 18, 2014

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I cooked my first batch of bugs.

Not lobsters. Although New Englanders playfully refer to lobsters as “bugs.”

I cooked terrestrial arthropods, not the more culinary-acceptable aquatic arthropod.

I decided to start my insect-cooking journey with the wax moth tacos popularized by the Don Bugito food cart in San Francisco and featured in Daniella Martin’s awesome entomophagy treatise, Edible: An Adventure into the World of Eating Insects and the Last Great Hope to Save the Planet.

First, I had to figure out where to get the bugs to eat.

I figured it would be the same place you would get bugs to feed a pet lizard.

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It’s weird to think of a grocery run to Petsmart. I’ve never had a lizard—or anything—to buy bugs for. I decided to call ahead.

I called PetSmart on the west side and was connected with live reptile department. I asked, “Do you have waxworms?”

The Petsmart guy says, “Let me see.” He puts me on hold. 3 minutes pass. I’m weirdly giddy. He returns, “Yes”

I ask, “Are they alive?”

He says, “Yes.”

I ask, “Are they wax moth larvae?”

Hey says, “I don’t know. It just says ‘waxworms.’ What do you want them for?”

“Um… for an iguana,” I lie.

“Iguanas don’t eat waxworms. They should only be eating apples. You should not be feeding your iguana waxworms.”

At this point, I should hang up. But I can’t help defending my treatment of this non-existent iguana. I dig in deeper, “Oh, I don’t know what kind of lizard it is yet. It’s a gift.”

He responds with preachy helpfulness, “Well, you shouldn’t start with an iguana for a beginner. Iguanas or chameleons, no way. There are many other lizards that are much better to start out with. I have 18 years experience handling lizards. I can set you up properly. Why don’t you come in. I’m here till 8“

“Okay,” I lie. And hang up.

I realize I’m going to have to go in. To avoid Overzealous Lizard Man, I go to the Petsmart on the other side of town.

It’s an easy enough transaction. I am careful not to ask questions.

David George Gordon’s Eat-A-Bug Cookbook suggests freezing the waxworms over night to humanely kill them and any bacteria. I freeze them for 3 days just to be sure. Plus, I’m not eager to do this.  Despite all the reasons I’ve accumulated as a pre-emptive self-persuasion to eat bugs, I’m still beholden to my culturally-constructed food avoidance. Plus,  it seems a little different to actually have to cook them.

Nonetheless, here’s my journey…

STEP 1: Poured a strong drink.

photo 2STEP 2: Opened up the waxworm container, took a deep breath, and a big gulp from the strong drink.

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STEP 3: Cleaned up the bugs from the wood shavings.

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STEPS 4-6: Fried up onions, peppers in olive oil. Added the waxworms. Fried the shit out of them. In the hot oil, the waxworms stretched out and became orzo-like, and then crinkle-cut-french-fry-like.

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STEP 7: Drained bugs. Took a deep breath, and another big sip from the strong drink.

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STEP 8: Made it look pretty on a tortilla. I added guacamole, queso fresco, tomato, fried waxwoms.

photo 5STEP 9: Enjoyed.

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They tasted like a fried crunchy meat with a soft nuttiness. Completely pleasant. I had 3 of these. It was very easy to cook. Like frying up some tilapia or shrimp for tacos.

Now, I’m feeling a little more ambitious. May invite some friends over next. But this could be the strong drink talking.

Why Eat Bugs #6: No Mad Mealworm Disease

August 13, 2014

Do you ever think about the young dance instructor who is now paralyzed after eating an E. coli-tainted hamburger?

I do. Habitually. I think about her every time I am about to handle any raw beef, chicken, or pork. I feel like I’m playing a russian roulette (albeit a lower risk version) by just touching some hamburger that could devastate my life. images (2) The UN Insect Food and Feed Report notes how the extreme conditions of industrial livestock production and processing (the crowding, filth, cannibalism) has led to a rise in antimicrobial resistance and the spread of horrendous zoonotic diseases (a disease is an infection/infestation shared by humans and animals): mad cow disease, swine flu, bird flu, foot and mouth disease, SARS.

