Monday, January 25, 2010

Wow. I underestimated how much less stressful life would be with a simple menu. The hardest part was deciding what to put on it. But now that I have, I'm saving time, saving money, and eating healthier.

Why did I decide to create a menu? In reality, it stems from an earlier failure to make my living arrangements work. My roommate makes considerably more money than I do, and so he has agreed to do the grocery shopping in exchange for my doing the cleaning and cooking. Since that plays into both of our strengths, I was more than happy to agree. The problem was, he would only go shopping once a month, or even further apart than that. We could go weeks at a time without fresh produce, or in an attempt to plan ahead, I would pick up more produce just to have it go bad before I could use it. I felt horrible to have all of that food go to waste. So, I devised a plan. If I developed a menu, and if I knew exactly how much of what ingredients I needed in a given week, I could convince him to go shopping weekly. And, because I knew exactly what I needed, I would waste less food, spend less time shopping and cooking, I would eat healthier, and save money on the ol' grocery bill.

Now, anything I put on the menu needed to have a few qualities. First, it had to perform well as leftovers. Second, the recipe had to double easily. Third, it needed to be nutritious enough to warrant having for two meals close together. The ideal is to double a recipe, and then serve it for dinner, and for lunch the following day. You're cooking half as much, and probably eating healthier as a result (fewer rushed meals and convenience foods). I also favored things like casseroles or stir fries or anything that could be made in one big pot. Less cleanup that way.

Here's what a week's menu looks like:

I added a calendar to my Google Calendar called "menu" and I just create a all day event for each recipe. I paste the recipe into the description of the event, and on that day I click on the event to pull up the recipe.

I've got a different recipe for every day of the month, and I'm not afraid to switch things out if there's something I really want and it's not on the menu. I just make sure to have a recipe and double it so that there's enough for dinner and lunch the following day.

When it comes to making a shopping trip, I sit down and look at the menu for the week. I figure out what I need for the recipes, and what I already have. Then I get to making a shopping list. The important thing with this step is to list the amount of you need of a particular item. You can do this in a couple of ways. Either use recipes that list ingredients in terms of number of items (i.e. 6 medium carrots or 2 cans of water chestnuts), or list the measurement and guesstimate when you get to the store. This week, I listed 4 cups of mushrooms as one of the things I needed to pick up. I guessed that one handful of button mushrooms, or about 3-4 mushrooms, was a cup. The great thing about most types of cooking is that exact measurements aren't necessary. I didn't measure out my mushrooms cup by cup when I actually got around to cooking, I just used all of the mushrooms I bought. You'll get better with practice, and you'll learn that a lemon has about 4 tablespoons of juice in it, and that 4 tablespoons is equal to 1/4 cup, etc. And, because you already have the approximate amount of the ingredients you need, you really don't have to do any measuring, just chop, mince, etc. and add them to the pot.

And the best part is, I know I'm going to get at least 2 meals out of each time I cook, sometimes 3 if I'm lucky. This also means I have better portion control, which is hard for me this time of year; I don't get outside a lot on account of the gloomy weather, so I spend most of my time cooking and eating the food I cook, and don't pay much attention to how much I'm eating. I serve myself and my roommate each 1/6 to 1/4 of the total food, and then immediately move the rest of it to a storage container and put it in the fridge. Then I force myself to clean my pot before the food gets burned or dried on, which means I spend less time trying to scrape off caked on food at a later time.

Overall, a success. I've lost about 4 pounds already because I'm eating better food and more reasonable portions. I'm wasting less food because I'm only buying a week's worth at a time, and I'm buying the exact amounts I need for the specific foods I'm making. And I'm saving time and money on both shopping and cooking.

For now I've got a menu of 31 items that I rotate through each month. The next step is the develop a seasonal menu which relies on ingredients that are available locally at any given time of year. I'm not at that step yet, but it's on the to do list. The benefits of using the local, seasonal produce are: 1) fewer farm to fork miles, which means you have fresher food that's easier on the planet, and 2) you're saving even more money on your grocery bill, because in season produce is always cheaper than out of season produce which has to be imported from places with warmer climates, like Mexico, Chile, Ecuador, etc. I hate that I'm using as many fresh tomatoes this time of year as I am... they're ungodly expensive, and have to come from halfway across the world. Soon I'll have those kind of kinks out of my menu, but until then, I'm already enjoying the benefits I've gained from my new menu.

Oh, and I'm also formatting my recipes for use with the Digital Recipe Sidekick for Android phones. It's a nifty little hands-free application that will read the ingredients and directions to you while you cook. I only have some of the recipes done so far, but here's what I have:

Pad Thai

These recipes are all completely vegan, though not all of them have been tested. When you click them, they should show up as styled XML, which is human readable. If you have an older browser, it might not work right. In any case, you can save them and import them into DRS on your Android-powered phone. And note that some of these make more than 4 servings. The lasagna recipe, for example, makes two casseroles: one for now, and one to freeze for next month. Then all you have to do is pop the lasagna in the oven to cook without having to go through all of the prep work again.

