Charlie the cheesemonger setting up a table at a fundraiser event at our local children's museum
If you're ever in Marquette, stop by Everyday Wines to check out his cheese counter!
It's been years since I wrote a blog! I expect many people's lives look a lot different since December of 2020; mine is practically unrecognizable.
In the midst of so much loss, I also earned tenure in 2020. Without a carrot dangling in front of me anymore, it was difficult to conceive of what was next in my career. Therefore, it felt like a good time to allow my husband to pursue his dreams. So, we made a big move, and our lives are now based in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where Charlie is running his own cut-to-order cheese counter! We actually did not know what this meant for me when we made the decision to move, but we took the leap anyways. I am lucky that it worked out that I can continue to teach for Wayne State online, and I travel to Detroit when needed.
As a food anthropologist, it is really fun to surround myself with the specialty foods he is able to carry in his shop. Yes, the foods are delicious, but the stories may be the best part of it. For instance, Wilde Weide—pronounced VIL-da VEYE-duh—is a gouda made with painstaking care as part of a 300-year old family operation. The cows, the cheesemakers, and the cheese are the only residents on a small Norwegian island. Each day, eight wheels are produced, and they are serenaded with an aria as they are set to rest for their year+ aging process (The creamery is run by a husband and wife team, and she has operatic training for the University of Amsterdam). When their product is ready to sell, it's loaded on to a row boat to be paddled across to the mainland for distribution. And of course, it is absolutely delicious.
As we got more into specialty foods it became apparent how climate change will dramatically impact the futures of some of our favorites. It's easy to imagine how increased frequency of extreme weather events could wipe out the little Wilde Weide operation. In general, extreme weather in dairying ecozones can impact availability of fresh water, which will impact milk supply. Dairy can be viewed as an "endangered food" whose future availability is at risk due to climate change.
Charlie does not just carry cheese, he carries all sorts of specialty pairings and accoutrements, and his second love after cheese is bean-to-bar chocolate. Chocolate is most certainly an endangered food, with some projections suggesting the cacao plant could go extinct by 2050. That's only a few decades away! Yet there is no inkling of a problem when it comes to the widespread availability and low cost of a chocolate candies at any convenience checkout counter. How can this be? Well, 70% of the world supply of chocolate is grown in West Africa, where costs are kept down by relying on human trafficking, slavery, and child labor. So if your chocolate bar does not specifically indicate that it was not sourced in West Africa, you can pretty safely conclude that at least some of it was, and that its purchase is contributing to these inhumane practices. Even expensive "artisan" chocolate you pick up at Whole Foods or local co-op typically use cacao mass, which is bulk produced and sold wholesale without any sourcing information.
Enter bean-to-bar chocolate. This name is just a description of the process - chocolate that is produced directly from cacao beans as opposed to bulk mass - and this small-scale production gained popularity because differently sourced beans carry different flavor profiles. However, what emerged is better sourcing information, and even growers producing their own chocolates, so although something labeled "bean-to-bar" does not promise better labor practices, many small scale producers celebrate the fact that their chocolate has been sustainably and ethically sourced and provide that information to consumers.
One of the most exciting chocolate brands we have been introduced to is To'ak out of Ecuador, who call themselves "tree-to-bar" producers. They are known as a luxury brand, and some of their offerings are absurdly expensive ($450 absurd), but many are quite reasonable in cost for what they are offering ($20/bar reasonable). To'ak started as a rainforest conservation project. The Ecuadorian cacao variety called “Nacional” traces its genetic lineage back to the first-known cacao trees domesticated by humanity, about 5,300 years ago, and today it is on the brink of extinction.
I immediately liked To'ak because they pay cacao growers the highest prices of any chocolate company I've come across: 3-9x more than the Fair Trade price. I personally like knowing that my dollars are supporting the laborers and not just the capitalists. But one To'ak line got me really excited, their Alchemy line designed in collaboration with Chef Charles Michel. I was first introduced to Chef Michel through the Netflix international cooking competition the Final Table. It was clear that he was passionate about food as a connection to nature and I immediately was drawn to him and his style. THEN he cooked with chapulines! I am used to periodically seeing insects pop up on cooking competitions and other food shows, but they are often featured in the Halloween episode, or generally sensationalized, but Chef Michel spoke about them respectfully without any exoticization. And he made them delicious! He won that week's challenge. I personally believe that the acceptance of insects as food is going to be largely reliant on chefs capturing their unique flavor profile and giving people cravable food experiences they can't find with any other product.
So I was super excited to see he was not only involved with To'ak but that he helped create an Amazonian ants chocolate. And oh my gosh, is the product sublime. Ants are notable for having formic acid as a chemical defense mechanism and pheromone communicator, which gives them an acidic, citrusy flavor. This chocolate plays with this flavor so well, and it is the distinct anty acidity that is left on your palate at the finish. It leaves you wanting to go back for another taste - the ants make you want to go back - and that's what we need more of in this edible insects movement.
Remembering my mom, Joan M. Lesnik
It's been a month since my mom passed away. I have done a lot of reflecting and I think I have something I can say now, but please pardon my lazy writing.
My mom gave me her name as my middle name. When I was a kid, I hated it; it was an old lady's name and didn't match the "Anns" or other common middle names that most of my classmates had. When I mentioned this to her, it broke her heart. She told me that she was just so full of love for me when I was born that she didn't know what else to do but to give me her own name. Talk about feeling like a jerk! I have loved my middle name ever since.
See, I am the baby of five and the only girl. I was brought into this world to a hospital room stuffed with pink flowers and balloons. I even got a standing ovation at just a couple months old! My mother had me in arms as she stumbled late into the school auditorium for my brothers' end-of-year awards ceremony. The principal on stage noticed, and having had all four of my brothers through his school he said "let's give it up for the first Lesnik girl!" and everyone stood up and clapped.
My mom was an ICU nurse (that worked the night shift so that she could send us kids off to school in the mornings.. she was nothing short of incredible). When she was a teenager, her parents did not support her desire to pursue a career but when she told her dad she wanted to go to nursing school (and would find ways to cover the costs herself) he agreed because he thought it would be good to have her to take care of him when he got old. She very much resented him for this and she made sure that she never burdened her kids with the feeling that we needed to care for her when she got old. This also worked for her independent, and sometimes stubborn, mindset, so I feared the day when these discussions would need to take place, but one of the silver linings to her death is that it came suddenly while she was still fully independent; she honored her word.
The other thing to come from that conversation with her father was that she made sure to fully support her kids in their pursuit of their careers, both morally and financially. My mom once quipped at me "I wonder what I would have turned out like had I had the support that you have?" I was quite young and to her surprise what came out of my mouth was "I guess we'll find out when I grow up." That was one of her favorite stories and I think it is a major reason why striving to achieve is deeply embedded in my bones. I have always been aware that I was born into this world with immense privilege so it became my personal responsibility to make sure I did something with it.
One of the compliments my mom gave me most after I was well into my career was "I can't imagine what it would have been like to have a professor like you!" and she would relay the story of her endocrinology professor in nursing school who read from the textbook. Maybe not surprising, I also had a similarly dry endocrinology professor! But that wasn't the point. My mom was wondering what she would have turned out like if after she left home to go to school she had passionate professors who taught her to stoke those fires within herself. I honestly believe she would have pursued more higher education. My mom had everything it takes to get a PhD, except the opportunity in the 1960s.
When I graduated high school I wanted to pursue a PhD so that I could teach biology at the college level. I clearly got my love of biology from my mom (I'd also say the "teaching" came from my dad, but that's comical since teaching made him miserable). But what became clearer over time is that my switch to anthropology was also inspired by her. My mom loved prehistory. Her favorite book was James Michener's Centennial. I also remember her being a fan of Jane Auel's Clan of the Cave Bear. When I was a freshman in high school I had to give an 'informative speech with an attention-getter' on any topic of my choosing. At a loss with this open-ended assignment my mother suggested I research Stonehenge because she always found it fascinating, so that's what I did. I carried around the huge S-volume of our encyclopedia for weeks. I then used it as my attention-getter, slamming it on the floor first thing and describing how to an ant the book would be huge and it would be a major feat for it to move it long distances and stand it upright. I believe I won an award in that class for that speech. So it not only got me interested in archaeology, it got me interested in public speaking. I was lucky enough that in 2018 when I had a short stint as a visiting researcher at a university in Edinburgh, Scotland, I was able to bring my mom along so that we could side trip to Stonehenge together. Funny enough, visiting Stonehenge made me remember that I have long been drawn to the metaphysical and I am currently thinking about future research directions that will allow me to indulge this curiosity.
I am grateful that my mom got to see me achieve tenure. I am a little pissed that she doesn't get to see me turn 40 (the age she was when she had me... missed it by 6 months). But more than anything, I am just honored to have been her daughter. She gave me everything one could possibly need to live a good and happy life. It is now up to me to figure out what it looks like to be my best self for me since I will no longer be doing it for her. How I see it, the achiever in me can quiet down so that the dreamer in me can soar. There are exciting things awaiting me in the next chapter.
A quick note on my dad who we lost to Leukemia just 15 months before losing my mom. He was my mom's best friend, and I think that's what I loved most about him. They were a team and had a lot of fun together... I had excellent role models for what a marriage should look like. My dad was wonderfully supportive of me as well, but the truth is, when I was born, he had no clue what to do with a baby girl, so he just let me be my mom's. I didn't have a close personal relationship with him, but he taught me so much: work ethic, managing money, record keeping, maintaining property, etc. He was always a phone call away to help with anything and he excelled at keeping a cool, calm head in a crisis, which I found myself in sometimes through all my international travels! Their house was always "home" and cleaning out their house includes me clearing out my childhood bedroom. It's all so hard, but I am really nothing but grateful.
The Best Dang Cricket Cookies
While "chocolate chirp" cookies have an adorable name, I am not convinced they are the best introduction to edible insects, especially here in the US. The original chocolate chip cookie recipe dates back to the 1930's and since then it has been a staple American treat. So many families have their own "secret recipe" and there's nothing better than catching them right out of the oven. That's why when we change the well-known, deeply-loved treat to include insects as an ingredient, people are willing to give it a try, but did we actually win them over? In my opinion, we just gave them a chocolate chip cookie that tastes "wrong." So that's why I came up with a new cookie recipe that I like to make for people.
• 2 cups all-purpose baking flour
• 1/2 cup cricket powder (100% ground-up crickets!)
• 2 tsp. baking powder
• 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
• 1 tsp. ground cloves
• 1/4 tsp. salt
• 1 Tbs. fresh coffee grounds
• 1 cup butter, room temperature
• 1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
• 2 egg
• 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line large cookie sheets with parchment or grease well. Set aside. I use four cookies sheets and baked in two batches in order to avoid cookies spreading into each other.
2. In a large bowl, mix the flour, cricket powder, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves, coffee and salt together and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until well blended and “fluffy.” It takes a few minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing until fully incorporated and then add the vanilla.