And then I think about when an outbreak is discovered, how it leads to the extermination entire herds of at-risk animals.

The scope of waste is breathtaking.

It’s also another great reason to add bugs to the grocery list.

Although the UN report notes how “insects for food and feed have not been sufficiently tested to determine the risk that they will transmit diseases to humans,” it also adds “because insects are taxonomically much more distant from humans than conventional livestock, the risk of zoonotic infections is expected to be low.”

In their dissimilarity, what effects them most likely will not affect us.

However, bugs are often associated with disease. And there is good reason for that. Some insects can serve as biological taxis (like mosquitoes, ticks, flies) for blood-bourne diseases like malaria, chagas disease, lyme disease.

But we’re not eating mosquitoes, ticks, flies. At least, I’m not. But some people do. (I might.) termite-mushroom-22023577 Recently, I asked a local miller about the possibility using his facility to produce cricket flour. In his polite dismissal of my inquiry, he led with food safety and bacteria concerns.

Although I backed off, I wanted to say that he’s already grinding bugs. Which he knows.  And the government allows it. From the FDA’s Defect Levels Handbook, it permits 75 insect fragments per 50 grams of flour. The government is well aware of the safety of eating insects and already approves of set (and significant) amounts of insects in commercially-available foods. For example, it permits…

  • 60 aphids in 3 ounces of broccoli (less than half a serving)
  • 10 or more fly eggs per 100 grams of tomato juice (a small juice glass?
  • over 20 or more maggots of any size per 100 grams of drained mushrooms (a cup of drained mushrooms is about 150 grams)

BONUS: Both Danielle Martin’s awesome Edible and David George Gordon’s great Eat-A-Bug Cookbook explain why ketchup bottles have that second paper label around the neck of the bottle. “Before modern homogenization equipment was used to process foods, the darker-colored bug parts would float to the top of the ketchup bottle, leaving an unappetizing black ring”(Martin). So the second label was originally intended to “cover up the carcasses” (Gordon). download

This is all to say, we’re already eating bugs in a major way. And those bugs are not what’s in our food that makes us sick.

Also in Gordon’s cookbook, he notes how bugs are like chicken or pork. They do have to be thoroughly cooked to eliminate bacteria. Any mass-produced edible insects would have to follow the same health and sanitation regulation that all traditional food and feed items currently do. Edible insect startups would be well-advised to go above and beyond with meeting these regulations.

So, when I begin working with my batch of wax worms for my first-ever Don Bugito-inspired wax moth tacos (I will be hosting my fist bug culinary night), I can at least not worry about an arthropod spongiform encephalopathy.

I just need to worry about how I’m going to get them to eat the tacos.

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Why Eat Bugs #5: Apocalypse-Avoidance

August 7, 2014

download (2) In Daniella Martin’s hip treatise for eating bugs, Edible, she imagines a fantasy fast food restaurant where in addition to what you order, you also get the by-products of what it took to make your order. So when you get your burger, you also get…

  • 1,000 gallons of contaminated water
  • 4lbs of manure
  • The carbon residue from the use of 1 gallon of gas
  • 200 cubic ft of a feed lot that will take years to restore

Topped that off with a large toxic methane plume. Want to change your order? A McRib would also get you…

  • 600 gallons of contaminated water
  • 5lbs of pig shit
  • Smaller methane plume

Finally, a McNuggets 10-piece comes with…

  • 150 gallons of contaminated water
  • 1lb of feces
  • Less methane

This is all to say that our daily food choices have a significant environmental impact we do not appreciate.  And of course conventional animal protein production overall adds up to a huge impact on our land and water…

With a population set to grow almost 30% in the next 35 years, we’re going to need to double current food production (according to UN estimates). Not only is there not enough land to support this increase, the ecological impact to already-limited water resources would be devastating. Like Mad-Max-post-apocalyptic-water-wars-type devastating. mad-max What if we could increase food production while decreasing the environmental impact to land and water? Large-scale insect farming could be that solution. Although the exact numbers on the water to raise insects in a farm setting are unavailable (but Youngstown’s Big Cricket Farms may soon have answers…), it can be assumed they would be significantly lower. Consider the drought-resistance of mealworms and crickets. And consider Pat Crowley, a water conservationist who came up with his cricket energy bars—Chapul—to show how a protein source could be produced using minimal water resources. See their neat chart (and order some bars…Mark Cuban has…). waterconservationdiagram