And really, don't feel too constrained by your menu. I buy seven recipes worth of ingredients, but I don't necessarily make them on the nights that they're scheduled. For instance, tonight is supposed to be chow mein night, but I did chow mein on Friday night. Instead, I'm doing mac and cheeze tonight, which was on the menu for Saturday night. Be all loosey goosey with it. Just have your recipes and ingredients ready to keep life as uncomplicated as possible. Also, I do keep around some convenience foods just in case. Namely ramen. If a particular dish doesn't end up being enough food for lunch the next day, I have an exit strategy. And even if the convenience food is unhealthy, at least I know I'm going to be following it up with a nutritious dinner. It all balances out in the end.

Until next time, happy eating...


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Since I've been on a "what you eat matters" kick, and since I won't be able to post anything long and involved until after Monday, I thought I'd post this recording of the Tyra Banks Show which stars David "the bug man" Gracer of Small Stock Foods, and someone named Jean (no last name is given), who is a dumpster diver. I know some dumpster divers, but haven't done much myself, and never for food. Maybe dumpster diving will be on my list of things to do, and then I'll be able to post something more informed on the subject (although, ultimately, I'd like to be pushing people away from a society where there's so much waste that dumpster diving is practical). Who knows. I can say that John Hoffman's Dumpster Diving: The Advanced Course was a pretty informative read, but it's been a few years now and I don't remember many of the details.

But, without further ado, I'll give you the video:


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is part 3 of 3 in a series of posts on entomophagy: the act (and art) of eating bugs. Click here for part 1, and here for part 2.

We all remember Boyle's Law, right? It's the law that states that if you increase temperature, or decrease volume, pressure will increase. What happens when you have too much pressure?


I was going to have them for lunch on Monday, but it was a holiday, so neither my roommate nor I had class. When Tuesday came around I expected, first of all, that my roommate would not be passed out on the couch, but also that he would be leaving for class at some point. Turns out his class ended a week before mine. I didn't want to have to explain my bug-eating to him, nor to be caught gagging in front of him (which I expected was a real possibility).

Finally I got a chance to cook these suckers up. My roommate had stayed up late, and I was up early. No chance of him waking up to find me sucking down worms. Granted, breakfast isn't the meal I had envisioned having bugs for, but I guess if I can have cold pizza for breakfast and waffles for dinner, anything goes.

I threw them in the freezer to immobilize them and then I headed for the shower. By the time I was done, they should be ready to go. And sure enough...

I had fasted them for a little over a day to "clean them out." Now I picked out the obviously dead ones (they were ghastly misshapen). From here, it was into the colander for a good rinse, to get off the flour and such that was still stuck to them.

Notice that they're not all straight as a spaghetti noodle anymore. If the thought of them moving bothers you, might I suggest cold water? I rinsed them in hot water and their little legs got to moving again. I quickly switched to cold water and that was the end of that.

Meanwhile I was heating a small amount of oil on high heat. I wanted them to be crispy critters--I had a feeling that I'd have a hard time stomaching them if they weren't good and crunchy. I failed, however, to take into consideration how their hard chitinous "skin" would behave like a pressure cooker. The instant I added the worms to the oil they started exploding. I ducked out of the way to avoid the napalm-like shrapel being flung from my would-be breakfast, spilling worms that hadn't quite made it into the oil across the stove. I turned the heat down some and flung the remaining worms from a safe distance. Though they too exploded, it was with considerably less force that the first batch.

After that, it was a relatively calm procedure. I cooked the worms until they were darkened and crispy, and then I removed them to some paper towels on a cooling rack. With a sprinkling of salt, they were done. Some of them looked like in the picture above. Others looked like this:

Completely translucent. I mistakenly thought that this was a skin or something left over from one of the worms molting (which, according to, they'll do 9-20 times before they morph). Then I realized that it had actually exploded with such force that all of the insides had been ejected. All in all, this is how my batch turned out:

Like I said, just some salt for flavor.

Then came the eating part of this experiment.

They didn't smell bad, and they certainly didn't look bad for being bugs and all. I'm definitely part of that western civilization that has ingrained in its collective psychology that bug-eating is gross. My stomach was doing flips just at the thought of it.

The first bite was the worst, mostly because I expected it to be. The second was a little better, but not good. Finally, after the third or fourth, I mostly got over the fact that I was eating bugs and was able to enjoy them.

You'll have to excuse the lack of shave and the crazy hair, I hadn't made it that far yet this morning when I was taking pictures. But really, they tasted pretty good. Nutty, I would say. I was having a hard time deciding what kind of nut they reminded me of, and I finally zeroed in on almonds. Yup, just like almonds. Although, I find the texture of the worms to be much nicer than almonds. The worms are pleasantly crunchy, but smooth (on account of the oil, no doubt), whereas almonds are almost... chalky? Not quite, but if you eat many almonds I'm sure you know what I mean.

I did decide however that I didn't much care for the ones where all of the guts had exploded out of them. The chitin by itself wasn't particularly flavorful, and the texture, while not bad, was lacking something. Ultimately, I stuck to the worms that had guts intact.

I'm impressed. I expected something much worse. I'm not sure how I would handle them if they weren't fried to a crisp, or milled into a flour as many have suggested, but certainly like this they were quite delicious. They would also probably go good with ketchup, now that you mention it.

Granted, with their $5.95 price tag, it's not something I would make a habit of buying. But, given the relative ease with which they can be bred, I would consider keeping live mealworms for food. NYWorms provides instructions for keeping your mealworms, and though they mention that the adult beetles can fly, they note that given a supply of food they usually won't. They claim to not use any kind of lid or screen on their bins. Your mileage may vary.