3. Slowly add the dry ingredients and mix just until combined. Place the dough, in 1-inch balls, about 2-inches apart on the cookie sheets.
4. Bake for 10-12 minutes until lightly browned on the edges but soft in the middle. Cool for a few minutes on the cookie sheet before moving to a wire rack to fully cool.
Edible Cleveland does a beautiful job reporting their experience with serving insects on the dinner table
I must confess. I don't read every single article that comes out about insect eating. For one, they are getting too numerous! And that's a GREAT thing! But I cannot keep up with it all. Secondly, I get a little tired of the typical story arc that starts with grossing out the reader and then telling them that some people out there are saying we should eat them to save the world. But today a friend of mine sent me a picture of the most recent issue of Edible Cleveland:
First off, I was excited to see insects as the cover story. I was then immediately impressed with the photo that is not there to shock but rather to capture the eye with beauty. And then finally, the little query "Edible?" at the bottom. In our "biz" we have had many discussions about which words we should use to convey what we are studying, selling, promoting, etc. We have already seen a shift away from technical-sounding "entomophagy" and now we all have been using "edible insects" much more. I used this phrase in the title of my just-published book and I already am shifting away from it as well. "Edible" does not properly reflect insect foods because "edible" sounds more like you can eat it. Meaning it won't hurt you. But the word does not do much to convey that insects provide nourishing, real, whole, natural, and tasty options. So in that cover image, which one is a better representative of "edible?" Well a good case could be made that the gummy worms that are made of who-knows-what and offer no nutritional benefits should be called "edible" while the mealworms should be considered food.
All of that just from the cover! So I was intrigued enough to take a look online and check out the story. Well, there were TWO stories, so the surprises just kept coming!
The first one, the main story, opened with:
"Friends gather around a table, lavishly set within the constraints of urban sophistication, for a dinner party with a theme."
Yes! We gather to eat! It's a social thing! Let's celebrate that eating bugs brings people together! Do you know how many public bug banquets are run in this country each year?? Well, me neither, but it's many! I'd wager to guess that it averages to about one-per-state a year. And this does not include the the number of times friends have ventured to try insects at a dinner party like the one they are describing here.
As the story went on they playfully talk about legs and eyes, but it is clear they are not going for shock or laughs. That doesn't work in their crowd, why would it work for their readers?
"Hoping for a laugh, one guest mumbles to draw attention to the leg, dabbed with aioli, dangling from a corner of his mouth. His antics prompt eye-rolling and some light chuckling."
And in the spirit of things continuing to get better and better, the theme of their dinner party was actually crustaceans, not insects. So shrimp were on the menu alongside the crickets and mealworms they were serving therefore any critique one could make about wanting to avoid insects could easily be spun around to point out that it's hypocritical if you are a fan of the shrimp cocktail. Having these together on the menu makes for great fodder while looking to Leviticus to try to understand the taboo that Westerner's have towards eating insects:
“Whatsoever hath fins and scales in the waters, in the seas, and in the rivers, them shall ye eat. Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, that shall be an abomination unto you,” according to The Book of Leviticus. “Yet these you may eat among all the winged insects: those which have above their feet jointed legs with which to jump on the earth. These of them you may eat: the locust in its kinds, and the cricket in its kinds, and the grasshopper in its kinds. But all other winged insects are detestable to you.”
So if it's supposed to be the Old Testament that is driving our food choices, well then locusts, crickets, and grasshoppers should be everyday fare. Since that doesn't answer it, they decided to look to science. And where did they get their science??? Surprise! My book! Stop making me fall in love with you, Edible Cleveland! They discus chimpanzees, australopithecines, colonial settlers.. the whole shebang! And even better, they flush it out with additional examples that I did not provide in the book.
The article wraps up with discussing how insects are "abundant and Earth friendly" and closes with a toast:
"For now, I propose a toast. For those alive today who will see this century through. For our grandchildren and their grandchildren, who will inherit the table we are setting for them, let’s raise a glass: May your choice to eat insects be made around a lavish table surrounded by friends, rather than hunched over a termite mound working a crude bone tool."
It was the end of the article that directs the reader to a recap of their bug taco party online. This second piece captures the fun of experiencing new things together with friends. And the final surprise was that they got their insects from my good friends at Rocky Mountain Micro Ranch!
What a fun Friday afternoon. Thank you, Edible Cleveland!
Although people have been slowly receiving their pre-ordered books in the mail, July 17 is the official publication date of Edible Insects and Human Evolution! It's been more than five years since its conception and now my book is finally out for the world to see.
Friends have been sending me pictures of my book as they receive it! <3
There has been some great online media to go along with the book release. Each piece has something unique and I think they all work well together to fully paint the picture on what the book's about.
First, NPR covered it yesterday (in print, not audio.. you can read it here). I had a wonderful conversation with Paul Chrisholm (who has a background in entomology!) and I think the piece turned out great. I could have done without the photo of bugs hanging out of someone's mouth, but sensationalism is the name of the game with the media, so I can't pretend to be surprised.
Entomofago, which is based in the EU, is the first international media group to focus entirely on edible insects. They published an interview with me on their blog (available here). It's a nice little piece that asks a bit more about how I got interested in the topic and why I decided to write a book.
Lastly, my publisher, University Press of Florida, asked me to write a blog post (here) to accompany the book's release. They wanted a little bit of a "behind the scenes" feel to the post so I decided to try to show how I work with many different sources of information in order to reconstruct this part of the diet in the past.
I have some radio interviews coming up and expect there to be some more online articles going around. I am very pleased with the reception of the book's release. I am working hard to push away the negative thoughts that this will all change once people have read it!
I had the great privilege of attending the second Insects to Feed the World conference held this time in Wuhan, China. The first one was four years ago in the Netherlands, spearheaded by Arnold van Huis and the University of Wageningen. I did not attend in 2014 so this was my first opportunity to meet Arnold van Huis, which was a bit of a starstruck moment for me. He was first author on the 2013 UN FAO statement that I think of as a rocket booster for my career. It was an amazing feeling that in his opening keynote address he mentioned my research on an ancient termite mound at Olduvai Gorge, so it was a bit easier to introduce myself to him after that. It gave me a talking point to tell him that that paper won't be out for some time still and that the news picked up my talk from the Paleoanthropology Society meetings although the articles never credited it as such.
The conference was an amazing experience and I want to share some of my takeaways:
So many black soldier flies!
This conference, like all edible insects conferences thus far, including my own, featured insects as both food and feed. And it was the first time that I started to wonder how much longer this joint effort would continue, at least in terms of conference programming. The food side of things was still lamenting issues of consumer acceptance and legislative barriers while the feed side of things was presenting cutting edge research on rearing insects (most commonly black soldier fly larvae) as feed for livestock. It was a little too familiar of a "late bloomer" feeling - watching your friend hit a new life stage while leaving you behind in the dust.
Ultimately I think the momentum the feed crowd has is good for all. The technology that they are developing with their better-funded research is transferable in many ways to food insects. So once of the food side of things catches up in normalization, there is a lot of groundwork that has already been laid. The problem with this on the conference programming side is that all the industry players from both sides - farmers, companies, and agriculture researchers - were tied up in these talks and the parallel programming that was specifically focused on the social aspects of insects as food were not as well attended.
I presented in and chaired the session on ethno-entomophagy. And I shouldn't say the session wasn't well attended because it probably had 50 people or so in there. But I personally feel (and whether this is warranted or just my ego speaking is a debatable) that everyone who works with edible insects in any way would benefit from understanding their cultural significance around the world. So I am going to take the time to give shout-outs to the ethno presentations here:
Research and development of Ophiocordyceps sinensis
R. Han and L. Cao
Ophiocordyceps sinensis is a fungus that grows on caterpillars on the Tibetan plateau and is used in traditional Chinese medicine for a wide range of aliments (News to me! So cool!). Han's talk emphasized the importance of this resource for local people and presented his research on large-scale cultivation of host insects (Thitarodes armoricanus and T. jianchuanensis). They have had success rearing these long-lived species, infecting the adults with the fungus, and harvesting the resulting blooms.
Domestication of African gourmet caterpillars
To start, I loved Ambühl's decision to use the word "gourmet" to reflect that these caterpillars are not just edible, they are greatly enjoyed as food. He presented the work he has been doing with Congolese biologist Augustin Konda to domesticate saturniid caterpillars and rear them as agricultural livestock in a region of the Democratic Republic of Congo where they are no longer found. This project works closely with local people and the children are especially excited to be involved. You can follow their progress on their youtube channel. Definitely go check it out!
Review of past and current status of insects for food and feed in Kenya: reintroducing entomophagy
I was lucky to be in two sessions with Dr. Monica Ayieko. She is brilliant and well-spoken and everyone should be in the room any time she is presenting. Her talk reviewed the historic use of insects as food in Kenya, current scientific work being done on the topic, and the future prospects of edible insects in human and animal nutrition in Kenya. The main point of her talk was a call for collaboration. There is much that needs to be done in order to rear insects on a scale that can be useful for alleviating the challenges of food security. The many different edible species require a specific understanding of their life cycles, etc., and she wants anyone who is interested to come and help them figure these things out in Kenya!
Women and edible insects: a deep, deep history
I presented next and can I say that I am most proud that I was able to keep my own talk within the allotted time? It's a weird piece of pride I have to not go over time, even when I don't have someone holding up signs. Anyway, I digress. I used the 15 minutes to present the overarching theme of my upcoming book (I will present on the Olduvai termite mound at the upcoming Eating Insects Athens (Georgia) conference August 13-15.. Register here!). Women in foraging societies consume insects more than men and this pattern is not restricted to humans, it is also well represented in the great apes, especially chimpanzees, and can be found across the Primate order. Therefore I think it is safe to say that our ancient ancestors were likely displaying a similar pattern. The fact that females rely on them so heavily is a testament to their utility and we should celebrate edible insects as such.
Settlement behaviour of new queens of the weaver ant Oecophylla smaragdina
T. Phusakhon and D. Wiwatwitaya
Phusakhon presented her research on the ecology of weaver ant queens establishing new colonies. This species is a prominent and important economic edible insect of Thailand and if they are ever going to be cultivated then it is important to understand how new colonies are established in the wild. It is important to remember that social insects like ants, bees, and termites are architects of their homes and that temperature regulation is a major factor to consider. Her work was fascinating showing how the queens are highly selective in choosing their settlement sites with the majority of queens being found on the west sides of trees and on leaves that are superimposed, not curled. If cultivation is to be successful, it is important to consider such factors in creating habitats for captive colonies.
I was very proud of this session and I believe that familiarizing ourselves with the different ways people consume insects is an important step to helping people see them as actual food, not just something "others" eat. To that point, I am grateful that there was a special side session dedicated to understanding how our colonial histories affect edible insects research and industry.
