Embracing Handmade Items

Have you ever considered handmade items are the non-food equivalent of organic food in today’s societies? Perhaps occasionally a little misshapen but as wholesome as it could be?

In the days of our great grandparents and earlier generations, most daily items from clothes, kitchen wares to furniture were expertly handcrafted to last a lifetime or two. Items that could no longer be used in its original design were often recycled for other purposes. Nothing much went to waste.
As society changes and mass-produced merchandise floods nearly every household, the art of producing items with one’s own hands have taken a back seat. Across the globe, a huge segment of people living in suburban and urban societies no longer able to sew a piece of clothing or produce a piece of furniture from raw woods.
While perhaps it is no longer necessary to know a thing or two about sewing your own dress or how to work the chisel, nevertheless the ability to produce goods from a pair of hands has a critical role in safeguarding our fragile environment for the future generation.

Putting aside the fact that each painstakingly handmade item is a unique creation to be cherished, a well-crafted item usually last for a long time. While it can’t be conclusively said a factory-produced version of similar item induces more carbon footprint, but we can envision perhaps a better utilization of natural resources otherwise could just go to waste, such as a fallen wood or an extra roll of fabric lying around.

As you would support your local individual organic farmers by patronizing the neighborhood organic market, embracing handmade items give a boost to your local artisans at the minimum. In the world of internet connection, the economic impact of embracing handcrafted items can be far more significant than buying perishable organic foods. With the aids of non-profit organizations, many improvised or sidelined communities around the globe are putting their handmade items online for sale. Your support could mean a meal on the table or the children can afford to go to school for these communities.
Embarking on a journey of making items on your own could be a mind stimulating hobby yet as restful as a yoga retreat. Sweet smelling homemade soaps or candles, artistic pottery or furniture, creative jewelry, colorful quilts, mesmerizing glass, tailoring, among others, are awaiting your discovery and mastery.

Not-your-regular Smoothie

Why not packed in an extra dose of protein in your daily smoothie making with some cricket flour? And then have fun talking about the unusual ingredient with your gym pals? Sounds intriguing? Let’s get started.

 

Ingredients:

• 1/2 ripe banana
• 1/2 apple, chopped
• 2 kiwi fruits, peeled
• 1/4 cup frozen blueberries
• 1 tablespoon honey
• 1 1/2 tablespoon cricket flour

Blend all ingredients in a blender for 2 minutes. If necessary, add a bit of fruit juice of your choice for the desire thickness. Pour out and enjoy!

Incorporate cricket flour in your daily smoothie making for a healthier you and a healthier environment. If your neighborhood grocery store does not carry cricket flour, you can easily order them on line.

 

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A little cricket mania

The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture organization (FAO) web page pointed out very clearly the anticipated population growth of reaching 9 billion by 2050 is placing tremendous stress to the environment to induce further food and livestock feed production. Depletion of agricultural land, forest, water, fishery, biodiversity resources, non-renewable energy and nutrients are anticipated.

In recognizing the unavoidable trend, FAO has been tirelessly researching, promoting the idea of edible insects as an alternate food source.  A staggering 1900 species of insects have been identified as fit for human consumption. One of them is your friendly chirping cricket that your little brother has been feeding to his pet iguana for ages. Marching forward, entomophagy (insect eating) will likely become more visible as an alternate food source.
A cricket resting on a wall.

Why insects are chosen?

It is not something new, humans have been consuming insects since prehistoric ages. Cave drawings and archeology digs have provided evidence as such. Some cultures in Asia, South America, Africa, New Zealand and Australia just never cease with this tradition.


What’s the nutritious values of eating insects?

Studies have shown that edible insects contain a significant amount of quality protein. In addition, they provide a variety of essential amino acids, minerals, carbohydrates, fats and vitamins for humans. Some species such as cricket contained as much calcium as dairy milk. Humans can replace regular white or red meat completely with insect without suffering a nutrient deficiency. In recognizing of this fact, a few companies have started producing flour, biscuits, chips, energy bars with pulverized six-legged buggy contents. Bitty, Exo and Chapul have been shipping their products containing cricket flour for a while now. Their products can be ordered online.

What’s the impact on the environment?

For one thing, insects require a lot less feed than other livestock. For example, crickets need only 1/6 of what are fed to cattle, ¼ of sheep, and ½ of chickens and pigs to produce the similar amount of protein. Often, insects can be raised on organic waste cutting down economic and environment strain further. Their requirement for fresh water is a mere fraction of what is needed to keep traditional livestock. They reproduce at much faster rate than conventional life stock. A female cricket can lay close to 1500 eggs quarterly. The development of eggs to adult crickets is a mere 45 to 60 days.