 

Awesome chart by Nick Hiebert at the University of Manitoba

 

 

And then consider land use. Crickets don’t need to be grown on the prairie, and perhaps it may be more risky to due to pesticide exposure. It’s already been shown the advantages of urban honey production. Insect husbandry may be a way to reclaim abandoned industrial and urban spaces. Tiny Farms has already designed and offers cricket farming structures you can setup in your own garage–and who knows, eventually in multi-story cricket protein production facilities.563946_orig BONUS: Instead taking all the corn we’re so great at overproducing and putting it into obesity-  and diabetes-inducing high fructose corn syrup, it can be fed to protein-enriching crickets who are efficient corn-processing machines.

So perhaps when you order your McCricket of the future  (or of the now if you’re in NYC), you can avoid the methane plume, walk off with a fraction of the water. Don’t know about the cricket poop. Yet. Grasshopper Slider.jpg

Why Eat Bugs #4: Sustainable Paleo

July 27, 2014

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There is a great article in the July 28th New Yorker overviewing the concepts and history of the paleo diet movement as writer (and environmental expert) Elizabeth Kolbert goes full paleo for her family for  a week.

With Kolbert’s entertaining and informative flair, she runs through the highlights and arguments for the paleo diet (namely, how agriculture is the worst mistake man has ever made…an idea popularized in the landmark piece by Jared Diamond).

Although she comes across cautiously supportive of the diet, she nonetheless ends the article by dismissing it for its unsustainability:

Whether or not agriculture was the worst mistake in the history of the human race, the choice, once made, was for the good. With a global population of 7 billion people, heading rapidly to toward 8 billion, there’s certainly no turning back now. Pound for pound, beef production demands at least 10x as much water as wheat production, and, calorie for calorie, it demands almost 20x as much energy…All of which to say that, from an environmental standpoint, paleo’s “let them eat steak” approach is a disaster.

I wonder if she conferred with her New Yorker counterpart Dana Goodyear, who’s awesome 2011 article on entomophagy got me thinking about the whole bug thing.

I’ve already written about the sustainability advantages of insect husbandry over traditional forms of animal protein production. But I’m only now realizing how well bugs fit in the paleo lifestyle.

I’m not super into paleo, but I do the Crossfit thing and it’s inevitable that you get introduced to the diet at your local box. I agree with a lot of paleo principles and did try going full paleo for a month. It took a lot of adjusting with me doing a lot of cooking and working with a lot of new grocery (coconut flour… who knew?). After going through a sluggish period of what I can only understand as “gluten-withdrawal,” I felt awesome and lost a few pounds.

Although I continue to try new paleo dishes and limit my intake of processed flour (but not sugar… holy moly I have a problem there), ultimately it’s a pretty time-consuming, repetitive, and expensive diet to maintain whole hog.

But if I had access to a cheap, healthy, and very paleo food source…

Insects were most definitely part of the original paleo diet. Cavedudes were more likely crunching on cicadas than they were on bacon-wrapped avocados.

And certain bugs are very nutritious food sources with high protein, fiber, vitamin, and mineral content. For example, the recent United Nations report calls out mealworms as having a similar offering of protein, vitamin and minerals as in fish and meat. Furthermore, the Robb Wolf blog also makes the paleo-bug connection and posts some actual numbers on the nutritional content of a variety of bugs. For example, see how well some bugs compare protien-wise to beef and fish…

 

From the great The Food Insects Newsletter, July 1996

 

Insect Protein (g)
Giant Water Beetle 19.8
Grasshopper 20.6
Caterpillar 28.2
Beef (Lean Ground) 27.4
Fish (Broiled Cod) 28.5

Already, the savvy Exo are selling on the paleo-bug connection with their protein bars made from nuts and cricket flour, with each bar consisting of an equivalent of 25 crickets. (BTW…If anyone has tried these things, let me know. I’m on the fence on going all in on a $40 box.)