The Importance of Decolonizing Edible Insects
Thanks to Charlotte Payne and John Kinyuru for organizing a panel titled "A discussion of neo-colonial approaches to edible insects and how we can work to decolonise the field in both research and industry." This is a topic that I think every single person attending the conference should have been exposed to, but of course, only the people who already had some familiarity with the concept were the ones that attended the discussion. Therefore I am glad that we were able to record it so that everyone can see. You can watch it here.
The panelists were:
Dr. Komi Fiaboe. Senior Scientist, Leader of the Insect for Food and Feed Program, ICIPE
Dr. Afton Halloran. Consultant - Sustainable Food Systems, Former GREEiNSECT PhD Fellow
Dr. Monica Ayieko. Consumer Scientist, Jooust- Kenyan University
Dr. Amy Franklin, DVM. Farms for Orphans
Dr. Julie Lesnik. Department of Anthropology, Wayne State University
Each of the participants spoke for 5-10 minutes on their personal experiences with overcoming the bias against insects as food that comes from our colonial history. I then wrapped up the presentation part of the session with a very short anthropology-professor lecture about the topic (26:45-32:55) before we opened the discussion to everyone in the room.
A few key takeaway points:
Please check out the video of the panel. I also highly recommend you watch my lecture on Why Don't We Eat Insects in Western Culture if you are new to this concept and want to better understand the impact of our colonial history on edible insects today. I also have another blog post that discusses the topic that you might find useful.
Associating with Associations!
The last thing I want to mention was just how awesome it was to see representatives of the different regional associations come together to discuss their programs and share knowledge. There has been some speculation on whether a "world association" should be founded, but I think that no one needs an additional annual membership they need to keep up with, and that all the benefits of such an association can be had by making sure these sorts of collaborative conversations continue. I foresee that this will be a highlight of every IFW conference from here on out. I will not attempt to summarize the session as this was outside of my area of expertise (you can read a bit about it here), but I do want to give you links to the associations that were present:
The Asian Food and Feed Insect Association- AFFIA
Insect Protein Association of Australia - IPAA
International Platform for Insects as Feed and Food - IPIFF (Europe based)
North American Coalition for Insect Agriculture - NACIA
Final Impression: Energizing
After attending my first edible insects conference in Montreal in 2014 I was so inspired by the energy and commaraderie I felt that I offered to host Eating Insects Detroit in 2016. Some people, including myself, sometimes look at this decision as one of naivete, but it was just something I felt I had to do. I needed to bring this group of people together again. Four years later I still feel the same way after saying goodbye. I am excited that Eating Insects Athens is just around the corner and look forward to being an attendee at the next IFW conference, wherever it may land.
Eating Insects Detroit Newsletter – April 5, 2018
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Hello All! It’s been quite some time and I have a lot of updates to share. I will cover:
1) The Gateway Bug Documentary, including a showing at the Freep Detroit Film Festival (4/12)
2) THE NEXT CONFERENCE! Coming up in August, and moving to Athens, GA
3) Update on myself, including a discount code for my upcoming book
1) THE GATEWAY BUG
Much of the Gateway Bug was filmed during the 2016 conference. You can see Detroit, especially Wayne State, as a backdrop for interviews with many of the industry’s key players. The movie is available for rent and download on Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play. For more info about Johanna Kelly and Cameron Marshad’s award-winning documentary, go to http://thegatewaybug.com
DETROITERS can take advantage of the opportunity to see this movie at Cinema Detroit as part of the Freep Film Fest. It is playing on April 12th at 7pm. You can visit the Facebook event page for more information as well as for a link to buy tickets. https://www.facebook.com/events/378633315937639/
2) EATING INSECTS ATHENS
The next installment of the Eating Insects conference is going to be held August 13-15, 2018 at the University of Georgia Center for Continuing Education in Athens, GA. The conference is in the very capable hands of Dr. Marianne Shockley and her organizing committee and the event is now becoming the official meeting of the North American Coalition for Insect Agriculture (NACIA). Stay tuned to the conference website for registration and abstract-submission details.
Also, consider joining NACIA (http://www.edibleinsectcoalition.org/) .. doing so will get you reduced rates for the conference.
Don’t worry, the conference will work its way back to Detroit. Possibly in 2020.
3) EDIBLE INSECTS AND HUMAN EVOLUTION
I’ve been keeping myself busy with research, writing, and teaching. That’s why I decided it was best to take a reprieve from conference planning. Also, as much as I love Detroit, the conference was never about the city, it was about the potential of edible insects. As our community grows, there are more enthusiastic individuals that are able and willing to take on the project. The expectation is that the conference will continue to move around North America, but Detroit will always be where it can come “home.”
My upcoming calendar includes traveling to China in May for the Insects Feed the World conference. http://ifw2018.csp.escience.cn/dct/page/1. I hope to present some of my research on the importance of edible insects to women in foraging societies.
This work, along with much more, is covered in my book Edible Insects and Human Evolution which is due to come out in July. If you are interested in pre-ordering it, you can visit the University Press of Florida’s website (http://upf.com/book.asp?id=9780813056999) and use the discount code SAA18, which is valid through May 11th. This code will mark the book down the $40! Also worth noting is that there is free shipping for orders over $50, so maybe get a second copy for a friend :)
Thanksgiving and the Internet
I wrote this piece for the Conversation on what the first Thanksgiving probably looked like. The Conversation is an excellent concept; it's an independent news site that partners with academic institutions to pair scholars and journalists together to write their pieces (Academic rigor, journalistic flair). Their articles get circulated much like the AP. Look out for them and share them. You should be able to trust their content.
I was approached by someone in PR at my university asking if I would write something about food for the holidays, and I knew there was not an elegant way to cram edible insects into an academic piece about holiday feasts. So I decided to use the opportunity to highlight indigenous foods more generally. I made the conscious effort to make the piece celebratory instead of derogatory (More "Yay indigenous foods!" and less "this holiday is made up; let's stop trying to pretend that the relationship between European settlers and the native peoples they conquered was a friendly one"). And I wanted to keep it that way as I engaged with readers in the comment section etc. But you can never be prepared for internet commenters!
My biggest fear writing a piece that would get such a large audience was that of impostor syndrome: That someone who knows more about the topic would point out errors that I made. I wasn't expecting people to "yuck my yum" because I wasn't discussing insects or any other food that I could imagine people would find disgusting. And problems with mansplaining never crossed my mind. Again, you can never truly be prepared for comments on the internet.
I am committed to public engagement and I stand by putting out good content with which the public can engage. I love having discussions but I believe it is important to avoid getting into fights.
So here is how I engaged with the comments I received in the first 24 hours:
YUCKING MY YUM
"Thank goodness...NO BUGS!"
I was expecting this. I went with the laughing emoji.
"I'd have to pass on the sobaheg stew"
[Thoughts to self: It's stew! Almost every culture has some version of a stew where you throw in a bunch of seasonal ingredients. How is this offensive???] I went with no comment.
""Most Americans probably don’t realize that we have a very limited understanding of the first Thanksgiving, which took place in 1621 in Massachusetts."....and even fewer Americans realize that the real first Thanksgiving took place September 8, 1565 in St. Augustine."
I first posted "Indeed, the award for who first conquered indigenous peoples on this continent goes to the Spanish." I then deleted it because I remembered my promise to not take this there and left no comment.
"Very interesting but what did they serve at Berkeley Plantation in Virginia at their first Thanksgiving more than a year earlier?"
[Thoughts to self: omg, really? Again? Am I going to be told of every feast on record prior to 1621?] I decided to craft an answer that I can use for any more of these that might come my way: "Feasting and giving thanks is common practice, especially for Native American tribes. So if we want the first first (not just the one in 1621 which was used for our made up holiday) we have to go much further back in time before any European settlers conquered the "New World"
In contrast to the above comments made by men, I received this one on the post itself: "Thanks for an interesting essay. I’m sure you are familiar with Janet Siskind’s classic article ‘The Invention of Thanksgiving" (Critique of Anthropology vol 12(2) 1992), which places the ritual in historical context…."
Polite AND with citation. Thank you, Barbara.
A note to academic authors
We can do better.
In my upper-level/grad course plus my journal club, students read peer-reviewed journal articles. These are advanced students in anthropology, so even if they are reading something outside their specialty, they are versed in reading primary literature and these articles should be well within their skill set to understand. I choose them on topic, often just from what I remember them being about and me thinking it was important/relevant. I rarely, if ever, read the full article again before posting, and it is becoming frustratingly obvious that I sometimes choose bad articles for them. Why are they bad? Because my students are wasting their time trying to figure out the research question, the hypothesis, the point. That is the fault of the author, not of my student.
When students air this grievance I tell them "remember this feeling so that when you are writing manuscripts, you remember to not get so bogged down in your own details that you forget how to communicate science."
As scientists, our papers in academic journals are written to our peers, and I think in a lot of ways we may cut corners in laying out our assumptions or setting up our hypotheses because it is part of the process with which we are all intimately familiar. However, when I have a student read an academic paper and ask them to pull this information out of the text, it can be quite a challenge for them because it is rarely stated so plainly. Therefore, when anyone not in our field reads one of our papers, they may be just as lost. Instead of blaming the reader for not understanding, maybe we should be better at communicating. If we want our work to have impact beyond our specialty, then we need to write in a way they can read.
In January, John Hawks wrote a piece "Can we build a science of human evolution that people can trust?" He had engaged with his followers on Facebook and Twitter regarding what they, scientists and non-scientists alike, wanted to see in 2017. Many of the responses were rooted in trust, from sufficient sample sizes to intellectual disconnects between disciplines.
Hawks' take-home message?
"Just trying to answer those shared questions, directing resources to them and engaging with the public, will build trust."
And I agree. I am a big advocate of public engagement. But not every scientist actively participates in this venture. It is time consuming to have to stand in as a translator of science. But what if the primary literature was easier to understand? It wouldn't eliminate the need for public engagement, but it would help to build allies outside our field and aid science writers in communicating our work more effectively to the public. If a paper is well structured, you can glance through the elaborate methods and statistics that might be far from your area of speciality but still understand how those were used to test the hypotheses and predictions and walk away with a good understanding of how the author reached their conclusion. The details are necessary so specialists can continue to build on scholarship, but the paper can also serve the purpose of communicating the work more broadly.
Of course, I do not mean "dumb down our work." What I mean is to write out our hypothesis, predictions, assumptions, etc. with clear language that indicates that that's what they are. In most instances, this extra bit of attention is not going to up your word count to the point where it is problematic. Even if it does, aren't these important words that should remain in the manuscript?
In my own writing, some of my papers are better than others. I know that I am not perfect at laying out my hypotheses and predictions each time. And of the 20ish articles my students have read so far this term, they only voiced this complaint twice. But after the second time of telling them to remember to be better, I thought I should share that sentiment more widely. I hope that next time you sit down to write a manuscript, you remember the scientific method and let it help you structure your paper.
Don't Yuck My Yum
I just learned the phrase "don't yuck my yum." It's defined in the urban dictionary as "do not say that my food tastes bad," but to me it is much more meaningful than that. Yeah, you might be eating some reheated french fries and have to ask someone to not yuck your yum as they judge your meal decisions, but that is nothing compared to the yuck that Westerners have put on the foods of entire cultures of indigenous peoples. Clearly, I am thinking of edible insects here.