Favorable greenhouse gas and ammonia emission of insect farming due to their excellent direct conversion of plant to protein index. The calculation has indicated the food conversion efficiency of crickets is almost twenty times better than cattle.
Mindset Change

The notion of insects could be part of the equation of solving future food insecurity have FAO and numbers of countries looking into this mini-livestock production seriously.  A well-run, scientifically managed, large-scale farming of edible insects could be the solution to preventing food scarcity, but that would require a shift in Western perception on insects as edible.

Popular reality TV shows such as Fear Factor reintroduced the concept of insect eating to the mass. A few restaurants in Canada, USA, and Europe have been serving insects on their menu. Competitive eating of insect is a fun way to entice more Western culture into the fold of entomophagy.

Visibility, habitats conservation, and economic incentives are likely the main push for the society embracing insects into the food chain.

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Growing Food in Urban Jungle

As world population grows, arable lands continue to be converted for other usage. Food security is a serious concern for all nations. The world has become aware that we can’t continue on the same path as we have been for the past centuries. With national policy and heavy investment, there is no doubt innovation in food science and technology is one of the major steps forward.

But as a common people who mostly lived in high rise buildings, what can we do to help ourselves as well as the environment?  We have learned honey produced by bees housed on the rooftops in Paris is actually superior to their rural counterpart. That’s was kind of a paradigm shift in thinking. If bees can thrive in a busy city why can’t vegetation?

The emergence of rooftop vegetation gardens is encouraging and presented many advantages. First of all is of cause the fresh harvest, which in returns bring forward better health and less expenditure on grocery. Secondly, farming tends to be a community effort, just a small plot of vegetable farming can bring the neighborhood to work together. People, especially urban children, who otherwise do not have the opportunity to work on soil can now learn to grow
vegetable and other plants. A tighter community tends to be healthier, safer, and to a certain level, richer.

Japan is one of the pioneer nations on roof top garden. You might not associate farming as an activity that can occur in the densely populated Tokyo or Osaka. But that is exactly happening in these cities.
Take the lift to the rooftop of their shopping complexes, Osaka Station City Complex is one fine example, you can see vegetables, fruit-bearing trees, herbs, and even grains growing robustly under full sun. Powered by solar energy and watered by collected rain waters, the garden provides a refreshing reprieve for visiting shoppers and volunteers alike. The produce goes to the restaurants in the building or gives to those who partake in the farming activities.

Alternately, vertical garden or trellis can be an ideal choice for those who wish to grow their own on their balcony.

We may not think the produce generated from a small plot of space will make any impact in the big picture but even the ocean is nothing but a collective collection of tiny drops of water. A mere ten percent of city dwellers participate in some sort of farming activities, we are helping the world in food security.

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Sea Surface Farming

Land scarcity is a concern as the world marched towards 2050 where the 9 billionth baby is expected to be born somewhere on the earth. Expanding population but dwindling land is not exactly a nice scenario to be in.

Considering earth surface is 70% water, saved for some immediate coastal inhabitants, the surface of the sea is largely left as it was. Which is by no way a bad thing, however, the world may not be able to afford to do so unless we are willing to sacrifice more of the precious green lung.

Small scale sea surface farmingGiven the technology innovation and the capability of today top notch scientists, perhaps it is high time the modern agriculture sector looks into sea surface farming. We are probably the best generation to do so, taking into the consideration of the technical knowledge, availability of investment capital and the environment awareness sensitivity.

While I think we should explore this option but I am also aware of the damage can be done to the ocean and all the marine creatures if the plan is not executed with full care. The coordinated planning and successful execution of the International Space Station (ISS) tell me the world is capable of putting aside all their differences when it comes to human advancement. The engagement of the best minds in the world to draw up a coordinated plan collectively is vital.
At the most elementary level, a greenhouse environment equipped with the best equipment can be constructed on purpose-built barges or decommissioned ships. If the Palm Jumeirah of the United Arab Emirates can be constructed so beautifully for largely leisure purposes, I am sure the world can find a way to construct leading-edge sea surface farming facilities for the benefit of the world population to obtain alternate food source.

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Sea Urchin for Meals

Are you aware of the Japanese have been enjoying a porcupine-like sea creature for centuries?  A plate of toasted sea urchin is as common a dish as a plate of pan-seared scallops at the fishing villages dotting along the long coast of Japan. In Japan and Hong Kong, uni(oo-nee) is highly valued for its sweet and delicate taste. It is often served with sushi or sashimi.

