Thursday, March 31, 2022

Why do we eat what we eat?

farming
What will we eat when the Bugs are gone? Part 2

What you eat and drink is often no less a matter of fashion and tradition than what you wear, with the important qualifier that what you eat has generally much more impact on your health than what you wear, assuming that what you wear at least correlates with the seasons of weather and climate conditions and doesn’t offend people to such an extant that it invites abuse from others. Our Cro Magnon ancestors, who left Africa about 80,000 years ago, were hunter-gatherers who hunted mammals, fished, and routinely ate insects, all of which are good protein sources. They foraged plants which provided nuts, seeds, berries, fruit and roots. Proponents of the paleo diet claim that the fact that we subsisted for 200,000 years on such a diet, and evolved to accommodate such a diet, points to its efficacy. 

What if you want to cut back on your meat consumption, whether for health or environmental reasons, but you lack the imagination to eliminate red meat from your diet altogether? I try to avoid beef whenever possible, and if I am cooking at home, substitute bison, which browse free range, and are much tastier and healthier for you anyway. Bison have lighter impact on the land, being like deer more browser than grazer (grass eater). The word “moose” is derived from “moswa”, a Native American word meaning “twig eater”. Elk are more grazer than browser, but unlike cattle move around to fresh graze, thus allowing grazed lands to recover. 

You can now purchase bison in any large market (Price Chopper and Hannaford in Lake Placid), and while it’s always more expensive than beef, I find that it’s tastier, more satisfying than beef, and I eat less of it. You can buy frozen elk online. Most of the food in the supermarket, in what is often referred to as “center aisle” is processed and should be avoided, except for the nuts, grains, beans and frozen vegies. Buy your meat from sources that guarantee free range, along with no drugs, preservatives, or additives. In many areas, you can chip in with friends, and buy a whole cow from local farms and cattle ranchers. What if you are a vegan but wish to add more protein to your diet? You could practice entomophagy. 

Insects such as crickets, grasshoppers and mealworms are more nutritional and contain a higher percentage of protein than any meat that you eat today. More importantly, if the volume of calories and protein produced per acre is the key to solving world hunger issues, insects are the solution. While most of us cringe at the very thought of eating insects, the fact is that more than 2,000 types of insects are eaten by over three thousand ethnic groups in over 130 countries. Do they know something we residents of hamburger land do not know?

I’ve eaten cricket casserole for dinner, and chocolate covered crickets for dessert, and both experiences were enjoyable. Most Americans already eat invertebrates such as crustaceans, shrimp, and lobster, which are from the same Arthropod phylum as insects. It is the thought of eating insects which grosses us out, though there is no food category which is better for you than bugs.

Entomophagy

Given all this, what are the main challenges for feeding the world’s rapidly expanding population, and what can each of us do individually to help? There are many innovative ideas. While billionaires Bill Gates and Richard Branson are betting on lab grown meat, having it available at affordable prices, assuming the meat “tastes” the way we want it to taste, may be ten to twenty years from now, and even then, will have to overcome our “where’s the beef” bias, and the fact that the lab uses an energy intensive process which does nothing to help us regenerate soil. Similarly, the huge energy costs of vertical farming in high rises limits the types of veggies they can grow, while only appealing to a wealthy customer base which can afford to pay for those vegies.

What is clear is that we will need to develop less land intensive methods of creating meat and vegetables, and more efficient and humane ways of fish farming, in a market where a third of all fish eaten today have been raised in fish farms, which pollute the waters they’re located in, and transfer diseases from farm bred fish to wild fish. 

In short, how to increase the food supply using fewer resources, most importantly land, while recognizing that we must reverse the trend towards insect declines, since the entire food chain depends on insects. None of this will be possible unless we seriously cut back on fertilizers, insecticides, and herbicides, which not only kill pests and weeds, but insects that are beneficial to the agriprocess, along with degrading the soil itself with nonorganic chemicals which deplete the soils nutrients and don’t break down. 

Because expansion of beef and mutton will not be sustainable using current methods, which aren’t very humane to begin with, we will need other food sources, and this is happening at a time when insects, which are much healthier for you to eat anyway, are in decline. What we will need is a gradual change in attitude towards eating insects, which tend to be high in protein and low in sodium. Our grandchildren will be the key to making insect eating more of a force in feeding the world.

Potassium rich crickets and grasshoppers will help lower blood pressure. Both are in decline. Soldier fly larvae strengthens bones and reduces fatigue. Even house flies and cockroaches are much more nutritious than beef. Disgusting as it may sound, cockroaches yield much more concentrated levels of iron, zinc, magnesium, and protein than any meat you eat. Stir fry ‘em and mix them with rice and vegies.

soil health

What can we do?

It all starts with education. Hunters and fishermen know where their food comes from. If you are a hunter, do not kill predators, as they are the key in maintaining the balance of nature. We are overrun with deer because we depleted their main sources of control, what you might call God’s solution, wolves, and cougars, even eliminating them in the greater part of their ranges. 