I am commonly asked "why don't we eat bugs in Western cultures," and the answer is quite complicated. I usually start with the environment - outside of the tropics, insects are less abundant and much more seasonal. Since this is also true of plant foods in these regions, the first people to make lives for themselves in northern environments had to rely on hunting since animals can eat the woody plant browse foods that we cannot digest; and then we can eat them. So in these diets, insects would be nutritionally redundant. However, in recent years, I have been getting better at decoloninizing anthropology and make it a point to also mention how here in the United States, when Europeans came to this continent with their insect-free diets, they were appalled that indigenous diets included insects and considered it part of their beast-like nature (Columbus used the phrase como bestias). Although rarely discussed, Columbus used these beliefs as justification for establishing the trade of indigenous islanders as slaves.
I have upcoming publications that detail this history more thoroughly, but my point here is that
how we talk about food matters.
Someone left a comment on my youtube video - "Sorry, you'll never get us to back to 10,000 BCE." And once I had to answer to someone live on air in a radio interview who made a comment about "devolution." What these kinds of remarks fail to recognize is that billions of people today eat insects. These are people just the same as you and me. They are not relics of the stone age nor are they less evolved, they are people representing the beautiful things that make us human; the ability to exhibit dietary flexibility in order to make lives for ourselves in a wide range of environments.
Remembering back to that radio interview, I am proud of what I said when put on the spot. I made the counter-argument that people who eat insects have been using their resources much more wisely than we have been which is why we are looking to their food choices as alternatives to the industries we've created that are destroying the environment. Their way of life is much more sustainable, and the only reason why it might not appear that way is because Western culture has been pushed on them for hundreds of years.
When I give talks and offer insect-based snacks, it does not matter to me if people will not try them; however, I ask people to respect them. Our aversions and disgust reactions are culturally based, and we are products of our culture and thus it is completely normal to have those responses. But we do not need to degrade others with our choices. Insects are a nutritious, environmentally friendly food source that people have been wise to utilize for millions of years. Instead of asking "why don't we eat insects" the better question may be "why did we stop eating insects?" which can only be answered by addressing our colonial history.
New, updated handouts! Now with less typos!
I teach Introduction to Biological Anthropology which is a class on human evolution. Most of my students take my class because it fulfills a science general education credit. This means that most of my students are non-science majors and that my class seemed like the lesser of the science evils. When they find out that the first section of the class in on genetics, they often begin to rethink their decision. However, if I can make genetics make sense to them, then I might be able to get more of my students, students who represent the ethnic diversity of Detroit, into the sciences.
I have students work in small groups. They each get a copy of the instruction manual and the data notebook. Students also get a coin, a six-sided die, and a 20-sided die. Since I am a gamer, the d20 made sense to me. I was also very happy to have an excuse to buy a bunch of dice at my local game store (I spent about $15 for 30 dice). However, the activity can easily be modified to use a coin and d6 only.
Below you can find pdfs of the handouts. The instruction manual will walk you through the whole activity, and the data sheet is what students use to record their findings. If you had seen an earlier version of this activity, the below files contain edits that greatly streamline the process.
For more info, I published this activity in the American Biology Teacher:
"Modeling Genetic Complexity in the Classroom"
Julie J. Lesnik
The American Biology Teacher, Vol. 80 No. 2, February 2018; (pp. 140-142) DOI: 10.1525/abt.2018.80.2.140
Feel free to contact me here if you would like a pdf of the paper.
I am often asked to blog while in the field, and I never do. That is because my time in the field is rarely anything exciting enough to document day-by-day. I usually wake up, go get in a good day’s work of whatever I am doing – excavating or collecting termites – come back, have dinner, and go to sleep. However, my time at Gombe has been one of the biggest adventures of my life. My first two days in the field were exceptional, so I’ve decided to write a day-by-day diary. I'll update this post as I go.
Last update: 11/30/2016
Also, please excuse any typos. There have been lots. I've caught a bunch of them, but I am sure there are more. There's even one in the weblink to this blog because I had one in the title when I first posted! But as you will see, on day 2, I hurt my pinky, so I've had to re-learn typing with my left hand!
First off, I traveled to Tanzania essentially straight from the annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association which were held in Minneapolis, MN. My week prior to leaving was about as hectic as any I have ever had since I was not only packing for both trips but also making sure my students were set with all they needed before I was gone for a couple of weeks. My trip here went incredibly smoothly. My checked bag made it, which was something that wasn’t true when I traveled to Croatia last year, South Africa this past spring, or to Eastern Tanzania this past summer. My ride was waiting for me at the airport and after everyone ran their errands in town, we were on the boat to Gombe. The boat ride was something I had romanticized in my head.. Traveling along the coast of Lake Tanganyika up to the most famous chimpanzee site in the world. And indeed, it was a beautiful trip. We were at max capacity in the boat with 12 people, the goods for camp, and my luggage, but we made it safely. At camp, I have my own room, complete with bed, bedding, pillow, and mosquito net. Gombe is definitely a plush field site compared to most.
Gombe is pretty high up in elevation. Base camp at the lake is 770 meters, and the chimps will trek up over 1200 meters. I was warned that there is a little bit of an acclimation period for this (which I was glad to hear since it gave me an excuse for any poor performance besides just being incredibly out of shape!). So our first day we took it easy. I am here with my friend and colleague Rob O’Malley (and grant Co-PI) who has done an extensive survey of chimpanzee termite fishing at the site. For the most part we are just visiting termite mounds for which he has record of chimpanzee fishing. We scheduled the trip for November because this is usually the rainy season, which is when the termites are most active, but alas, the rains have not come. By sticking to lower elevations, the mounds are wetter in these locales, and the termites still active enough to collect at least a small sample. We hit six mounds and got samples from five of them. A very successful first day. On our way back to camp, on an easy trail with only some small rolling hills, I caught my toe on a rock. I actually rarely stumble when hiking, and when I do, it’s easy for me to catch my balance. However, this particular stumble (which was at the end of the day, on the way out, which is when most injuries happen since you are tired and your guard is let down) I tripped at the beginning of a downhill. When I went to catch myself with my other foot, the ground was much further down than I needed it to be. So I bit it hard. Completely face planted. I thought at first that I hit my head, but in actuality my right elbow took the greatest impact, traveling up into that shoulder. It’s sore but fine. However, what I did not know at first was that I fell on top of my left hand. When I stood up I realized that my pinky was bending in a very unnatural direction. The thoughts that went through my head were 1) I really do not want to have to take the boat back to town after only one day to go to the hospital, and 2) I really should take a picture of this! I didn’t do either, fortunately for the former, regretfully for the latter. Our field assistant Halfan popped my finger back into place without any problem and no extra pain on my part. I now just have a swollen, purple finger that is taped to the one next to it. No big deal, really, but it is so unlike me. But alas, everyone falls at some time.
We had rain last night! A good 45-minutes’ worth! So we used this as an opportunity to go to the mounds at higher elevations hoping it was enough to soak them a bit and wake up the termites. The goal was to make it to 1020 meters since that is the highest mound that Rob has recorded. There was a good path that we could take up that wasn’t too steep and we stopped at other termite mounds along the way. When we finally got up to where the mound was, it was only 50 meters off the path, so should’ve been easy to find. Wrong. This area was covered dense thicket. Vines on vines on vines. I had encountered some of this the day before and felt like the forest was trying to eat me alive because some appendage was always trapped. Today was better, though. I was much more confident throwing my weight around and could see paths more clearly. However, my legs were tired, so lifting them to step over vines that were a couple feet in the air often took a few tries, so I was far from quick through the vegetation. We finally got to the mound, and after pretty unsuccessful collections at mounds on our way, we managed to pull a decent sample. Success! Thank god. We now had to make it back through the thicket back to the path. We had no visibility due to the dense undergrowth, but thought we knew the best way to go. Holy cow were we wrong. At one point I was climbing over dense vines that were suspended easily two feet over the ground. This is where I made the contribution of “there has to be a better way,” so I too am at fault in this whole debacle. We turned left, continuing to climb over and under the thicket, only to be greeted by a cliff face. Our guide Nuhu (Helfan has been Rob’s guide till this point but had to go into town to see a dentist) thought we could make the climb, and going back didn’t really seem like an option either. If we wanted out, we had to climb. We climbed a 100m cliff face using vines and other vegetation (There were two spots where it was a literal wall about 4-5 meters tall. Words cannot explain how absolutely crazy it was. For the second day in a row I felt like I was in a bad movie. Fortunately the adrenaline kept my left hand feeling fine, and I was able to grab vines without any issue, but there was definitely a spot where I went to reach for the next vine, and there wasn’t one. At that moment, the exhaustion set in, and then the panic. I started to slide back down the loose dirt on the cliff face. Anything that might have been just out of reach was now far beyond anything I could manage and I did not have the energy to pull myself up with my now completely suspended arm. Fortunately Nuhu had gone ahead of me and came back and fed a vine my way for me to grab. Literally threw me a life line! I also had Rob behind me creating a foothold with his hand. After clearing that ridge, I needed to catch my breath, but the rest of the climb out went fine. I immediately proclaimed that we were not collecting any more termites for the day, and we began our long trek back down to camp. Once there I took the most glorious soak in Lake Tanganyika(1) and reveled in how amazing of a life I lead.
(1) This is another charm of Gombe – other places on the coast have liver fluke parasites, but here the waves are rough enough that they don’t survive. Also, there are not bot or mango flies! Which is the hell I’ve heard the most about from my primatologist friends. So wet clothes are not breeding grounds for eggs of parasites that will burrow into your skin once they hatch. Again, this place is pretty magical.
Rob managed to take a pic of me climbing some vines before things got too hairy. The dense vegetation was easy to climb. This was not true the whole way up!
Today’s goal was to collect termites from the grassy areas that are directly behind camp. Previously we have walked a good ways down the beach before ducking into the forest. Rob mentioned that I would get to experience “mango trail”, to which I must have made some sound implying “Oh, that sounds lovely” only to be corrected that it is one of the toughest trails here at Gombe. No warmup down the beach, just straight up the hill behind our house. Much of the way was a steep staircase of roots where I used my hands often to scramble. I did not have an easy time of it. I think I tapped into everything I had getting up that cliff yesterday and left very little in reserve for today (the kinesiologist in me kept thinking that I should have eaten sooner when I got home yesterday in order to replenish my glycogen stores!). We had Halfan back with us today and he would ask if I was OK or needed help, and I kept saying “I am capable, just tired.” At one point the path went along a ridge and was sloped slightly downhill. It was covered in leaf litter (which makes the ground terribly slick) and there was a steep drop-off; my very tired self was weary here and my cautious steps took forever. I felt pretty terrible about my performance. We finally made it up to the area of the target mound and had to scramble up the hillslope off the path. I found that when using my hands I would often rest my weight on my knuckles. Truthfully, knuckle-walking never really made sense to me, but today I got it. Not sure if hilly terrain has anything to do with the adaptation, but it very well could, and that’s probably how I will think of it from now on. Anyway, after collecting our data I asked Rob, the bearer of the GPS, how far we had gone in elevation. I was expecting we were somewhere midway to how high we were yesterday, expecting 850m or so, but was pleasantly surprised to learn that we were at 1000m. I felt a little less bad about having a tough time of that uphill knowing that we covered 250m of elevation in a very short time. Going downhill was much, much easier. I am quick on my feet, and am fortunate enough that I have never had trouble with my knees. I easily kept up with Rob and Halfan, earning some of Halfan’s respect back.