A halved sea urchin showing its edible gonads.

Although it may appear daunting in attempting to get to the edible part of a sea urchin, a pair of tongs and a pair of man grooming scissors or kitchen shears are all it takes to accomplished the task. The taste of the uni is unique and well worth the effort. Uni(oo-nee), the bright orange–yellow part of the sea urchin is the creature’s gonads, although it is commonly addressed as the roe(eggs).

So why should we care about an expensive and hard-to-eat creature as an alternate food source? Simply because diversity and local resources are important. While sea urchins are expensive in some parts of the world, they are more likely treated as thrash in other regions, especially where they are available in abundance.

That is exactly the case for the sea urchin population along the coast of America. Sea urchins are treated as a nuisance for fishermen, divers, and destroyers of sea kelp beds. Until lately, sea urchins do not bring much of a positive impact on American fishermen as very few people would eat them. However, in recent years, sea urchins are being harvested and shipped to Asia cities where they are considered as delicacies. The harvesting kept the population of sea urchins in checked so that sea kelps are not over-glazed. It also gives a breather to other over-harvested seafood as more food diversification takes place.

Sea urchin is high in protein, omega-3 fatty acids, libido-enhancing zinc, heart-friendly unsaturated fat and other beneficial nutrients, so if you haven’t included sea urchin into your diet, give it a try.

The flesh of a sea urchin can be consumed raw like an oyster with certain health risk associated, so best to proceed fully informed. They can be easily barbecued, fried, toasted with spines and all. The alternate way is to remove the flesh ahead and incorporate them into dishes such as seafood chowder, pasta, salad. They are tasty as well on a sandwich. Try them out.

 

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Plant-based Protein and Eco-Food

As much as the majority of the world population would like to stick to traditional foods in its original form, the steady increases in food consumption by the expanding population, coupled with increasingly volatile weather affecting food production, it was evident to world leaders that if no drastic actions are taken, the world is likely to face a severe food shortage in the near future.

Livestock caged in cramped quarter.

Livestock farming, especially raising cattle for meat is highly inefficient in converting the energy of natural resources including land, water and feeds to a piece of protein on the plate. On feed alone, on the average to produce a pound (0.45kg) of beef requires seven pounds (3.17kg) of feed, a pound of pork requires three pounds (1.36kg) of feed, and a pound of chicken requires around 2 pounds (0.90kg) of feed. If the depletion and degradation of land, amount of water consumed, greenhouse gas emission are taking into the consideration, livestock production is one of the major factors of environmental degradation.

Further more valuable land that could be used to grow grains for human consumption are used for livestock rearing or grow feeds for the livestock. It is somewhat ironic that this particular sector of food production is a key factor in world hunger.

Realizing the current system can’t continue, but also realizing meat eaters will always have meat craving, pockets of innovative scientists have sprouted out in several research centers around the world trying to find plant-based replacement protein that can closely mimic the taste and texture of the real thing, whether it is beef, chicken, pork, or even egg. With the support of Silicon Valley bigwigs, industry entrepreneurs, and venture capitalists, numerous products are already in the grocery stores or scheduled to launch in the not too far future.

One of them is the Los Angeles-based company Beyond Meat, started by Ethan Brown in 2009 to produce food using green protein, mainly no-GMO pea or no-GMO soy with oils and other additives. Ethan switched his career from clean energy after realizing livestock sector is stripping the environment of natural resources.  In 2012, their first product, “Chicken-Free Strips,” was introduced to the market.  They have since launched Beyond Chicken Strips, Beyond Beef Crumbles, Frozen Meals, and the Beast Burger and Beast Slider. Their product, Beyond Burger, is sold in both the meat section and vegan section at selected Whole Foods grocery stores. Bill Gates, among others, has given his thumbs-up, saying he “couldn’t tell the difference between Beyond Meat and real chicken”. Ethan has a vision that eventually grocery stores will label meat section as protein section to better reflect the growing trend.

Hampton Creek Foods, on the other hand, produces plant-based substitutes to use in mayo, dressings, mixes, cookie dough, cookies, and others. The company was founded by longtime friends Josh Balk and Joshua Tetrickin in December 2011, based in San Francisco. Josh Balk was with The Humane Society of the United States farm animal division as the senior director of food policy. Joshua Tetrick, a Fulbright Scholar and a social enterprise entrepreneur. The duo named their products ‘Just’ as they hope their meat-free products is not just a substitute for egg, trans fat and sugar but assist in providing healthy and nutritious food for every person without causing more harm to the environment. Hampton Creek Foods is committed to continuous innovation and improvement in their products. In 2014, Dan Zigmond, a database guru, came on board with the aim to create the world’s largest plant database.