Hopefully this set of posts will inspire you to give bugs a chance, and mealworms or superworms are as good a place to start as any. In following posts, I hope to post of list of edible plants from PFAF that do well in partial, or dappled, shade. I'm working on it now, but it's considerably larger than the list of shade-loving perennials... naturally. You'll hear from me when I get it done (there might be a bit of a hiatus on account of final exams coming up soon).

Until then...

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is part 3 of 3 in a series of posts on entomophagy: the act (and art) of eating bugs. Click here for part 1, and here for part 2.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

I told you I would do it. A follow up to my quick blurb about shade loving plants. I spent the last 2 1/2 hours compiling this list of shade-loving perennials from the Plants for a Future database. The plants have the following qualities: perennial (don't need replanting year after year), survive in "deep shade," and have an edibility score of 1 or more. PFAF gives plants an edibility score from 0-5, 0 being not edible and 5 being very edible. The following plants have at least some edible part (leaf, root, tuber, fruit, shoots, etc.), but they may need to be cooked or prepared in a certain way. Some of these plants may have poisonous parts, or be poisonous when consumed raw. As always, do your own research and consult an expert when in doubt. Also, be warned that many plants go by the same common names, and while some may be edible, others may be poisonous. Always use scientific names when matching plants.

I looked over the descriptions briefly as I compiled this list, and the Tsi (which I already mentioned) and the Wall Lettuce both look promising as year round greens, where they will grow.

The benefit of shade loving and shade tolerant plants is that they can be grown under fruit and nut trees (have you ever driven by an orchard to see nothing but dirt or weeds underneath the trees). But orchards aren't the only ones that suffer from that; just look at traditional gardens: corn, carrots, etc. have to be evenly spaced to ensure proper lighting and watering.

Shade grown plants can be a great source of leafy greens, as well as carb-rich tubers and roots. As an extra bonus, many shade loving plants work well as winter crops (either being harvested specifically in the winter, or being harvestable year round).

Some of these plants may not have high yields. Some of them might not even taste good. I recommend tasting anything you intend to plant before you plant it to make sure it's worth the time and energy you have to put in, or the space it will take up (that's the thing with a perennial garden: things are intended to be permanent, and it's not a question of simply not planting the things you don't like next year).

Before jumping straight into the list, I wanted to suggest some books on the topic of shade gardening: Taylor's 50 Best Perennials for Shade, Making the Most of Shade, Taylor's Guide to Shade Gardening, and The Complete Shade Gardener. I haven't read them yet, but they've received good reviews and are on my "to read" list. They might not have a lot of information on edibles (I won't know until I pour over them), but they're likely to have helpful information about shade gardening technique. If you have read them, let me know what you think in the comments. Also, if you have grown or eaten any of the plants listed below, feel free to provide any information you have on yields, harvesting, preparing, taste, etc. The more information we have, the better.

Without further ado...

Shade-loving perennial edibles

Alphabetical by common name

Arctic Sweet Coltsfoot - Petasites hyperboreus
Arrowleaf Sweet Coltsfoot - Petasites saggitatus
August Lily - Hosta plantaginae
Bellwort - Uvularia perfoliata
Bellwort - Uvularia sessilifolia
Beth Root - Trillium erectum
Bluebeard - Clintonia borealis
Broom Rape - Orobanche ludoviciana
Bugle - Ajuga reptans
Bur Reed - Sparganium erectum
Butterbur - Petasites albus
California Broomrape - Orobanche californica
Canada Beadruby - Maianthemum canadense
Cancer Root - Orobanche fasciculata
Cao Yu Mei - Anemone rivularis
Couch Grass - Elytrigia repens
Cow Parsnip - Heracleum sphondylium montanum
Crinkleroot - Dentaria diphylla
Cuckoo Pint - Arum maculatum
Fairybells - Disporum trachycarpum
Fairyslipper - Calypso bulbosa
False Spikenard - Smilacena racemosa
Friar's Cowl - Arisarum vulgare
Ginseng - Panax ginseng
Greater Celandine - Chelidonium majus
Green-Dragon - Arisaema dracontium
Ground Cone - Orobanche tuberosa
Ground Elder - Aegopodium podagraria
Ground Nut - Panax trifolius
Hairy Solomon's Seal - Polygonatum pubescens
Herb Paris - Paris polyphylla
Himalayan May Apple - Podophyllum hexandrum
Hog Peanut - Amphicarpaea pitcheri
Huang Jing - Polygonatum sibiricum
Indian Hemp - Apocynum cannabinum
Indian Pipe - Monotropa uniflora
Indian Turnip - Arisaema quinatum
Jack In The Pulpit - Arisaema triphyllum
Japanese Ginseng - Panax japonicus
Jerusalem Sage - Pulmonaria saccharata
King Solomon's Seal - Polygonatum commutatum
Labrador Violet - Viola labradorica
Large Campanula - Campanula latifolia
Lily Of The Valley - Convallaria keiskei
Lily Of The Valley - Convallaria majalis
Lungwort - Pulmonaria officinalis
Manchurian Spikenard - Aralia continentalis
Mitsuba - Cryptotaenia japonica
Orpine - Sedum telephium
Oxlip - Primula elatior
Painted Trillium - Trillium undulatum
Papoose Root - Caulophyllum robustum
Papoose Root - Caulophyllum thalictroides
Redwood Sorrel - Oxalis oregana
Rue-Anemone - Anemonella thalictroides
Sailor-Caps - Dodecatheon hendersonii
Sakhalin Spikenard - Aralia schmidtii
San Qi - Panax pseudoginseng notoginseng
Scootberry - Streptopus roseus
Siberian Tea - Bergenia crassifolia
Sidebells Wintergreen - Orthilia secunda
Single Delight - Moneses uniflora
Small Solomon's Seal - Polygonatum biflorum
Snake Root - Asarum canadense
Solomon's Seal - Polygonatum multiflorum
Solomon's Seal - Polygonatum odoratum
Speckled Wood Lily - Clintonia umbellulata
Squirrel Corn - Dicentra canadensis
Star-Flowered Lily Of The Valley - Smilacena stellata
Sweet Butterbur - Petasites palmatus
Sweet Coltsfoot - Petasites frigidus
Sweet Coltsfoot - Petasites japonicus
Sweet Woodruff - Galium odoratum
Tian Nan Xing - Arisaema amurense
Tien Ma - Gastrodia elata
Toadshade - Trillium sessile
Tsi - Houttuynia cordata
Udo - Aralia cordata
Wakerobin - Trillium ovatum
Wall Lettuce - Mycelis muralis
White Trillium - Trillium grandiflorum
Whorled Solomon's Seal - Polygonatum verticillatum
Wild Cucumber - Streptopus amplexifolius
Wild Ginger - Asarum caudatum
Wild Lily Of The Valley - Maianthemum dilatatum
Wild Sarsaparilla - Aralia nudicaulis
Wintergreen - Pyrola minor
Wood Millet - Milium effusum
Wood Sorrel - Oxalis acetosella
Yellow Archangel - Lamium galeobdolon
Youth On Age - Tolmiea menziesii