Today was the first day we encountered the chimps! The valley behind camp is their core area, so the trail system is the most complete and there is always a good chance of seeing the chimps. We came across the mother-infant team (Jane Goodall Institute field assistants) along the trail on our way across the valley to visit some additional mounds. There were probably about six chimps in the group, with two very young juveniles. Watching the juveniles is seriously endless fun! They explore and play and pretty much keep moving nonstop. After a short while, the group took off uphill, so we continued on with the rest of the termite mounds on the day’s list. Rob has been collecting data since the beginning of the month, so we are reaching the end of what we set out to do. We pretty much hit all our targets now, so for the next couple of days, we may just go out and find the chimps in hopes that one of them will lead us to a good termite mound where they want to do some fishing.
Today is also Thanksgiving. I am very thankful to have opportunities like this and to have been able to have made a career out of it. The fact that I have a job where I use the degrees I earned is something I never take for granted.
Today was a good day in the forest. I am getting much more comfortable navigating (most of) the terrain. The leaf litter on the hillsides is still a tough one for me, but I am able to make up lost ground by trail running when the path changes back to rocks and/or roots. We followed the chimps for most of the day, and they kindly stayed to the trails for the most part, which makes the lives of the observers much, much easier. Additionally, we are not collecting behavioral data for the chimps, so if they run off, we can just leisurely work our way along a set of paths and catch them at some other point. Standard protocol for collecting behavioral data is a "focal follow" where you pick a chimp and stay with them, no matter what. In that case, if your chimp runs down a ridge, so do you, unless you are willing to lose your target, and thus lose the data. For this reason, primatologists are the most hard core field researchers I know. They will do almost anything to keep an eye on their chimp, including getting themselves in some pretty precarious situations. I am grateful that my work here does not have that sort of intensity, however, we are clearly abiding by the same general code, getting ourselves stuck at the bottom of that cliff on Day 3 for a termite mound.
My most frustrating thing today is being reminded that I am a terrible photographer. I really don't know how to use an SLR, and the "auto" settings clearly don't cut it. I am going with the method of "take a ton of photos and hope one by chance turns out well."
Tomorrow is Rob's last day in the forest. We are praying for rain! We want ALL the termites to come out! There was a storm cloud and some thunder this afternoon, but it passed us by. Maybe it hit somewhere else in the park, and maybe that bodes well for the conditions to bring rain tonight.
What did I learn today? I learned that Rob can be really fast through the forest! It is his last day out, and I am unsure whether that’s related, but he took the lead on many of the trails, when previously we have both been following Halfan. He’s definitely in better shape than I, and more used to the terrain as well, but sometimes it would just be his long legs covering the ground better than mine. I could not keep up. I also think fatigue from the past 4 days is setting in, so I am taking tomorrow off from trekking and going to stay in camp and get some work done. It is the middle of the semester after all, and I have a few things I need to turn in to my department for Monday.
We followed the chimps today and stuck with Tanga who is a committed termite fisher. She definitely tried to fish at one mound, but had no luck and moved on quickly. However, watching her break a branch from a tree to use as a tool as she was on her way to the mound was a cool enough sight in itself. She grabbed it at least 20 meters before the mound, so there was no doubt where she was headed or what she intended to do. I will have three more days in the forest before I have to leave and I will stick to this method – follow Tanga. Not only do I know that she is eager for termites, but she is also the mom of that adorable four-month-old baby that is in some of my photos. When the baby is awake, she is incredibly cute, swinging from the trees, chewing on mom’s foot, or other curious baby things. She is also very entertaining when she is sound asleep. She gets a tight grip on her mom’s fur with her hands, but not with her feet, so if mom gets up to move, she dangles like a ragdoll, and it is immensely entertaining to watch Tanga try to reposition her to the center of her back. This also keeps Tanga from moving too quickly through the forest, so I believe she is a focal target that I can actually manage to follow.
After we were done with the chimps for the day we decided to visit the Kakombe waterfall. This is one of the touristy things I was going to do after Rob left, but it was relatively on our way home, so we decided to go. The path to it was a very mild incline, but I was spent. I was almost regretting the decision to squeeze it in at the end of the day. But wow, was it worth it once we got there. It’s a pretty tall waterfall, about 25 meters or so, and you can get right to the base of it. The cool mist was revitalizing for body and soul. Locally it is thought of as a magical place, and I could definitely feel why.
Speaking of magical.. on a completely different note, last night I had a chocolate brownie cliff bar and I put Nutella on it. Holy wow. To me at that moment, it was the most delicious thing I ever ate.
And now today's batch of my favorite photos:
I spent today in camp. I was able to get quickly through the few back-home, school-related tasks that needed tending to, so spent most of the day enjoying a book in my house (The Sellout by Paul Beatty, “a satirical opus on race in twenty-first century America,” according to the back-cover quote from O magazine. I highly recommend.)
However, even in camp, there is no shortage of wildlife encounters. I had a stand-off with a “small” centipede (about 5 inches long). It was on my floor, and although I did not want it in my house, I did not feel the need to kill it. The trap-it-under-a-glass trick that I learned from my mother wasn’t exactly going to cut it, but I did manage to modify the technique using a Tupperware (transparent so I could keep an eye on the thing) and use a broom to sweep it out of the house.
Additionally, there is a troop of baboons that lives in camp. Normally I only see them when I take a walk across camp to the office to access the internet once a day. More times than not, they are directly on the path and I have to navigate right-of-way with them. The seasoned researchers here pass them with very little notice; however, they make me a bit nervous. I tend to hang back and hope they cross out of the way before I need to pass. Today they have been very fascinated with my house. They have been hanging around all afternoon, and this morning they used the house as a jungle gym, chasing each other all around and over the metal roof, causing quite the ruckus. Maybe this is their normal routine and I am just not normally here to witness it, however, I do make sure to keep the door locked at all times because I know they want nothing more than to raid the kitchen.
A little bit of rain today, but not much. For the past few days there have been some rumbles of thunder and a drizzle here or there. I am hoping this bodes well for a big rain in the next day or two. Not only would this increase the chances of me seeing some chimpanzees fishing for termites (I really just want to have my own photo that I could put in my book) but I might also then catch the swarm of reproductive termites that come with the rains. These alates are the termites most widely eaten by people and generally cause excitement as well for the nonhuman primates. I have never gotten to witness a swarm. This is the third time I have purposefully planned my trip to Africa to correspond with the rainy season, and I have a couple more days where I can still make the third time the charm. Fingers crossed.
Rob is now making his way by boat back to Kigoma where he will begin finalizing our permits for shipping out our samples before flying back home on Thursday. I am very grateful to him for joining this project. Before he left, he gave me a few more photo gems that he had taken.
Well, those photos just about sum up my day! I am one happy camper!
I was a little nervous about how the day would go because we did not know exactly where the chimps were since no one was with them last night when they nested. But fortunately, they were pretty low, which is where the termites are most active. We found Tanga around 9:30 and she pretty quickly broke off the path and headed to a termite mound. I was pretty pleased with my strategy and how well it already seemed to be working. However, she had no luck and quickly moved on. As we were on our way up the path, we were met by a JGI field research who told us he saw Glitter fishing at a termite mound. The mound was only a short ways away, but I expected that she would be finishing up when we got there. However, she stayed there and fished, along with her daughter Gosama, for about a half hour! It was truly ideal. Glitter is a well-habituated and friendly-to-people chimp and her daughter was the same. I was able to get into a position where I could get a clear view of them at the mound (vines and branches almost always ruin the shot) and I took a bunch of pictures. Like 1,000 pictures (switching between two cameras, both on continuous shooting). I managed to get a couple shots with which I am truly in love.
This first shot is from early after my arrival. When I got there, Glitter was committed to looking for a tool, but Gosama decided it was time to nurse. I got to witness a full-on chimp toddler temper tantrum. After getting her tool, Glitter settled into a good spot for fishing and let Gosama nurse. Getting to see this and capture it is especially exciting for me because a lot of what I discuss about edible insects is how important they are being a nutritious animal-based food that females can access even with baby in tow.
After Gosama was done nursing, she wanted to fish where mom was fishing, ultimately chasing Glitter to another hole on the opposite side of the mound. She was just as adept of a tool user. The one thing I noticed is that she had to search for new tools more often than her mother, so she still has some to learn regarding which materials make the best tools.
Then after fishing for about 10 minutes, she went over by her mother and decided that that location was a better place to fish. Glitter let her and headed back to her original spot. THIS is the shot I traveled to Tanzania for. You can even zoom in and see the termites on the tool.
I find it fascinating the different ways chimps eat the termites from the tool. At Gombe (at least with these two.. I guess I don't know if other individuals do it differntly), the termite end of the tool is rested on the opposite hand and the termites are picked off the tool and the hand with the lips. At the Goualougo Triangle in the Republic of Congo, the other site I am most familiar with because I watched/coded videos of tool use for part of my dissertation, the chimps take their opposite hand and run it down the length of the tool, ending up with a handful of termites that they then throw in their mouths.
After hearing some vocalizations up the hill, Glitter and Gosama left the mound to rejoin the group. Up there, the chimps were getting excited about possibly hunting colobus monkeys. I stayed with them for about two hours to see if they would have a successful hunt, but today wasn’t the day. It was still interesting to watch them climb up the trees and wait in almost total silence. For the most part, if the chimps are not eating fruit (or nested for the night), they are on the ground lounging, grooming, etc. They also are very vocal and loud (that's how we can find them in the forest). So it is clear that they were all working together up in the trees hoping to catch a monkey.
Shortly after getting back to camp, it began to rain! It rained really hard for a couple of minutes, but then has been consistently raining almost two hours now with no signs of stopping. This is good news. Maybe I will get my last wish and see those flying termites.
After such a successful day with the chimps yesterday, I decided to spend the first part of the morning taking a touristy hike up to "Jane's Peak." I am told that before the chimps were habituated, and before their regular movement patterns were understood, Jane Goodall would go to this place and listen and watch for chimps across the valley. Now it is a beautiful vista with a bench for tourists to enjoy. It was a little cloudy/foggy today, so it is tough to make out the lake in the bottom photo.
After Jane's Peak we hiked to go find the chimps. I was hopeful that the rain yesterday would mean lots of fishing today. When we got to where they were, a JGI researcher showed me multiple videos of chimps fishing. I was worried that I threw away my window by going to Jane's Peak, but we caught plenty of activity still.