And then who can forget about the unprecedented taste-test of the world first lab dish-grown beef patty burger in 2013. The patty was grown from stem cells extracted from a cow and nurtured into muscle strips. Around 20,000 thin muscle tissues were then formed into patty shaped. Although the testers generally favor the cultured patty, the project leader, Professor Mark Post from the Maastricht University of Netherland remarked it will take at least another decade before the process is ready for mass producing cultured meat tissue.

At the current state, meat replacement choices are limited and expensive. As time progresses, we are likely to see more of such ventures emerges and soon we are likely to be presented with affordable versions that are hard to differentiate from the actual food they are mimicking.  Plant-based protein meat analogue provides an alternative food choice that is more environmentally viable for meat lovers.

 

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Edible packaging

Wouldn’t it be nice if you can purchase your packed lunch weeks in advance, stay fresh without refrigeration, upon consuming, there is no nasty plastic wrapper to be disposed of? Far fetch? You may be surprised that it may just be around the corner in the form of edible packaging.

Sandwiches wrapped in edible packaging.

Edible packaging offers numerous advantages. First being if the packaging becomes mainstream, waste could be significantly reduced worldwide.

At the moment, Americans generate 1.6 million metric tons of packaging waste annually with 16% made up of non-degradable plastic. This plastic eventually will either end up in landfill or ocean bed, depriving the environment of oxygen and nutrient transfer and in turns suffocating the trees and living creatures.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we can just eat the food with the packaging? Neat, tidy and no waste. Groups of forward thinking scientists and researchers are bringing this idea into actuality.

Biodegradable starch based food packaging has been around for a while as it is one of the options explored earliest. The packaging is usually starch based, can be either coated with clay nano particles or infused with additives to improve mechanical and tensile structure. The starch-based packaging is not as good in keeping out moisture as compared to other options. Nevertheless, it is a viable option for food to be consumed soon, such as a quick hamburger one grabs from the street vendor while on route to class.  Not all starch based packaging is designed to be palatable but certainly biodegradable.

On the other hand, food packaging produced by WikiCells is specifically designed to be edible. WikiCells, founded by Harvard bioengineering alumnus, David Edwards, produces consumable packaging for various food and beverages, including coffee, ice cream, yogurts fruit juices, among others.

Inspired by the design of fruit, WikiCells packaging may consist of two layers, one outer protective edible layer encapsulates a soft inner membrane “entirely comprised of natural food particles held together by nutritive ions”. The packaging is designed not only to be mere edible but tasty and nutritious.

Currently, three main options have emerges.
WikiCells are planning to introduce ice cream and yogurt encapsulated in flavored cellophane to grocery shoppers by end of this year. If their plan goes well, patrons of movie theaters and cafés may soon be able to order a latte wrapped in caramel or chocolate shell.

Another noble initiative not only designed to be edible but to prolong perishables shelf life as well, minimizing food and drink spoilage and wastage. It is no secret that nearly half of the world edible food gone wasted due to distribution spoilage or simply pure wastage. A milk protein casein has been found to be the ideal solution. A team of scientists, led by Peggy Tomasula, D.Sc, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has developed a casein-based packaging material that is 500 times less oxygen-permeable than plastic.  When protein polymerized, they form a tighter network that is better at keeping out oxygen.

The latest casein-based packaging material closely resembling plastic packaging with three outstanding   differences – they are edible, completely environmentally friendly and they are better at keeping food fresh longer.  The scientists foresee addition of flavor and nutrients in the future. Just imagine transporting nutrient enhanced casein sheets to people suffering from famine or disaster. It may just be a viable quick alternative providing temporary relief in dire condition.

The researchers also found the protein can be sprayed directly on food, such as cereal flakes, snack bars, cheese in various forms to keep them fresh without the need for sugar coating or plastic wrapper. The material can be sprayed on paper or cardboard base packaging such as pizza box to prevent grease stains. A single-serve of powdered soup or coffee can be packed in the protein sachet to be dropped directly into hot water as the sachet is water-soluble and edible with an extra dose of protein.

The application of the edible packaging is endless. It addresses many pressing issues the world is facing- plastic pollution, food supply, and distribution, reduces health hazard in current food packaging method among others. I can’t wait for the day when edible packaging is the norm rather than a curiosity. Hurray to the end of the era of plastic packaging.

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Water Harvesting and Management

We are living in a rather confusing era. In certain times of the year or certain parts of the world, flood and thunderstorms deluge the land without mercy; then in other times or places, there is nary a drop of drinkable water.