Alphabetical by scientific name

Aegopodium podagraria - Ground Elder
Ajuga reptans - Bugle
Amphicarpaea pitcheri - Hog Peanut
Anemone rivularis - Cao Yu Mei
Anemonella thalictroides - Rue-Anemone
Apocynum cannabinum - Indian Hemp
Aralia continentalis - Manchurian Spikenard
Aralia cordata - Udo
Aralia nudicaulis - Wild Sarsaparilla
Aralia racemosa - American Spikenard
Aralia schmidtii - Sakhalin Spikenard
Arisaema amurense - Tian Nan Xing
Arisaema dracontium - Green-Dragon
Arisaema quinatum - Indian Turnip
Arisaema triphyllum - Jack In The Pulpit
Arisarum vulgare - Friar's Cowl
Arum maculatum - Cuckoo Pint
Asarum canadense - Snake Root
Asarum caudatum - Wild Ginger
Bergenia crassifolia - Siberian Tea
Calypso bulbosa - Fairyslipper
Campanula latifolia - Large Campanula
Caulophyllum robustum - Papoose Root
Caulophyllum thalictroides - Papoose Root
Chelidonium majus - Greater Celandine
Clintonia borealis - Bluebeard
Clintonia umbellulata - Speckled Wood Lily
Convallaria keiskei - Lily Of The Valley
Convallaria majalis - Lily Of The Valley
Cryptotaenia japonica - Mitsuba
Dentaria diphylla - Crinkleroot
Dicentra canadensis - Squirrel Corn
Disporum trachycarpum - Fairybells
Dodecatheon hendersonii - Sailor-Caps
Elytrigia repens - Couch Grass
Galium odoratum - Sweet Woodruff
Gastrodia elata - Tien Ma
Heracleum sphondylium montanum - Cow Parsnip
Hosta plantaginae - August Lily
Houttuynia cordata - Tsi
Lamium galeobdolon - Yellow Archangel
Maianthemum canadense - Canada Beadruby
Maianthemum dilatatum - Wild Lily Of The Valley
Milium effusum - Wood Millet
Moneses uniflora - Single Delight
Monotropa uniflora - Indian Pipe
Mycelis muralis - Wall Lettuce
Orobanche californica - California Broomrape
Orobanche fasciculata - Cancer Root
Orobanche ludoviciana - Broom Rape
Orobanche tuberosa - Ground Cone
Orthilia secunda - Sidebells Wintergreen
Oxalis acetosella - Wood Sorrel
Oxalis oregana - Redwood Sorrel
Panax ginseng - Ginseng
Panax japonicus - Japanese Ginseng
Panax pseudoginseng notoginseng - San Qi
Panax quinquefolius - American Ginseng
Panax trifolius - Ground Nut
Paris polyphylla - Herb Paris
Petasites albus - Butterbur
Petasites frigidus - Sweet Coltsfoot
Petasites hyperboreus - Arctic Sweet Coltsfoot
Petasites japonicus - Sweet Coltsfoot
Petasites palmatus - Sweet Butterbur
Petasites saggitatus - Arrowleaf Sweet Coltsfoot
Podophyllum hexandrum - Himalayan May Apple
Podophyllum peltatum - American Mandrake
Polygonatum biflorum - Small Solomon's Seal
Polygonatum commutatum - King Solomon's Seal
Polygonatum multiflorum - Solomon's Seal
Polygonatum odoratum - Solomon's Seal
Polygonatum pubescens - Hairy Solomon's Seal
Polygonatum sibiricum - Huang Jing
Polygonatum verticillatum - Whorled Solomon's Seal
Primula elatior - Oxlip
Pulmonaria officinalis - Lungwort
Pulmonaria saccharata - Jerusalem Sage
Pyrola minor - Wintergreen
Sedum telephium - Orpine
Smilacena racemosa - False Spikenard
Smilacena stellata - Star-Flowered Lily Of The Valley
Sparganium erectum - Bur Reed
Streptopus amplexifolius - Wild Cucumber
Streptopus roseus - Scootberry
Tolmiea menziesii - Youth On Age
Trillium erectum - Beth Root
Trillium grandiflorum - White Trillium
Trillium ovatum - Wakerobin
Trillium sessile - Toadshade
Trillium undulatum - Painted Trillium
Uvularia perfoliata - Bellwort
Uvularia sessilifolia - Bellwort
Viola labradorica - Labrador Violet


AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is part 2 of 3 in a series of posts on entomophagy: the act (and art) of eating bugs. Click here for part 1, and here for part 3.

My stomach is squirming already. As I picked the mealworms out of their sawdusty substrate, as they tried to wriggle free, or clinged to my fingertips in fear of a worse fate, I asked myself "Are you really going to eat these things?"

Answer: probably.

I already picked them up from the pet store this morning. $5.95 for a whopping 50 mealworms. Er... superworms actually. The worms I got were labeled as Zophobas morio, a.k.a. superworms. Tenebrio molitor is the traditional mealworm. Both are species of darkling beetle, and while I couldn't find any specific information on superworms, one reviewer did mention that Zophobas morio was one of the species covered in the Eat-a-bug Cookbook. I imagine preparation is the same, so I'm going full steam ahead on this one.

What am I thinking? It's complicated. I do, as a general rule, abstain from animal products. The reasons are numerous. For starters, the American Dietetic Association notes that "an evidence-based review showed that a vegetarian diet is associated with a lower risk of death from ischemic heart disease. Vegetarians also appear to have lower low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and lower rates of hypertension and type 2 diabetes than nonvegetarians. Furthermore, vegetarians tend to have a lower body mass index and lower overall cancer rates." Since my family has a history of most of these ailments, it seems practical to abstain (not to mention I lost 100 pounds after adopting a plant-based diet). Furthermore, as I don't have the ability to hunt or raise my own animals, I have no guarantee about how the animals are treated, or what hormones, antibiotics, or other chemicals they are treated with. Which brings up concerns about A) what exactly am I putting into my body? and B) are the animals being mistreated?

I was raised by hunters. I've done my share of killing. But, as part of that initiation, I was taught to kill quickly and cleanly in order to minimize pain, and to be respectful by using every last piece of the animal that sacrificed itself. The science seems to back up both of those. Contrary to what popular 19th century science says, vertebrates do have nociceptors and thus can feel pain. Herd animals, like cattle, also mourn for the loss of their offspring. And, of course, whatever can't be eaten can be used as fertilizer, clothing, tools, etc.

Then there are the environmental concerns. With traditional grazing, large amounts of forest are slashed and burned to make room for pasture. With more modern techniques, animals are kept penned up and are fed diets of corn, soybeans, etc. (things that they typically wouldn't eat). In this case, large amounts of fertilizers, pesticides, etc. are used to grow food for the animals. And, in the case of cows, you're putting in 30 calories of plant food to get out 1 calorie of meat. We could be eating that plant food instead and cutting out the middle men. It's wasteful. And the full details of the IPCC report can be read here (I've probably discussed this before, but it's a good refresher).

So, on the one hand, as painful as it might be for the prey, I understand the predator-prey dynamic. If we were actually hunting, and actually hunting for the amounts we needed (rather than an over-abundance), we could help keep certain animal populations under control. But, artificially bolstering a population for our own over-consumption: it's just not ethical.

But let's get back to those worms. As much as they squirm and wriggle, the science says that they have no nociceptors, and thus feel no pain. Science has been wrong before, but the variety and preciseness available to modern scientists is astonishing compared to what was available in the 19th century, so I'm willing to trust them to an extent. And, Peter Singer, considered the father of the animal liberationmovement, doesn't even abstain from mollusks, etc. for this very reason. So, beyond a shadow of a doubt, no pain? Check.

Environmental concerns? Well, since they are decomposers, they can feed off of human wastes. Not only that, but they're much more efficient than cows. I believe one estimate stated that you got 1 calorie out for every 3 calories put in, and since we'd be feeding them human waste, rather than human edible food (like corn and soybeans), we're coming out ahead by a long shot. Not to mention that there aren't any bones or guts to "dispose" of. You're eating every ounce of energy that you put into these things. Further, a small aquarium or similar container is all the space that's needed to raise them, rather than huge tracts of land as in the case of cattle. Since they're using such minimal space, and largely consuming human wastes (which can then be used as fertilizer), environmentally friendly seems to be a "check." And my motto is, as was suggested by the oracle at Delphi, "nothing in excess." Even if they can't feel pain, and even if they aren't an immediate environmental concern, they play an important role in the natural habitat: one should be careful not to upset the natural rhythm by introducing a species that could devastate a location, or by over-harvesting from it's natural habitat.