First was Faustino, an adult male. I saw him fish for a bit yesterday as well, and today was the same thing.. he likes fishing where there is no way for me to get a good shot past the vines!
After watching him till he moved on, we walked up the path and found Dia (edit from previously mistaking her for Dili), a young female, at a termite mound right on the trail. Unfortunately, her back was to me, and she is a much more shy chimpanzee than any of the others I had previously photographed, so moving into a better position was not necessarily going to be easy. I felt like the paparazzi in the brush trying to position my camera just so in order to get a shot between branches. This actually worked quite well, and after I was pretty sure she was fine with my being there, I was able to move into more comfortable positions and get another great set of termiting photos. I now have a bunch of good ones and it is going to be tough to decide what goes in the book! After my first pass through the photos, these were my favorite "classic" fishing photos."
But the other thing I managed to capture from Dia was a lot more of the whole process. Like using her hand to break some of the mound to create a good opening for fishing...
And waiting for the termites to come and bite the tool. It vibrates when it's ready!
And carrying the tool in her mouth to find a new location.
And finally, that satisfied look when she knows she found a good place.
I am grateful to Dia, and all the chimps, for letting me experience this with them. I only have one more day in the forest before I begin my long trek home. I will go out with the chimps tomorrow just to soak in some more of this magic before I have to leave. I will probably try to get more termiting photos because that's why I am here, but I also hope to just hang out with them, my camera put away, and take it all in one last time.
Today was my last day in the forest, and this should be my last entry here, barring nothing crazy happens during the long journey home. I kept my promise and left my camera in the bag, but I got to see fun things like dominance displays (one heart-poundingly close to me), someone building a day nest, and an amazing courting of a male by an estrus female. She was doing all the best flirting, including some bipedal standing.
I want to take a moment to post these photos from the other day of Tanga and her sleepy baby. After I had already blogged about it, I saw them at it again. I managed to capture a shot of how Tanga kicks up her leg to try to reposition the infant. It made me giggle every time I saw it.
I knew this trip would be great, but I have been sort of surprised as just how much I have been in awe of the whole thing. This is not my first time seeing wild chimps, or even to see them fish for termites. However, the last time I was at a chimpanzee site, I was at the savannah site of Fongoli in Senegal. There are a couple of big differences.
1) The obvious.. the different environment. The savannah habitat is important for my work since a lot of reconstructions of hominid environments have suggested savannah/open woodland, but in terms of visiting it, it is most like the environments I work in when working at a fossil hominin site, whether in East or South Africa. I really enjoy being in the forest. The forest has always been a place I have gone for fun; I just enjoy the sounds, smells, and everything about this environment.
2) The weather. Although I was hoping for more rain because it makes the termites more active and I wanted to get to see them fly, it has made for a much more enjoyable day-to-day. The weather has been mostly humid 75-degree (F) days. Although I get drenched in sweat everyday, 75 degrees is about as good as it gets. And the sweatiness just makes jumping in the lake feel that much better! At Fongoli, it was dry, which was nice, but it was almost always over 100 degrees. I feel like 103 was the norm. Not only was this pretty miserable for the people, but the chimpanzees were also not very active.
And 3) Habituation. The Gombe chimpanzees are the best habituated chimpanzees anywhere. Jane Goodall first came here in 1960, and now there are teams of people who are out with the chimps every day. Although some distance is kept between the people and the chimpanees, it is not uncommon for a chimp to touch a person, either just through passing, to play, or by a dominance displacy. At Fongoli, Jill Pruetz began habituating the chimpanzees in the early 2000s (I believe) and only one or two researchers are out with the chimps on a regular basis. Additionally, the habitat of these chimpanzees neighbors local villages, and there are known instances of people shooting a chimpanzee that has come close to their home. Therefore, it is important to the researchers at the site that the chimpanzees maintain a healthy fear of people. Almost all observations were done through binoculars in order to see well-enough what the chimps were doing.
Here are two photos from my time at Fongoli, you can see the habitat and also how the closest I ever got to a termiting chimp.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again, it's magical here. I am saying my goodbyes to the things I love about it..
And of course, the chimpanzees..
Thank you all for reading along. I am glad that I kept this record of my trip, and knowing I had people reading kept me posting. And just so you know, if you want to add it to your bucket list, there are indeed chimpanzee safaris here at Gombe.
"No one knew quite what to expect"
That quote rings very true and comes from the Entomo Farms blog that reflects on their time at the conference. Entomo Farms was one of my earliest supporters for the conference. I received an email from Jarrod Goldin early in my planning stages asking me how they could be involved. My answer at that very early time, and truthfully it was the same to almost everyone until just before the event, was "just show up."
My biggest fear was that no one was going to come. I knew if I could get people here, that I could put together a great event. But the truth is, before this, not very many people knew who I was. Why would they come? I was hoping that the city of Detroit would be a draw, and that people would want to come just to see the food and art revolution that is driving this city forward. Additionally, I had faith in the passion of people interested in edible insects. I put out a call for abstracts in the fall of 2015 and then waited. And waited. Amazingly, by the early deadline in January, I had a good number of submissions and knew I could make this conference run with just that if need be. By the final deadline, it was clear that I would have a jam-packed program.
All of this came together because of social media. The only reason I even have a twitter account is because the ento community is so active on there. So I relied heavily on it, and ultimately it worked to bring together 200 people in Detroit.
We had three days of programming and I was completely in charge of what that would look like. I have been to A LOT of conferences, so tried to pick-and-choose things that I liked, and overall, I think it worked well. I am especially proud of the following decisions that I made:
Meghan Curry (Bug Vivant)
Jarrod Goldin (Entomo Farms, Canada)
Paul Vantomme (FAO, Italy)
Jeff Tomberlin (Texas A&M Dept of Entomology)
Pat Crowley (Chapul)
Ricardo Carvajal (Hyman, Phelps & McNamara, P.C.)
Looking back, putting together this conference was a behemoth of a task! I don't think I realized how much work I put in until the conference was here and running, and running smoothly! I definitely had help from my department and my students, and I leaned on Robert Nathan Allen, Marianne Shockley, and Wendy Lu McGill for guidance along the way. I am ever so grateful to everyone who helped, and honored that so many people showed up. I honestly believe that this gathering of minds in Detroit will leave an indelible impression on the future of insects as food.
You can still see the full conference program here.
Not just a fallback food
Last week I had the pleasure of presenting research as part of a "Humans in Marginal Environments" symposium at the annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists. It is a general concept that edible insects are only consumed in areas where the local environment is not suitable for the production of domesticated livestock. From my experience, this has not seemed true. I have primarily worked in South Africa, where edible insects such as mopane worms and termites are harvested from agricultural fields and pasture lands and sold in the marketplace alongside a wide range of foods that are produced locally. I decided to test whether this pattern held worldwide by comparing prevalence of edible insects in a country to the percentage of arable land (defined as land under temporary crops, temporary meadows for mowing or for pasture, land under market or kitchen gardens, and land temporarily fallow) recorded for that country. Not surprising to me, there was no relationship between the two variables.
Coming up quick on February 18th, anthropologists everywhere will be celebrating World Anthropology Day. This day serves as an opportunity for anthropologists to celebrate and participate in their discipline with the public around them.
I will be celebrating the day by handing out cupcakes made with cricket powder on Wayne State Campus, and
ENTOMO FARMS WANTS TO GIVE YOU FREE SAMPLES TO USE IN YOUR OWN EVENT!
Just contact me here and I will put you in touch with them to get your own whole or powdered crickets and mealworms! Act fast so that we can get them shipped to you in plenty of time.
I also want to share some information and resources with you here so that you will best be able to incorporate edible insects into your World Anthropology Day plans.
One thing the American Anthropological Association notes about the day is that anthropologists are innovators and creative thinkers who contribute to every industry, and in my particular case, that industry is the sustainable production of insects as food here in the United States. But for any anthropologist, edible insects are a fun way to engage with different food cultures as well as with a real "paleo" food.
About one half of the world’s countries have cultures that utilize insects in their diets, resulting in over 2,000 known edible insect species. Of the countries that do not eat insects, the vast majority is in the northern hemisphere, and thus is mostly European or strongly European-influenced. Therefore, it is Western culture that is the outlier when it comes to insect consumption. The reasons behind our bias against insects are vast and complex, as they are part of a cultural phenomenon that has been being shaped since Columbus first "discovered" America. Edible insects were stigmatized by explorers; couple that with a northern environment where insects are not an abundant and readily available resource like they are in tropical areas of the world, and it is not difficult to see why they would fall out of favor.
With that knowledge, though, we can look at insects as the valuable food resource that they are. Crickets are gaining some popularity in the US and Europe, being incorporated into protein bars, protein shakes, as well as all sorts of snack foods. The momentum for crickets seems to come from people already having a positive opinion of crickets compared to other insects, maybe because of Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio, or because they are considered lucky in some East Asian cultures. However, crickets are not the most popular edible insect in the world. That achievement belongs to beetle larvae. If you wanted to partake in the beetle larvae trend, then I suggest trying some mealworms! Not only are food-grade mealworms available here, but they are also a lot less intimidating than something like a palm weevil larva.
Insects are an animal-based food. They offer similar nutritional offerings as traditional livestock, including being high in protein, rich in the essential amino acids, a good source of essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and a host of other micronutrients such as iron and magnesium. Unlike other animal foods, they require much less resources to produce. It is an understatement to say that amount of land or water it takes to farm something like crickets is less than what is needed for traditional livestock like pigs and cows.
Many people are worried about how our current food system is going to sustain the global population as it approaches 10 billion people by the year 2050. The worry is not necessarily one of having enough food, we throw millions of pounds of food away every day here in the United States. The worry is that that system is going to have an upper limit for how long we can use it, because over-producing is going to continue to strip our environmental resources. Sustainable food sources are going to be important when that happens, so wevmight as well start now.
Besides how bad meat-eating is for our environment, there is also the animal welfare bit that turns many eaters into vegetarians or vegans. However, humans are omnivores and it takes considerable conscious effort to make sure that we get all the nutrients we need from an entirely plant-based diet. Being able to make those choices is a privilege of both education and money. Insects like crickets, who live in dark-cramped spaces naturally and are killed at commercial farms via torpor-inducing freezing, offer an interesting caveat to the ethical dilemma. Their pain and suffering is minimal. Additionally, it is known and controlled, unlike industrial harvesting of crops, where pesticides kill all sorts of insects and small animals get killed in farm equipment. If you are not producing all of your food yourself, there is no perfect answer to the perfect ethical diet. Insects, however, provide an appealing option for making high-volume food production better all around.
There are many other resources available on my blog that may be of interest, from lecture slides, recommended documentary, interviews with me, and a short youtube video produced by Wayne State. I hope that you will find these resources helpful!
Happy New Year, everyone! I can still say that as long as it is still January, right?
2016 is going to be a big year.