This is not only happening to the developing countries but in our own backyards too, from frequent California drought to submerging gulf coasts in Florida and Louisiana.

No water, no food, whether conventional or alternate food source!

A boat on a water depleted river bed.

Even a year 1 student knows that water is the essential factor of all living things, however, fear of diminishing usable water has become increasingly heard. This situation is not only affecting farming sector but also urban living when the water tabs run dry and the food price is escalating.

Agriculture utilizes 70 percent of total global water consumption. At this rate, it is worrisome how the world is going to have sufficient water to feed projected 9 billion people by 2050 as surface water is running low or polluted and ground reservoir water is increasingly tabbed.

The question of whether we can achieve better water management system to feed the whole world is no longer pertinent for we have no choice but to do it. World organizations, leading universities and research centers, governments and individuals have to come together to work out a sustainable water collection, utilization, and management systems. Water collection and management is a most tangled web of countless factors with each factor affects the water situation negatively or positively.

Studies conducted by leading institutions such as Columbia Water Center of Columbia University and the World Organization have indicated there are sufficient water to cater for human needs if managed properly. The broad strokes recommendations from these institutions are as followed:

Suitable Crop Growing
It is crucial to match the availability of water, biophysical environment, people social and economic capability with suitable crops for the maximum return. The crops grown has to be able to self-sustaining for local economy at the minimum. The good old day of growing water-insatiable plants in savannah region by piping in water to keep the plants alive is probably not the best practice. Looking at all possible alternate food source that are environment economical will be the way going forward.

Water Infrastructure and Water Technology Investment
One of the key success of the Roman Empire was their recognition of the importance of water supply and management. While their water infrastructure and aqua engineering were well developed and second to none, the world today is lagging in both. Unless investment in these areas takes priority and urgency, precious drinkable water will continue to be wasted.

Multiple Recycling of Water
Most drinkable water is utilized only once which is a complete waste of natural resources. In Japan, it is very common to see toilet bowls with sinks mounted directly on top of the water tank. The water used to wash hands flow directly into the tank for later flushing. This is one example of reusing water in a consistent manner. Even that, the water is only used twice. As technology advances, better water harvest and treatment may be the solution to water shortage. A flood management could well be a water resource management opportunity rather than the current disposal management practice.

Carrot Sticks
A radical change from the norm or past farming practice is unlikely to happen without clear government intervention in the form of education, incentives or aids. In Africa and India where most farmers are not well connected to the outside world, government leads are extremely important. Even in the urban area, if a change greatly inconvenient the people for the benefit of future generations, the majority of the people is not going to embrace the change without clear regulations from the government. With proper encouragement, innovation in water conservation and management can materialize faster than later.
As we inch towards 2050, the crucial point to take away is that we can no longer take water- the fluid of life, for granted. Better utilization, recycling, and innovation have to take precedent over others. What have been long practiced may no longer suitable, new thoughts and economical ways have to emerge. Without effective water harvest, the society will eventually perish.
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The Lionfish, Alternate Food Source

You may not be aware of it, but since 2010 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has made numerous battle calls to fishermen and divers to hunt down a gorgeous species of oceanic creatures – the lionfish. To mobilize the battle call, NOAA launched the “Lionfish as Food” campaign to encourage public consumption of the fish.

Why would an institution that is in charge of the preservation of all things oceanic so keen on turning this beautiful creature into another cuisine?

A gorgeous lionfish hunting for food.

Here’s is why-

Lionfish is non-native and aggressively spreading
The call is necessary and in fact critical as the fish is an introduced species that is spreading aggressively in the gulf and Caribbean regions. Lack of natural predators, these natives of Indo-Pacific have gained dominance in the coastal waters of Atlantic from Louisiana, Florida to North Carolina.

In less than a decade, six escapees from a Florida aquarium during the 1992 Hurricane Andrew have resulted in the fish population second in numbers only to scamp grouper among the grouper family. NOAA and the fishery authority have conceded the lionfish is here to stay in the Atlantic coastal water. Controlling the population from exploding is crucial and no other known method is as effective as eating the invasive species.

Lionfish is devouring the native species
This species are excellent hunters with swift and powerful motion capable of swallowing prey in one single move. In addition to small fish, they consumed invertebrates and mollusks in significant quantity.

They hunt most aggressively from 7am until 11am, up to 6 different species of prey have been found in the stomach of lionfish. According to a study conducted, a single adult fish is capable of diminished young reef fish dwelling by an astonishing rate of 79%.