However, I’m guessing the production costs and processing involved with getting crickets into the protein bar form would limit the sustainability. (Please correct me if I’m wrong.)

But a cricket that is straight-up simply roasted with a little chili-lime flavoring might prove to be a very “sustainable paleo” offering.

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Luckily, the San Francisco food cart Don Bugito is offering this online. I just bought some for a very reasonable $5. Will let you know how it goes…

Some Things I Learned From SALT SUGAR FAT

July 21, 2014

This is an excellent food marketing book with a focus on the 3 bad boys of processed foods–SALT SUGAR FAT.

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By devoting a section to each, Michael Moss examines how big food’s disingenuous marketing and addiction-inducing formulations have helped to drive our obesity epidemic and continuing bad-food choices, where we now consume:

  • 3 times as much cheese we did in 1970
  • 22 teaspoons of sugar a day (the AHA recommends 9)
  • Double the recommended amount of salt

By showing how we came to this sugary-salty-fatty Gomorrah, it’s insightful to learn how it wasn’t inevitable, but the unintended outcome of myopic profit-seeking strategies.

For example, in the 1980s Wall Street began moving money from blue chip companies (that included established food businesses) to the tech and financial industries for their quicker returns. This put the pressure on food companies to deliver a similar rate of return. So foods became more convenient, more alluring, and came in bigger portions…damn the resulting fatties…and the $90 billion annually we all have to pay from the health effects of obesity.

Food companies were able to get us to consume more by taking advantage of how our brains don’t know what our body needs. Our cravings are not the result of physical needs, but the result of emotional triggers that food companies have become expert in manipulating. This body/mind dissonance is due to quirks in our evolutionary development, where our body is so afraid of starvation it freaks out with hunger signals when it comes across any cues that the body may need food.

I learned a ton so will take a tasty and nourishing morsel from each section…

  • SUGAR: Sensory-Specific Satiety. “We like foods that have an identifiable strong flavor, but we tire of them quickly.” This is to help drive our body’s need for varied nutrients, whereby the power of one overwhelming flavor can trigger a feeling of fullness for that flavor, and direct it to another. Those spicey garlic pork rinds may be good for you in how they can immediately trip the fullness switch with one mind-boggling bite. However, most big food companies exploit the inverse of this phenomenon, where we don’t feel immediately as full from less flavorful foods. This explains the success of Coke over Pepsi. Pepsi repeatedly wins in taste tests for its distinctive flavor. But Coke maintains its dominance (and insidiousness) because it is forgettable in such a way that the brain continues to want more of it.
  • FAT: No Bliss Point for Fat. Food industries scientists seek food formulations that achieve the “bliss point” for consumers…that precise amount and mix of flavors that sends us into a narcotic euphoria and craving (just before sensory-specific satiety sets in). However, this point is for the most part a curve (more accurately, it’s plateau-shaped). You can make a cookie or a potato chip too sweet or salty so that it becomes less enjoyable. But experiments have found that this isn’t so true for fat. Test subjects only went so far with sugary or salty formulations, but they did not stop with the fatty ones. No matter how rich the food, it was so pleasing to the brain that it never gave a signal to stop eating…which may be due to our evolutionary need for energy-dense foods. This has contributed to the rise of the main vehicle for saturated fat: processed cheese. When skim milk became popular, this left food producers with an excess of milkfat on their hands. They found they could still make a profit on it by sneakily reintroducing it back to the consumers who were trying to avoid it…but putting cheese into everything. In crust, in Lunchables, mixed with chocolate…
  • SALT: We Are Not Born with a Taste for Salt, Nor Is It Irreversible. Although babies are born with a craving for the sweet, this is not true of the salty. A study of 2 groups of babies—one subjected to their parents’ normal salt-heavy diets, another who were on a salt-restricted diet—demonstrated how the first group developed an increasing desire for salt (getting into licking salt piles right off the plate), whereas the second could care less. The more we are exposed to salt, the more we want it. So food companies effectively created a salt craving where none existed…resulting in an epidemic of high-blood pressure and heart disease. However, this salt addiction can be reversed. It was also discovered that those put on a low-salt diet eventually reduced their taste for it.