So then there's the question of health. How do the worms stack up against beef? I couldn't find information on the larva in question, but in a study done on the nutritional value of edible insects in south western Nigeria, the various beetle larva were between 20.1 and 28.42% protein, with an average of 24.84% for all species. According to, 70% lean ground beef only contains 14.3% protein,  and a sirloin steak is slightly better at 20.2% protein. The worms are also lower in fat and higher in fiber than beef. As far as whether a diet including insects will also be lower in instances of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, etc., I can't say. Reasons suggests it would be better for you than the standard American diet, even if it wasn't as good as a vegan or vegetarian diet. So, healthy? Check.

But, enough of the number crunching. What did I actually do? First I dumped the little guys into a "Tupperware" container. They seemed to be in a sawdust mixture, and this wasn't going to be okay. They need to be on a diet of real food before I put them in my body, both for the sake of flavor and nutrition. I cleaned out their original container and added a mixture of oats and flour. Put the lid on and give it a shake, but be careful, because if your lid is like mine, it has breathing holes that can let some of the flour escape. If I did it again, I'd probably go all oats, or I'd by some bran, since that's what the entomophagy experts seem to suggest. The little guys didn't seem to be able to burrow very well, so I added more oats to make the mixture lighter. That seems to do the trick.

As far as transferring them goes, it can be tricky. I would probably just used a colander over the trash/compost bin the next time around, since the sawdust seemed to be fine enough to keep them from going through. As it was, I found that getting rid of as much sawdust as possible helped me to find them and pluck them out. This was easy, since the superworms naturally burrow as deep as they can. I held the container at angle, almost as if to pour out the sawdust, and then brushed it out when the worms burrowed to the bottom. Once most of the sawdust had been removed, I just plucked the little guys out and put them back in the original container with the new oat/flour mixture. Like I said, I had to add more oats to make it light enough for them to burrow. Your mileage may vary.

If you're squeamish, wearing rubber gloves might make the process of transferring them by hand more pleasant. Personally, I just used my barehands, but it was a weird sensation to have them squirming between my fingers and trying to get loose (one of them actually did), or to latch onto my fingertips with their little legs. They can't hurt you, it just feels weird. Once I got them all back into the original container, I cut off the end of a potato and added it to the container as their water source (potato and apple were the two things I saw recommended). With that, I plopped the lid back on, found them a special spot in my room, and had the rest of the potato for lunch. Yum. I'll actually be gone until Saturday evening, so the eating of them will be postponed for a couple of days. When I get back on Saturday I'll put them in an empty container to fast. I'll be having them for lunch on Monday (before my roommate can get back and ask me why the hell I'm eating bugs). So, Monday, sometime after lunchtime, you'll find out if I could stomach eating these squirmy little guys.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is part 2 of 3 in a series of posts on entomophagy: the act (and art) of eating bugs. Click here for part 1, and here for part 3.


Some things have gotten buggy in my absence, and since I've been posting more frequently, I decided it was probably best to update the ol' code to get things into tip top shape. Some things have been rearranged, some things have been added, and other things have been fixed (like the gargantuan gaps between posts, and the link to add the headline animator to your website, myspace, etc.). I've also removed the subscription options from the sidebar (which is till a bit of an eyesore) and instead added them to the bottom of each post (I've got options for RSS subscriptions, e-mail subscriptions, and becoming a fan on Facebook). Additionally, you can share each post with family, friends, colleagues, or your pet boa by clicking the Share This link under each post. Happy browsing, and stay tuned for the other updates I have planned for today.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Just want to post these links really quick. I'll have to do a follow up on them later, since it's past my bedtime.

The first is a link to I'm skeptical of most websites that have "discount" in the name, but they do offer some plants that I've seen nowhere else, including a plant called "Tsi," which supposedly does well in full shade. Might be handy for a woodland garden...

Which is what the other link concerns. It's a list of plants that do well in woodland/forest gardens, including a number of plants that do well in full or partial shade (always something I'm on the lookout for, as growing edible things under trees is a good way to maximize one's use of space). The list is provided by Plants For A Future, which is developing/maintaining a list of edible/medicinal plants--very helpful.

Until next time...


AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is part 1 of 3 in a series of posts on entomophagy: the act (and art) of eating bugs. Click here for part 2, and here for part 3.

If that picture didn't turn you off, I'll have you know that I've been doing my research since yesterday's post, and have found a host of information on entomophagy: the eating of insects and non-insect bugs. It seems that bug eating, while already common practice in places within Africa, Asia, and South America, is starting to catch on in Europe, and even among a select few in America. The Bay Area Bug Eating Society is one U.S. resource, but hardly the only. Dave Garcer is a entomophagy activist of sorts, and gives lectures as well as does catering. His website is

Because many of the bugs that are commonly eaten are decomposers, it makes sense that these bugs could play a significant role in a permaculture situation. Feed plant wastes to your bugs to decompose (just like in your typical vermiculture setup), then harvest some of your bugs for dinner, and move the decomposed waste to the garden area to fertilize. The efficacy of the decomposers in questions might be an issue, but surely there's a solution for every problem.

I've looked at earthworms and mealworms (as well as crickets, mopane worms, giant water bugs, etc.). You've probably heard of mealworms, and that's why they're recommended by entomophagists in the know. They're available at local pet stores as feeders for reptiles. Going to pet store route, or purchasing from an online supplier, is also recommended by the experts because wild caught specimens might contain toxic pesticides. I would tend toward following their advice, just to be on the safe side, although I do wonder: if there wasn't enough pesticide to kill the bug in question, and we've likely ingested a share of pesticides from our non-organic produce, what harm could it do? In any case, I'd follow their lead just to be safe. And, if you get in the habit of eating bugs, you can breed your store bought specimens to make the whole process cost effective.