Their spread in the Atlantic coastal waters is worrying to the administration as left unchecked, they are capable of overpopulating the delicate reef areas, devouring and driving native species to less desirable habitat. 80% of the Atlantic atoll diversity could be jeopardized and lead to a disastrous trophic cascade effect in the food chain.


Lionfish supplement overfished stocks
The abundance of the species made it an ideal alternate fish to supplement the overfished species such as snapper and grouper.  The meat is safe for consumption when properly filleted but their fins are venomous.

Lionfish is similar in taste and texture to grouper. Light, flaky, “delicious, delicately flavored fish” according to NOAA description and those who have sampled this alternate food source.

Chefs working in conjunction with NOAA have developed recipes for ceviche, deep frying, grilling, jerky, and Sashimi. Lionfish recipes are easily available on the internet now.

Lionfish supplement the income of fishermen and divers
Harvesting the species not only give a breather to the local fish, it supplements the income of fishermen and perhaps provide an alternative activity for divers.

So tuck in a plate of lionfish whenever you have the opportunity, you are giving the poor grouper or snapper a helping hand! You can be assured of the fish is not farmed but as free range as possible!

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Broadleaf Arrowhead for Food

The Native Americans have been consuming the edible broadleaf arrowhead tubers for centuries. The tubers are both dietary food and medicine for treating mild illnesses, yet, the other communities are not as well aware of it.  It is also known as Indian potato, duck-potato, or wapato.

A healthy arrowhead plant growing in a garden pond.

Origins of Broadleaf Arrowhead
Arrowhead plant (Sagittaria latifolia) is an aquatic plant commonly found in ponds, river bands, swamps and lakes. The hardy plant traces its origin to southern Canada but it has since spread far and wide all over the world. With its robust roots that allow the plant to dwell on different water levels, the plant can colonize a wide area rapidly. In certain countries, arrowhead plant is considered as an invasive weed.

Growth Characteristic
Their ability to spread rapidly on different growth zones made the plant an ideal choice as an alternate food source to feed increasing world population. Twice a year harvest in Fall and Spring can be expected.

The tubers can be easily separated from the root with a pitch fork, feet, or stick.  When detached, the tubers usually float to the surface and that makes collection very easy.

Edible Partsarrowhead chips
The whole plant is edible but the tubers are preferred. The tubers are usually cooked for a short duration prior to consumption. It tastes bitter if eaten raw.  It can be prepared in a similar way as ground potatoes whether deep fried, stir fried, roasted, steamed or boiled. Arrowhead chips have a creamy nutty taste of it that is very much preferred in Asia.
The tuber can also be grounded into flour. The flour has many uses in culinary preparation, such as thickener in source and as a binder in meat patty.

Nutritious Values
In terms of nutritious values, boiled arrowhead tubers yield about half the amount of calories as potatoes but nearly double the amount of protein. It contains a fair amount of vitamin B6 and is rich in phosphorus, potassium, manganese and magnesium.

Ecology stabilizer
The arrowhead plant can be helpful in preventing soil erosion along river bands and given sea level is expected to rise globally in coming decades, the plant together with other robust aquatic plants can serve as an important ecological stabilizer.

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Having Seaweed Regularly

While we are exhausting the fish stock in the sea, we are not harvesting enough of one of the most nutritious produce from the sea – seaweed of all sorts.

Seaweed growing on coastal rocks.
Our prehistoric ancestors started cultivating land vegetation some 12000 years ago, the modern men continuous with this tradition. However, considering 70% of the earth’s surface is water, with 97% of the water sea or salt water, and roughly one-third of the current world population lives not more than 60 miles from a seafront coast, we have neglected in cultivating and harvesting this aquatic vegetation to feed the world population as an alternative food source.

Yes, in recent years, folks in urban cities are acquainted with a type of seaweed called nori through Japanese Sushi. Regular consumption of aquatic plants tends to be still isolated with societies that have long-established dwelling along sea fronts such as the Japanese, Southeastern Chinese, Peruvian, Chilean, and Irish.

Seaweed is a collective name for the nutrient-packed aquatic plants. There are many types of such plants in a variety of colors and shapes. Those we are familiar with are kelp, Irish moss, laver, algae, and the real seaweeds. Most urban people are more familiar with Japanese nori which is a type of algae that are compacted into sheet form. Kelps are long ribbon-shaped. Irish moss, well, looks like clustered thick moss. Laver resembling thick colorful vegetable leaves.