And if we’re talking food, I’m eventually going to talk bugs (I’m a great dinner guest).

The industry often defends its use of salty-sugary-fatty-ness as a means to produce tasty but cheap foods, which will help meet inevitable food crisis we’ll have with 9 billion mouths to feed. However, the devastating health consequences of using these ingredients to make processed food palatable make this problematic at best, and kinda evil.

Instead, the low cost of processed unhealthy food are thwarting the development of healthier ways of feeding the world.

Like with bugs!

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Why Eat Bugs #3: Humane Husbandry

July 14, 2014

Debeaking chickens so they can’t peck each other to death in their cannibalism-inducing close quarters. The “docking” (or dismemberment) of piglet tails to avoid insanely bored pigs from eating those tails off.  The feeding of cows to cows in the form of bovine-rendered protein disguised in their feed like a banal farm-version of the meat-pie scene in “Titus Andronicus.”

Industrial animal husbandry is a horror show.

And yet, however much I am disgusted by this horror show, the disgust is forgotten or compartmentalized or overwhelmed when I’m confronted with a plate of golden-fried chicken, the aroma of BBQ ribs, a medium-rare peppercorn-encrusted rib-eye. I can very much enjoy the delicious ends, however vaguely aware I am of the monstrous means.

Nonetheless, unease persists. I can’t bring myself to watch the industry footage in documentaries like PETA’s “Meet Your Meat.” In part, this avoidance is out of an anticipated annoyance of PETA’s expected shrill and self-righteous rhetoric (even if it’s delivered in the rich baritone of ).

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But it is also out of a refusal to confront the discomforting (and let’s face it, unnecessary) recognition of my own complicity in perpetuating institutionalized cruelty with my meat-heavy food choices.

Because with that recognition, my latent conscience will demand some action. And perhaps what keeps me in this passive denial is a sense that there are no viable alternatives.

Expensive and dubiously-labelled free-range options? Expensive perhaps as ethically-questionable pescatariansim? Bland and complicated veganism?

At my best, I practice moderation to mitigate the feelings of guilt. I go vegetarian once a week. Sometimes. I think. It’s been a few weeks. (Months.)

But what if chickens loved being crowded together? What if pigs naturally teemed in some wild pork pyramid? What if cows naturally and unproblematically feasted on each other?

Crickets, worms, ants, and many other edible insects prefer and thrive in these conditions. The despicable practices of commercial farming are humane when applied to insects. So these long-standing practices that have proven effectiveness in maximizing yields could be applied lovingly to insects without invoking the hypocritical outrage of folks like me.

Even better, many insects consume organic waste. So entomophagy can mitigate both my animal cruelty guilt along with my recycling guilt.

Tiny Farms even gives you the opportunity to practice you’re own ethical husbandry with their open-source farm kit. (I’m thinking about it…)

However, it still remains to be tasted how good of an alternative this is. I have not yet eaten a bug-only meal and am skeptical despite my fondness for the unconventional.

But I’m hoping there is more to bug-eating than just the superficial appeal of the bizarre. There are a lot of good reasons for eating bugs. (I have already considered feed-conversion rates and entomophagy’s carbon footprint. The humaneness of its production may also amplify the enjoyment. A lot goes into pleasure.

And I would be remiss in bringing up ethics without addressing the qualms of killing a living thing that feels pain. Genius David Foster Wallace’s perfect essay “Consider the Lobster” (that appeared in the 2004 issue of Gourmet as the most beautifully mispublished works in American journalism) tangled with the morality of boiling a creature alive for one’s pleasure.

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Maybe this requires its own blog post. For now, I can only admit my own perhaps flawed moral scale. I feel better about the consumption of a cow’s weight in crickets than putting one cow through the institutionalized terror of commercial beef production.

And speaking of lobster… if we can get over and actually charge a premium for the consumption of such a weird-looking gross bottom feeder (that eats whatever is on the ocean floor, like fish carcasses, droppings, filth, etc.), it may not be so much to get into a similarly-carapaced arthropod like the grasshopper that only eats grass in the open light of day. Seems like a pretty good alternative.


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