The rest of us tend to take food for granted and have no interest in its origin beyond the supermarket. All schools should connect with local farms, so that students can become familiar with where food is produced to how it ends up on the dinner table. Helpful farms and ranches should be given tax credits for taking time to explain to students how their operation fits into the overall scheme of providing sustenance, just as students should be given credit for volunteering on farms and in veterinary clinics.

All schools should offer basic nature classes and provide time for classes to visit local parks, Refuges and green areas to experience nature firsthand, and see how everything in nature is connected. If the school does not have budget to pay for buses, have parents join the class for the day, while providing transportation and picnic lunches. For extra credit, assign species and plant identification to different students or groups, so they can report on how which birds, insects, reptiles and amphibians, mammals they saw, what types of trees and vegetation, etc. 

Students do not have to be experts in identifying what they’re seeing. Provide them with those small, pocket friendly identification charts for birds, trees, etc. Local naturalists would gladly volunteer some time to help students and teachers understand the significance of what they are observing, and how everything is connected.  

The overlap of different observations can bring broadening understanding to all. Bring the students to the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge to learn all about bees and butterflies from Kevin and Jackie. The only way to protect nature and its critical components is to instill in our young people just how important nature is. The only planet we must live on is in trouble, and if the next generation doesn’t understand why, and what can be done about it, it really won’t matter who their favorite celebrity or sports hero is.  

What can individual home and landowners do? Provide food, shelter, water, and space for wildlife to raise their young. That lawn that you slave over every Spring and Summer is a monoculture that may please you and your neighbors but doesn’t provide much diversity in habitat and therefore discourages local wildlife and insects. 

Consider converting most of it to wildflower meadows you only need to mow once at the end of the season, and plant native flowers that blossom at different times of year, so you’ll have a colorful meadow to look at for much of the year. Plant wildflowers rich in nectar and pollen to attract bees and other pollinators. Close the circle by setting up a beehive, which will create honey for you and your friends. Plant milkweed to attract monarch butterflies.

Don’t bring clippings and brush to the landfill. Build a compost heap which can create your own mulch for next years garden soil. Turn the compost over frequently, and let the worms do their work, converting decaying organics to soil. Don’t burn the brush. Create brush piles, which can provide shelter and food for wildlife. 

Never use rodent and insect poison. Birds of prey, as well as small predators like fox, weasel, etc., will go after rodents who appear slow and vulnerable, and even scavenge dead rodents, and end up poisoning themselves. 

If you have a multiacre property, consider leaving one or two acres to nature. Don’t do anything to it. Leave it as a haven for wildlife. Next time you replace a fence, consider whether to replace it with a hedge, which won’t rust or fade and dry out, and will also provide food and shelter for wildlife. 

In fact, wildlife species are being continually isolated by the closing up of the American landscape, by our often using all available lands, causing the inability of wildlife to move safely from habitat to habitat. We need corridors which allow wildlife to cross our roads and properties. Elk, moose, wolves and bears have to be able to get through the Rockies from Rocky Mountain National Park to Yellowstone to Glacier to Banf and Jasper, Canadian Parks further north, just as critters in the Catskills need to be able to get to the Adirondacks, and up through Algonquin Park, to allow interbreeding among regions, which in turn will promote healthier species. 

Professor Douglas Tallamy, an entomologist, ecologist, and conservationist at the University of Delaware suggest that we Americans create a new virtual National Park in each of our backyards, by setting aside habitat that promotes wildlife diversity and encourages the ability for wildlife to move around. As Prof Tallamy says. “In the past, we have asked one thing of our gardens: that they be pretty. Now they have to support life, sequester carbon, feed pollinators and manage water…. Planting native is environmental activism.”

Suggested reading and Viewing: “Silent Earth” by Dave Goulson; “Nature’s Best Hope” by Douglas W.Tallamy; “Sacred Cow” by Diana Rogers and Robb Wolf; on Netflix, “Kiss the Ground” with Woody Harrelson.

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Steve Hall

Steve and Wendy Hall run the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge and Rehab Center in Wilmington. They've been rehabbing and releasing wild animals for over 45 years, specialize in predators, keep wolves as the cornerstone of their educational program, and have lived in the Adirondacks for the past 20 years. The Adirondack Wildlife Refuge became a non-profit about 10 years ago.

Visit www.AdirondackWildlife.org to learn more.


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6 Responses

  1. Zephyr says:

    Some may decry the loss of population in rural areas like in the Adirondacks, but this demographic shift will be better for rural and wild environments in the long run. Here in the Northeast we have much more forest cover than existed in the late 19th century. Plus, it appears that the world population will soon plateau and then begin to shrink. Yes, this will cause all sorts of other problems, like we already see in the Adirondacks on a small scale–not enough young people to provide the services for all those older people. But, it also will reduce the pressure on food sources, assuming we have enough people and machines to continue to provide the food.

  2. Balian the Cat says:

    Zephyr,

    I don’t doubt the veracity of the statement ” it appears that the world population will soon plateau and then begin to shrink” but please elaborate. Problems aside, such a trend might actually be our saving grace.

  3. JT says:

    I am open to trying insects for food, grasshoppers don’t seem too bad, but cockroaches, No, No, No. I worked for an exterminator company many years ago and have seen some pretty bad cockroach infestations. I just couldn’t do it.

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