Seaweed is a natural source of iodine which is crucial for optimum thyroid function. The plant is also an excellent mineral source of calcium, magnesium, iron and copper. Some species can contain up to 70% of protein. Spirulina, a type of algae, is considered one of the complete protein sources in the world. Spirulina can be easily grown and multiply in a controlled in-house environment which is a key factor as a food source for increasing population.
The extraction of seaweed is already extensively used by food manufacturer as a gelling and emulsifying additives in desserts, confectionery, sauces, salad dressings, beverages, dietetic foods and baked food. We just need to step up the plate and consuming more of it in its natural form, whether in soup (Japanese miso soup), breakfast (Irish laverbread), protein supplement (spirulina powder), salad (raw seaweed), meal (sushi), beverage (Belize dulce) and as a snack (nori sheets). One of the easiest way to introduce this nutritious aquatic greens into your daily meal is to include shredded pieces of seaweed into salads. They taste nice tossed with lime juice, honey, chili flakes and olive oil. Your neighborhood oriental store is usually a reliable place to find them especially nori. If not, various online stores are selling seaweed produce.

In the Victorian era, a trip to the seaside in the summer usually involved collecting, drying and compacting seaweed fresh from the sea. If you decide to take it up as a fun beach activity please do it only where it is allowed and do it in moderation as seaweed beds are important ecological contributors. Please consult relevant authorities for advice ahead. The readers are advised to research and evaluate the pro and cons prior to engage in such activity. The writer holds no responsibility for any undesirable outcome.

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Pulses for The Mass

uring the 2013 Sixty-eight annual meet of the United Nations General Assembly, the year 2016 was designated as the International Year of Pulses (IYP).

What is so import about pulses that the United Nations General Assembly compelled to declare 2016 as the Year of Pulses? Other than the familiar meaning of heart rhythmical throbbing or wave pulsation, pulses are the collective name for the dried seeds of the legume family including lentils, various types of beans, chickpeas and dried peas.

Green beans are a type of pulses.

UN hopes the declaration of IYP is able to increase public awareness of the health benefits of pulses as part of the sustainable food production plan to secure food supply and nutrient needed. IYP 2016 aims to foster connections throughout the food supply chain for a better utilization of plant-based proteins, increase production of pulses globally, to better employ suitable crop rotations and to tackle issues associated with the crop trading.

The role of legumes in the advancement of civilization is undeniably important although they are often taken for granted. Since prehistoric, legumes have provided the human with vegetable, grains and pulses, forage and winter silage for the livestock, and green manure for soil enrichment. Their root nodules hosting nitrogen-fixing ground bacteria are particularly beneficial in fertilizing the land and facilitating crop rotation.

Pulses of legumes are rich in protein, complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber, essential minerals but low in fat. Chickpeas and lentils, widely consumed pulses in India continent, are often promoted as very affordable super foods for very good reasons. Of Daily Value requirement, a 100g serving of chickpeas provides 38% of protein, 68% of dietary fiber, 34% of Iron, 28% of Magnesium, 25% of Potassium, 0% cholesterol and 9% total fat. A 100g serving of chicken breast, on the other hand, provide 62% of protein, 0% dietary fiber, 30% VitaminB-6, 7% Magnesium, 28% cholesterol and 5% total fat.

Cultivated legume plants are used for many purposes, as grain, forage, medicine, blooms, green manure/fertilizer, and even as timber sources.

Grounded beans can be used to replace other expensive ingredient without sacrificing on nutrient, taste or texture. For example, carob flour can be used to replace cocoa flour in chocolate cookies. Flour grounded from other beans can also be used to replace common flour in making cakes and bread.

There is another notable advantage of pulses. As they are dried produces with long shelf-live, they can be easily and economically stored and transported throughout the world when needed. Transported pulses are versatile enough they can be used as food or as seeds for future generation. The variety of legume plants is so numerous that there are species suitable to be grown in practically any region with human inhabitant, be it tropical area, temperate regions, savannah or deserts.

As the weather becoming increasingly unpredictable, soil natural nutrient depleting and agriculture land limited, legume plants are an important factor in ensuring sufficient and quality food source for the projected 9 billion people in 2050.

National Escargot Day – May 24

This may come as a surprise to unsuspecting Americans that May 24th is listed on the National Day Calendar as the day honoring a French dish involving cooked land snails- The National Escargot Day.

Cluster of escargots on a tree branch.The word escargot {es.kar.go} simply means snails in French.

Although snail eating is not something desirable to most American families, it is commonly served as an appetizer or starter meal throughout the old world of France, Spain, Portugal and Italy.

In fact, piles of snail shells of numerous species have been found in various archaeological digs in Mediterranean regions. The Romans especially had a taste for the juicy fresh of snails and introduced snail cultivation far and wide.