I successfully submitted a book manuscript, currently titled "Edible Insects and Human Evolution," on January 5th to go out to peer review. I spent lots of energy trying to come up with a catchier title, but to no avail. My favorite was "Sex, Bugs, and Rock and Roll," but I felt I would have a hard time convincing my publisher that was a good idea considering it has nothing to do with rock and roll. I threw it in as a chapter title, so we'll see how far that goes.
I am happy with what I put together, and I am hopeful that the reviews will be constructive and help make the book the strongest version of itself. I am trying to accomplish A LOT with this book, and it requires a delicate balance to make it accessible to a broad audience yet true to the complicated and dense data from biological anthropology research that are necessary to reconstruct the insect portion of hominin diets. At this point it is out of my hands and I know nothing of when or what will happen next.
The good thing about not being able to think about the book is that I can switch my efforts to conference planning. With the turn of the new year there seems to be ignited interest in the conference. I had to essentially ignore the conference while working on the book and I had the fear that it was going to be a flop. I comforted myself in knowing that even if it was just a gathering of my closest entomophagy colleagues, it would be productive. However, that does not seem to be an issue! I am getting strong international interest, which was one of my goals. I have over 20 abstracts submitted for the priority deadline, which if I were to accept them all, would make up about 1/3 of the conference programming. So they, like all, will go through a rigorous peer review. I am grateful to have amazing people helping me as my review board and co-organizers. I have never given a formal shout-out to Marianne Shockley and Wendy Lu McGill. They are my dream team. I also have awesome people like David George Gordon helping with some of my event planning, and countless other people who have reached out to ask how they could help. I couldn't do this without all of you!
I am beginning my biggest fundraising frenzy, mostly across my university. Wayne State is very supportive of my work and I know there is a lot of excitement about this event. Did you see the video they made using footage from last year's cricket flour bake off?! So fun.
In other news, I received a Leakey Foundation grant to continue my research on termites. Receiving this grant meant the world to me. The Leakey Foundation is the biggest supporter of human origins research and they found value in exploring termites as a hominin food source! Additionally, it was a good reminder that I can still science! I have spent a lot of time recently writing, and planning, and all other sorts of work that is not directly related to data collection. It will be a lot of fun to get back to the field and to work with my great collaborators Clayton Magill and Robert O'Malley to investigate chemical properties of termites as they relate to their desirability as a food. If all goes as planned, I will travel to Africa three times this year in order to collect all the data. I hope to squeeze in a trip to South Africa in March over spring break. South Africa has been experiencing a drought which is affecting the reproductive flights of the termites, so timing my return there has been difficult. Fingers crossed they will be flying in March, or I may be a year behind on the South Africa sample. I should be able to go to Tanzania this summer to visit the hominin site of Olduvai, but in order to get termites from the chimpanzee site of Gombe in Tanzania, I have to play with timing again, and will likely be doing the same frantic, squeeze-a-trip-in during the fall semester. It is all very exciting. I am definitely not complaining! However, I just adopted this adorable black lab in October, so all of this travel will be more difficult having to be away from this cute face (Shameless excuse to wrap up this post with pictures of the dog).
Uco the entomophagist
(We came to Uco's name via a very circuitous route from the French last name "Foucault" for both the philosopher Michel and the physicist Léon. He lives with an anthropologist and an architect...).
Uco the love sponge
I'll miss both these boys when I travel, but at least they have each other.
2016 is going to be a big year.
I should get back to work.
This semester has been dedicated to my book project. I was worried that my progress had been derailed to where I was going to need to push back my deadline, however, I am going to make it work. I hate missing deadlines. So what this means is that I have to really buckle down and make it work. My deadline is January 5th and I have every hour between now and scheduled as to how I am going to pull it off. It's actually not a dire situation; I am very happy with how it is turning out. It just takes a lot of time to get it polished, formatted, referenced, footnoted, etc.
With that said, any multi-tasking I was doing with the conference this whole time has been put on pause. So I am going to extend the dates for the Early Bird Registration to match my own deadline: January 5th.
Buy tickets here on EventBrite!
This extension really has everything to do with the vendors. I need to find a space for the vendors "expo" (remember, this is a small conference. Our "expo" may look more like a science fair! That's not a bad thing; I love science fairs!). Until I am able to list exactly what I am offering vendors, I do not want to raise the fee. Right now the vendor fee allows for 2 participants, so at $300, it is a real bargain. I really hope that you and your group/business/non-profit/dance team will take advantage of this!
And don't forget, the call for abstracts is posted! That deadline has not changed. Please get abstracts submitted by January 15.
I hope everyone has a great holiday season and I look forward to getting back in touch with you in January!
Neanderthal Haute Cuisine
I am just about ready to head to Gibraltar, yes the British territory south of Spain, for the Calpe Conference "Redefining Neanderthals." I am excited to present my poster about Neanderthals eating snails as a fun conversation starter as researchers in the field begin discussing the likelihood that Neanderthals were more omnivorous than previously thought. In some of my other work, I have discussed that Neanderthals likely did not eat many insects because of the cold climate of Pleistocene Europe. Biodiversity is quite low in these regions, thus the available edible insects would be considerably lower here than other, more temperate regions. However, that is not to say they did not eat any invertebrates. It is important to remember that with the latitudinal gradient of biodiversity the variation is clinal; there are no clear-cut boundaries, only increases and decreases in frequencies. An especially appealing insect or invertebrate might be consumed seasonally, and I think snails make a good candidate for that. Today, snails are consumed in the highest numbers in France, Italy, and Spain. Many of the snails are imported into the country from heliciculture farms in other regions allowing for the year-round availability of this delicacy. In order to assess whether Neanderthals were partaking in such an exquisite food, we need to start paying more attention to the snail shells that are found at Neanderthal sites. The problem is that snails can be present at these sites for many reasons other than Neanderthal intervention; they could have naturally wandered there or they could have been brought there by other predators such as rodents. However, if the locale of the Neanderthal site would not be a natural place for snails to visit, or if there is no predatory damage to the shells, then maybe, just maybe, the best explanation is that the shells are refuse from a Neanderthal snack. I believe there is a good case for this at the site of Krapina, Croatia, although I need to look more closely at the shells for rodent damage. Better reports of snails as part of the faunal assemblages at Neanderthal sites will also help address this question, and I hope that by discussing this at the conference, this data will become more available.
It's that time. Most professors are putting the finishing touches on their syllabi, so why not include entomophagy as a topic this year?
To make things a little easier for you, I am putting some of my resources here for you to use.
1) LECTURE SLIDES
These are my own lectures and a lot of the information comes from my own research. I put them up on SlideShare. It should be easy enough for you to get a basic account for free in order to access the presentations.
For a general audience, I posted an introduction to the role of entomophagy over the course of human evolution. This talk is geared towards non-anthropologists and has some infographics about the benefits of eating insects in addition to broader evolution concepts.
"Introduction to Entomophagy and Evolution": http://www.slideshare.net/secret/4afousVfJ3xsUP
It may be useful to go to this blog by "Ask and Entomologist." The author re-iterates me giving the above talk. It can be useful in filling in some of the missed information from only having the slides and not hearing the talk.
For courses in biological anthropology, this is a lecture that includes a reconstruction of australopithecine diet. This is the last lecture I give in Introduction to Biological Anthropology as a paleoanthropology case study, but it would also be very useful in an Evolution of the Human Diet class or Fossil Hominins class.
"Advanced Entomophagy and Evolution": http://www.slideshare.net/secret/ik04btUPJ0QHW2
The research I present in this second talk comes from the below papers. You can access them here on academia.edu if you are a member, or feel free to message me, and I will send you the pdf.
J. Lesnik. (2014). Termites in the hominid diet: A meta-analysis of termite genera, species and castes as a dietary supplement for South African robust australopithecines. Journal of Human Evolution. Special Issue: The Other Faunivory. 71: 94-104.
J. Lesnik. (2011). Bone tool texture analysis and the role of termites in the hominid diet. Paleoanthropology. 2011: 268-281.
Here is another post by "Ask an Entomologist."
This is an interview with me about why we don't eat bugs in Western culture. The author types out an abridged version of the interview, but the whole thing is there as an audio file. It could potentially be useful to assign it to students instead of a reading.
One other useful thing I want to share is this video that could be used n any anthropology, entomology, environment studies, food, or nutrition class. This is a BBC video titled "Can Eating Insects Save the World?"
I hope that you will find these resources useful! Thanks for helping to spread the word to your students!
I was invited to speak in a symposium on edible insects at the Institute of Food Technologists conference in Chicago on July 13. Food Navigator did a report on our session and interviewed all of the participants. You can watch the video below or check out their full post here.
Food, Culture, and Croatia
I am in Croatia working on my book. It's pretty romantic, actually. I sit in little coffee shops/pubs every day just writing. I couldn't ask for a better setting.
I am staying with a dear friend of mine and we see her parents multiple times during the week and join them for dinner. I have thus had most of my meals at home instead of at restaurants. Immediately upon arriving to Croatia, I began noticing an interesting cultural difference when it came to food. It really started with bananas. I personally hate bananas, but my friend eats them almost every day. Every time she would have a banana, she would offer me one, or half of hers, and every time I would tell her that I didn't like them. After about 3 days and 10 inquiries I finally convinced her that I would never eat a banana. It hasn't stopped her from asking, but now she just always answers her own question and we have a laugh. I then realized that the food offers didn't come only when she was deciding to eat something - I get the politeness of not wanting to eat in front of someone without offering - but that it would be any time she was engaging with food, often just seeing it in the kitchen. It was the timing of these questions that gave away that something more was going on. If she saw food, it didn't matter when, I would get an offer - it could be immediately upon returning home from a gut-busting meal, it could be while I was head-down focused and working, it could even be right after I was getting into bed at night. A generosity that knows no bounds, for sure. I have never said "no" so many times in my life, and with each one I have a tinge of guilt like it is rude to refuse when she is being so gracious.
It is even worse at the family dinners. I ultimately eat twice as much as everyone at the table because there are three people trying to put more food on my plate, yet none of them offer the food in the same way to each other. It is so ingrained in me to avoid over-eating that this has been quite a challenge. For the first meal, it was a like a special occasion welcoming me to Zagreb, so I obliged every offer. But eating like that almost every day? I can't. We also eat so early! We are technically eating lunch when we sit down to these big meals because that is traditionally the big meal of the day. So with modern work schedules, these lunches are pushed back as far as possible so that a whole work day can be had, but it means that we are eating at 4:00. I am then useless the rest of the night.
I came up with a metaphor for my experiences at these meals. For some reason wildlife photographers came up in conversation today and I asked my friend if she had seen the photos/heard the story about the leopard seal that kept trying to feed the photographer penguins. It's really an amazing encounter. I hate to anthropomorphize the seal, but she genuinely seemed interested in getting the photographer to eat a penguin. When one method would not work, she would try another. When live penguins kept swimming away, she kept trying other methods, ultimately shoving a dead penguin into the photographer's face. So at dinner, it would never matter how many times I refused food, efforts would continue, just like those of the leopard seal.
