Monthly Archives: June 2011

Eating Insects – A Sustainable Food Plan?

During a recent marathon of Andrew Zimmern’s “Bizarre Foods” episodes, I found myself intrigued by his oft-repeated claim that insects could be our answer to a world-wide food shortage and the expensive practice of raising livestock.

Of course, this claim often comes as Zimmern is biting into a scorpion, tarantula, or other nightmare-inducing organism, thus causing a cringe and not much further thought on the subject.

Zimmern and an insect feast.

However, for some reason, during this recent viewing of “Bizarre Foods,” I found myself intrigued by the idea.  So I did some searching to find out just how common this idea is to those “in the know.”  Turns out insects as food is a widely discussed option that could solve an ever-growing problem.

The costs of using livestock – chickens, cows, pigs – as major food sources are huge, both environmentally and economically.  And the use of large animals is wasteful.

Insects are a different story, though.

Insects are easy to raise requiring small amounts of water, food, and space.  Additionally, they are nutritious.  For example, catepillars are full of protein, zinc, calcium, and other vitamins.  The nutritional value of insects, while often overlooked in the US, is known and utilized throughout other parts of the world.

Therefore, due to the low cost and sustainability of insects as a food source as well as their potential to provide nutrition for people with little access to other vitamin- and protein-rich foods, the possibility of insects as a solution to world food shortages holds great promise.

Now if only those unaccustomed to eating the “pests” we usually try shooing out the door could get comfortable with the idea.  If it’s up to people like Zimmern and David Gracer, who works to convince chefs and “foodies” that insects are next big thing, perhaps the bug revolution will be here sooner rather than later.

Maybe we all just need to take a cue from Timon and Pumba of “Lion King” lore and enjoy the grubs.  Timon may be right – maybe they do taste like chicken!

Timon enjoying his insect delicacies.

 

 

 

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Revisiting a Science Hoax

As I perused the Science website the other day, I ran across another “Experimental Error” post.  For those unfamiliar with these articles, they are expertly and hilariously written by Adam Ruben.  Ruben is a scientist and the author of “Surviving Your Stupid, Stupid Decision to Go to Grad School.”

In this post for “Experimental Error,” Ruben touches upon one of the most famous scientific hoaxes perpetuated across the internet – the dangers of dihydrogen monoxide, or DHMO.

Entire websites, such as DHMO.org, are dedicated to communicating the dangers of this compound.  As the website describes, DHMO is a main component in acid rain, used in warfare, and found in many types of tumors.

Now all this is true.  But take a moment to return to your high school chemistry class and write out the formula of dihydrogen monoxide – two hydrogens and one oxygen.  H2O – water.

Due to the ease of spreading information across the Internet, the DHMO hoax has been widely heard.  A YouTube search turns up numerous “public service announcement” about the dangers of DHMO.  Countless graduate students have gathered around a lab computer to laugh about the (true) descriptions of DHMO and the inaccurate claim of its danger and our impending doom.

Some people, however, don’t think it’s so funny.  In 2004, a radio station in the town of Bremerton, WA announced that DHMO was found in the city’s water supply.  Residents of the town inundated emergency phone lines with worried questions, and the town mounted an emergency response.  Clearly, the joke had not been understood by everyone.

So, how careful do those who understand the humor behind the hoax have to be when communicating it to those who may not understand?  Are science hoaxes funny fodder for grad students during down times in the lab or potential for misunderstanding and fear?