I got mixed information about how to prepare mealworms, so I asked my fellow blogger at Minilivestock. Rosanna says
I think it's a matter of preference. For myself, I've bought insects, feed them for 1 day, fast them for o1 day adn then on the 3rd day, I'd throw them in the freezer for 15 min or until they've stopped moving (or longer if you want to store them in there until you're ready to cook them).
 She goes on to say that some people pick them fresh out of the bran they're living in and fry them up fresh. More wriggling that way, but she says they're more flavorful that way.

In any case, they're likely fed a meal of cardboard at the pet store it's suggested to put them on a diet of bran (or, some websites have suggest rolled oats or flour) for a day before consuming, so they'll be more nutritious. The fasting is suggested so they can empty their digestive systems, but if you know what they're eating, then as Rosanna suggested, this isn't necessary.

Other than frying, which would probably be my preferred method, many people also toast in an oven and create a kind of flour, which is a more subtle introduction to eating insects. From
Spread your cleaned insects out on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Set your oven 200 degrees and dry insects for approximately 1-3 hours. When the insects are done, they should be fairly brittle and crush easily. Take your dried insects and put them into a blender or coffee grinder, and grind them till they are about consistency of wheat germ. Use in practically any recipe! Try sprinkling insect flour on salads, add it to soups, your favorite bread recipe, on a boat, with a goat, etc also has lots of other information and recipes including insects.

Earthworms are the other bug I've given attention to, mostly because of availability and easy preparation.  Simply soak the earthworms in water over night to have them expel the contents of their gut (other sources suggest putting them in a container with cornmeal, so their guts will be filled in that instead). Then give them a good rinsing and freeze if desired. It's also suggested that one boils their earthworms for at least 10 minutes before preparing them. Frying or roasting again seem to be preferable options for preparing them. More detailed instructions are available courtesy of WormWatch.

If you want a more elaborate recipe using one of these bugs, mealworm spaghetti seems to be a popular recipe, with sources all over the internet, including one on the Clemson University Entomology page.

Of course, lots of the popularly discussed bugs for eating aren't native to the U.S. While breeding them in the U.S. probably isn't a good idea (if they escape they could breed and have devastating effects on native species), one can still try these delicacies in ready to eat form. is one such supplier of edible insects.

If you want tamer things that are also ready to eat, Amazon offers crickets, "Larvets" (which appear to be mealworms), candied scorpions (which are singly, rather than as a case). Since most of these are sold by the case, they're on the expensive side. Also, not good if you're just wanting to sample something.

Man Eating Bugs: The Art and Science of Eating Insects was a recommended book about a couple of writers visiting different countries and partaking in the cultures' traditional bug eating. And, I've theoretically got a copy of the Eat-a-bug Cookbook (which I mentioned yesterday) on its way from the library. We'll see.

I'm definitely curious now, and I'm thinking about being the guinea pig for my loyal readers. I might pick up some mealworms tomorrow and give them a shot. Admittedly, I'm squeamish about the idea (and sometimes an idea is all it takes to make something unpalatable) but I'm willing to give anything a try. If they're edible (read: tasty), they might just have a place in my permaculture future.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is part 1 of 3 in a series of posts on entomophagy: the act (and art) of eating bugs. Click here for part 2, and here for part 3.


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

You should know by now that I'm a systems kind of thinker (you should also know that it's rare for me to post as many entries as I have in the fall and winter months). I've probably hinted at what I think the ideal living situation is, and I thought I would take some time expand on the train of thought I've developed. (I'd also like to apologize for the infrequency of updates... life keeps me busy, and the drudgery and monotony of the school system keeps me unmotivated in the way of words).

As I was walking home on this drearily drizzly day, I thought about what I would call this living arrangement that I had floating around in my head. I finally decided on "neo-nuclear family." The problems, for me, with traditional nuclear families are A) the focus on consanguinity (blood-relations) and B) gender roles.

There are several problems with dividing people into groups by blood-relations. The whole process takes on an exclusive tone, the whole "our people are better than your people" mentality. I know that my bloodline has contained heroes as well as thieves, so this division is egocentric for all of the wrong reasons. There are blood-relations who are such bad people that I don't consider them family. Then, at the opposite end of the spectrum, there are people who are not related to me by blood, but are the most loyal and loving people I know: these people are my family. The neo-nuclear family is not about consanguinity, but rather, about mutual support and complimentary skills, values, beliefs, etc. This doesn't implicitly include or exclude blood-relations. It is a system whereby individuals are judged by their deeds, and by their character, rather than who they are in relation to anyone else.

Speaking of skills, values, and beliefs; those I things that I think the traditional nuclear family model got right, at least somewhat. Some people are going to be better at some things than at others, and so it makes sense that those people would do those things, and other people would do the others. The problem with the traditional nuclear family model is that it tended to divide these skills/jobs on gender lines, rather than on what the individuals are actually good at. Obviously, recent years have shown a proliferation of stay at home dads and working women, so the traditional division obviously hasn't done justice.

In this way, neo-nuclear families are blood-agnostic and gender-agnostic; that is, the role of blood-relations and the role of different genders or gender-relations aren't implicit in the definition of a neo-nuclear family. Neo-nuclear families can either contain blood-relatives, or not. They can either contain a working man and a stay at home mom, or they can not.