I was inspired to write this post because we just had a large birthday dinner for her dad. We had a traditional Dalmatian meal (from the coast, where her dad is from).. broiled mackerel with string beans. It was delicious. But I could not help but feel more culture difference as I looked at the whole fish and really had no idea what to do with it. Ultimately my friend's dad just de-boned it for me. I sat at the table like a 5-year-old waiting for someone to cut my meat for me. Below is a stock photo I found online because I did not want to interrupt dinner by pulling out my camera and being like "They're staring at me! I need a picture!"
I learned that mackerel must be eaten smothered with olive oil. It is a traditional Dalmation saying that the fish swim three times: once in the water, once in the olive oil, and once in the wine in your stomach. I was absolutely OK with this.
We finished dinner with a "cake" that is popular here. I've seen it in the bakeries and the layers can even be bought so as to not need to make it from scratch at home. These layers are actually meringue instead of cake, and then it is layered with berries or other fillings. So sweet. So delicious. I managed to take a picture of the cake.
This has really been an additional benefit to the writing retreat that I had not anticipated. I spend some time in the book discussing the complexities of food culture, so it is fun to be immersed in one that is in so many ways different from mine at home. It is really difficult to explain why people do what they do. I asked my friend why she thinks Croatian culture is so generous, and it was difficult to come up with anything other than "that's just how it is; that's how we are raised." She then gave me an extreme example of Dalmatian generosity. Apparently, when someone leaves their home in Dalmatia, there is a chance that someone could come to visit while they are not there. In order to make sure that their guest's trip would not be completely in vain, it is important to make sure that they could still could be fed and people leave soparnik, a traditional dish, on the windowsill before they leave, just in case!
We started to think about these traditions more.. why would it be custom to go out of your way to make sure your guests are well-fed? We realized that it likely has a deep history in relationship building with neighbors, representing the anthropological concept of reciprocity. Although no one here ever wants to ask for something, if these customs are in place and their networks are strong, they should never want for anything.
Tackling the Book Monster
I have been "writing" a book for some time now. Once I got my job at Wayne State, my editor automatically extended the deadline in my contract by a year so that I could take the necessary time to get settled. This adjustment also allowed me to make negotiations to have teaching release in the upcoming fall term so that I can more fully focus on the book. The book is also my biggest summer project, so now the real writing is upon me. It is time to remind myself of all that I have learned about the process and the different mantras that I want to hold dear.
"You already wrote a dissertation. This is so much better than your dissertation."
"Forgive yourself for oversights and bad writing."
"Write like a motherf*cker."
Writing Routines/Writing Retreats
Culture and cultural history are so important. For instance take the case of crickets. Trying to promote crickets as food in the United States comes with all sorts of psychological barriers, mostly those that trigger disgust. However, if you think about trying to do the same in China, a country where insects are consumed regularly, especially in southern provinces, the cricket is a symbol of luck, and with that comes an entirely different set of mechanisms that would suggest they be avoided as food.
These different cultural conceptions of food are why I really want anthropologists to get more involved with entomophagy. I am currently working hard to put together a proposal to bring anthropologists with interest in insects as food from around the world together to engage is some deep theoretical debates about why people make the food choices they do. If I am able to get this workshop funded, then maybe these anthropologists will consider sharing their work at the Eating Innovation Conference in May of 2016.
I was interviewed for this piece that came out in Huffington Post today. I was very happy with the quotes the reporter chose because I feel it is the best reflection of the importance anthropology that I have seen in entomophagy media. My personal research is related to human evolution, so when I think about why we are not keen to eat insects in the US and Canada, I think about the fact that the majority of the continent was covered in ice when people first arrived here tens of thousands of years ago. This concept is reflected in the article, and it is the aspect about my work that tends to capture people's attention the most. However, I was excited when the reporter asked me about cultures around the world that have already accomplished what we are trying to accomplish here with the entomophagy movement.
As such, attempting to compare munching down on fried scorpions in Thailand to the same practice taking hold in the United States is like comparing apples to oranges, or, aphids to roseslugs. As Lesnik argues, there is no example of a people group who overwhelmingly stopped or drastically cut back on eating an affordable, readily available protein (such as beef) in favor of a more expensive, less available one (such as crickets).
“It doesn’t exist,” Lesnik noted. “What exists is people eating insects as a primary or major source of protein over an entire culture’s history. When you look at these populations, there’s no analogue to what we’re trying to do up here.”
FOR ALL RECIPES, WE USED ASPIRE 100% PURE CRICKET POWDER
"The Early Bird Gets The Cricket” Muffins - 2015 WINNER!
yield: 12 MUFFINS
prep time: 15 MINUTES
cook time: 25 MINUTES
total time: 40 MINUTES
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup 100% pure cricket powder (or up to 1/3 flour ratio for more protein!)
1 cup rolled oats
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup milk
3/4 cup applesauce
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups carrot, grated (about 3 medium carrots)
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons sweetened flaked coconut
1 cup crushed pineapple
1/2 cup raisins
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease or place cupcake wrappers in a standard-size, 12-cup muffin pan.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, cricket powder, oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and ginger.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the milk, applesauce, brown sugar, vegetable oil, egg, and vanilla extract.
4. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry and whisk just until all ingredients are incorporated. Gently stir in the carrots, 1/2 cup coconut, raisins and pineapple.
5. Divide the mixture between the muffin cups. Cups should be filled to the top.
6. Sprinkle tops evenly with remaining coconut.
7. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes or until muffin tops spring back when poked and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
8. Allow to cool for 5 – 10 minutes before removing from the muffin tin. Serve plain or with butter, if desired.
Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2 – 3 days, or freeze.
Chocolate Cup with Cashew and Cricket Cream Ingredients
1 bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup cashews
½ cricket flour
1 cup powdered sugar
1 ½ whipping cream
2 tbsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1.Blend together the cashew and cricket flour in a blender until smooth (add a few tbsp of water to help get a creamy texture)
2. Add in 2 tbsp of vanilla extract to the blended mixture
3. In a separate bowl whip 1 ½ cups of heavy whipping cream until stiff peaks form.
4. Add 1 cup of powdered sugar to the whipping cream slowly and blend until you can’t see sugar lumps on the surface
5. Take the cashew mixture and fold it into the whipped cream making sure not to overmix.
7. Put the mixture into a piping bag with a metal piping tip
8. Melt the chocolate chips and add 3 tbsp of vegetable oil.
9. Take 1 tbsp of the chocolate and pour into mini cupcake tin liner and put the tray into the fridge.
10. After the chocolate has cooled pipe a small amount of the cream into the center of the cups (add any kind of fruit on top).
11. Add 2 tbsp of the melted chocolate on top until fully covered and set to cool for 20 minutes.
2 cups yellow cornmeal
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup 100% pure cricket powder
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup honey
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Spray 9- x 13-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray, then set aside.
2. In large bowl, whisk cornmeal with flour, cricket powder, sugar, baking powder and salt until combined. Set aside.
3. In medium bowl, whisk milk with melted butter, honey, eggs, and vanilla until combined. Add milk mixture to cornmeal mixture, and use spatula or wooden spoon to stir until just combined.
4. Transfer batter to prepared baking pan and bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Let corn bread cool slightly before slicing and serving.
Space Hop Flat Bread with Amogio Sauce
2 cups of diced tomatoes; no need to peel
2 tablespoons of olive oil
3 or more cloves or garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons or more of minced basil
a squirt of lemon juice
pinch table salt
pinch finely ground pepper
2 cups flour
1 cup Cricket flour
1 1/4 water
1 tsp salt
1 tbl spoon mixed spices (garlic, rosemary, salt, dried tomato pieces, and whichever pepper one prefers)
1. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees
2 . Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and begin kneading with hands
this will take approximately 5 minutes until it is a non powdery ball of dough.
3. Once the substance is non powdery, roll into a ball and cut in half
cut the two halves in half and continue until cutting the halves until there are sixteen slices
4. Roll each of these into a ball
5. Put the individual rolls on a cutting board and take a rolling pin, rolling each ball into flat cakes about 1/4 inch thick
6. Finally same spices but cut with 2-3 table spoons of olive oil based over the top thinly with a cooking brush, leaning towards not enough vs too much
7. Cook in oven for 7-8 minutes checking them to make sure they don't bubble
8. Put Amogio ingredients through the blender and mix well until desired consistency
Chocolate Cricket Bundt Cake
1 cup unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup water
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup 100% pure cricket powder
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon confectioners sugar (optional)
1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 10 or 12-cup Bundt pan and set aside.
2. In a small saucepan, combine the butter, cocoa powder, salt, and water and place over medium heat. Cook, stirring, just until melted and combined. Remove from the heat and set aside.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cricket powder, sugar, and baking soda. Add half of the melted butter mixture and whisk until completely blended. The mixture will be thick. Add the remaining butter mixture and whisk until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking until completely blended. Whisk in the sour cream and the vanilla extract. Whisk until smooth.
4. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan for 15 minutes and then invert onto a rack. Dust with confectioners sugar and serve when cool.
Alternative "mini cakes" option: Line mini muffin pan with mini muffin paper cups, fill each cup about 3/4 full, and bake for 20-25 mins.
Bread Machine Rosemary Cricket Bread
1 cup warm water
2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
3 tablespoons white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground thyme
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons crushed dried rosemary
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup 100% pure cricket powder
1. Pour the water into the pan of a bread machine, then sprinkle in the yeast and sugar.
2. Let the mixture sit in the bread machine until a creamy foam forms on top of the water (about 10 minutes).
3. Sprinkle in the salt, then add the olive oil, thyme, garlic powder, rosemary and flour.
4. Set the machine for light crust setting, and start the machine.
Recipe is for a 1.5 lb loaf.
Cook time ~ 3hrs.
As an anthropologist planning a conference, most the grants for which I can apply are in anthropology. However, these conference and workshop grants or designed to help anthropologists come together, even from organizations that emphasize interdisciplinary collaboration. So I am trying to put together a group of international anthropologists to come together for a workshop on insects as food. The plan is that it will be the day after the Eating Innovation conference so that we have lots of fodder for discussion. However, I am having a hard time finding anthropologists!
Many scholars write about the eating of insects by humans and even use the term "anthropo-entomophagy," most notably J. Ramos-Elorduy in the journal Entomological Research, and most recently E.M. Costa-Neto in the Journal of Insects as Food and Feed. However, there is a great difference between 'anthropo-entomophagy' and 'entomophagy anthropology' and I am searching for people out there who understand that difference.
So please, if you are an anthropologist (or a social scientist in general) outside of the US who studies insects as food (or studies food more broadly and is interested in investigating entomophagy), get into contact with me! I want to work with you to come up with money to bring you here to Detroit for the 2016 conference next May!
Julie Lesnik received her PhD studying the role of termites in the diet of fossil hominins and has since started exploring insects as food more broadly.