But a neo-nuclear family is also number-agnostic. In fact, given current socio-economic concerns, the ideal neo-nuclear family tends toward more than 2 adult members. One of the major problems with the traditional nuclear family is that both parents have had to start working in order to provide the needs of the family, or one of the parents have had to take on more than one job. This should be an unnecessary stressor, which also results in a necessity to hire a caregiver for children, or for children to provide their own care. (In fact, I just got done reading NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children and it shows some of the consequences of children being left to raise themselves.) Not to mention, when both parents are working, it becomes difficult to stay on top of things like cleaning, doing laundry, maintaining houses/cars/appliances/etc. It also makes growing ones own organic food nearly impossible. Gardens that can provide any reasonable amount of ones own food would be difficult, or impossible, to maintain while working full time. In a two-parent household, it would be impossible to fix this imbalance.

Add another adult or two and the picture begins to change. House payments, car payments, utility bills, etc. are easy to tackle if there are two or more incomes working together to tackle those payments. But, there's also the freedom to have one or more stay at home parents/adults. This person or group of people can be responsible for household chores like cleaning, laundry, preparing meals and whatever shopping is necessary, as well as for caring for the children and maintaining a sizable garden.

Let's think about this. One isn't spending all of their money on child care, housekeeping, and eating out. The family gets to enjoy delicious home-cooked meals made with homegrown organic produce. The children aren't being left in the hands of strangers, or left to their own devices. The family unit is saving money on these expenses, while still bringing in two or more incomes, and without having to stress about getting everything done. The family might even decide that, instead of having anyone work a stressful 40+ hour work week, each adult with will work some smaller number of hours a week. In any case, there are always adult members either bringing in income, or taking care of children and household duties.

On top of this, one would add the forest gardening model. I believe I've mentioned it before. One grows their food in layers, like a temperate forest or tropical rainforest. This type of gardening is not only less work to maintain (because it mimics natural growth habits) but also provides greater variety. I haven't read How to Make a Forest Garden, but it has gotten good reviews. This "permaculture trio" on Google Video also features Robert Hart's world-renowned forest garden.

Combining this neo-nuclear family with a forest gardening model does a couple of beneficial things. First, it makes the family responsible for their food, and makes food both local and organic, and sustainable in a way that traditional gardening techniques fail to accomplish. Second, it keeps people from spreading out. Most people live in more home than they actually need. Even if houses were bigger to accommodate the extra people, there would be more people per living room, kitchen, etc. The houses might be bigger, in general (though, not necessarily), but they would take up less space and fewer resources per person. Not to mention the tremendous relief one would have from living in a supportive community instead of trying to make it on their own.

And am I going too far to suggest the Eat-a-bug Cookbook? Currently I'm not eating critters, regardless of size or species. A lot of this stems from the destructive methods used in the livestock industry, and also from the poor treatment of the animals. But, I recognize that so-called super foods like soy can't be grown everywhere. Does this mean that some people won't be able to get all of the nutrition they need from plant-based foods that they are able to grow locally? I think plant foods do a lot more than people give them credit for, but it is possible that in some places people won't be able to get everything from them. And, since insects, arachnids, and the like have more protein and nutrients per serving than meat, and because we don't have to level land to raise bugs (just go outside and pluck a few up), it seems like a reasonable way to augment one's diet. It does seem like a weird concept to me as an American... bugs have just never been a part of my daily diet. But, in many places bugs are considered a delicacy. If we learn to pay attention to our neighbors abroad, we might learn a thing or two about creating something out of this abundant resource.

Wow. So much information here... but that's the thing with systems thinking; it's all about how the different pieces work together. This post hasn't even brushed the surface of how all of these and many more pieces work together.

Hopefully I'll stay motivated to write more in the coming months, and then I'll expand more on these topics, and well as including others that mesh with these.

Blegh. That was a mouthful. Digest that, and I'll be back with more information... hopefully in bite-sized pieces.


Tuesday, January 05, 2010

I haven't been good about updating the ol' blog. Really, I haven't had much reason. It's been a busy several months, with it being my senior year and all. I've only got a few months left. And those months have been devoid of greenery. Except for the handful of weeds I grew for my tortoise, Avicenna, I haven't had anything to do with a plant since, well, this summer, when I did landscaping work for my roommates mother... but she was an idiot savant, and forced me to take part in some of the most horrid gardening faux pas ever. But I digress (pretty common for me, I know).

I was dreaming with a friend today, however. We have tentative plans to move the the SF Bay Area. I'm anxious to move away from Oregon... a place I've always lived, and a place where I understand the climate and the soil... but the end result is the important thing. The end result? I'll be living with her, her husband, and another friend: I'll be forest gardening, and cheffing it up. Where we're getting the money? I don't know. But having 4+ of us should help. And I'm hoping to have produced something book-length before I graduate, and then crossing my fingers about having it published. I could finally be living the dream.

That's really all the update I have... found a nice place with about 3 acres, but obviously we aren't ready to move yet. It'll be another year and a have. But I'll try to be more diligent about posting. I will be working at B St. Farm for one last term... I'll be taking two classes out there. And then I'll probably do some WWOOFing while my friend finishes her masters. Crossing my fingers. Wish me luck.