In the middle ages, snails were commonly reared at monasteries and Christian households as snails being neither meat nor fish, were allowed to be eaten during the month of Lent. They were every man meat before gaining the reputation as the highly priced delicacy in French restaurants.

It is an excellence alternate food source as snails can be found practically anywhere and do not require huge space or investment to farm them.

Nutritional value of snail

Edible snails are a desirable source of protein as they are composed of 80% water, 2.4% fat and 15% protein.

Edible snail species

The most commonly eaten snail species are the Roman snail Helix pomatia, the small “petit-gris” garden snail Cornu aspersa , and the Helix lucorum. The Roman snails are highly valued larger edible mollusk but are harder to reared commercially. There are other species of edible snails but they are either too small or simply not palatable enough to worth the effort.

Escargot Preparation

If the snails are free range, it is advisable to fast them for 3-4 days in an airy container, follow by at least another 1-2 days of feeding of suitable herbs or cereal to fatten them up. This is called the process of purging to allow the snails to excrete any harmful material from their guts.

To prepare the French Escargot, the snails are dropped into a pail of boiling water briefly to kill them. The meat is then removed from the shells, sautéed with butter or olive oil with wine, garlic, and herbs. The meat is then slotted back into the shells with the sauce for serving. The dish is often served on a specially designed plate with accompanying special tong and fork for the ease of diners.

In Asia, where the consumption of various mollusks is fairly common, the snails are cooked in a variety of ways with the shells intact and presented intact usually. The diners extract the meat with toothpicks or forks just before consumption and usually dipped the flesh in hot sauce or soy source.

Besides Europe, snail farming is slowly but surely expanding in popularity across the globe. As more people are exposed to escargot eating, the sooner it can be accepted as another common table food.

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Jicama and Chinese Water Chestnut

Jicama and Chinese Water Chestnut– Ingredients missing from your salad all this while.

The Jicama and Chinese water chestnut are root systems of plants. They have been taken by Asians for centuries with extensive recipes developed around them whether taken raw, stewed, sautéed, stir-fried, steamed, in broth or as a desert. If you have not been acquainted with them, you probably should seek them out soon.  They are usually available in Asian food stores if you can’t find them at your usual grocery store. Both are refreshingly tasty eaten raw on its own, in salads, juiced or in your sandwich. They are excellent alternate food for carrot or lettuce in any meal. The broader our range of food is, the better off in the food chain supply.

Chinese water Chestnut

Chinese water chestnut

The chestnut is not a nut but the corm of an aquatic grass-like plant grown on paddy fields, marshes, or edges of rivers. A corm is a bulb-looking underground storage organ of a plant to ensure the survival of the plant in times of harsher conditions. You can be assured of all the goodness of the plant has to offer is in the corm.

Water chestnut has a thin layer of black skin which needs to be peel or slice away. The fresh is white, crunchy, juicy with an earthy nutty taste. You can pop the peeled corm into your mouth immediately after rinsing or put aside for other culinary uses.  It is best to rinse the water chestnut before and after skin removal to remove dirt. It is mildly sweet eaten raw.

Water Chestnut is high in starchy carbohydrates, rich in vitamin B+ and minerals especially manganese and potassium. Westerners most likely have their first encounter with water chestnut in Chinese restaurant chap suey dish. You can easily incorporate them in your salad, juice, dessert immediately. Try baking water chestnut wrapped with bacon.

Jicama (Mexican yam bean)

Jicama strips

Jicama is a plant native to Mexico. It is a vine capable of growing up to 15 feet with sufficient support and long sunny weather. The Spaniards introduced the jicama turnip to the Philippines and from there it spreads to the whole of Asia. It is so common in Asia now that it is often thought as ingenious to Asia.

Jicama turnips come in various sizes, as small as palm-size to weight as much as 23kg. It has a uniform light brown bark-light skin that needs to be peeled or sliced away.  The turnip may look intimidating especially the bigger one, but trust me, what is hidden inside the skin is truly delightful. The fibrous skin can be easily peeled off in section once you can get hold of a small top section of the skin.

The fresh is pure white, refreshingly crunchy, juicy and sweet. Some described it as apple-like but personally I think it stands on its own. But you certainly can eat it like an apple once the skin is removed.

Jicama is nearly pure dietary fiber with 90% water. A good supplement for vitamin C and potassium. Jicama is rich in oligofructose inulin. This compound not only gives the sweet taste to jicama but it is prebiotic that nurture beneficial organism in our guts.  Due to its slow conversion to glucose, jicama is suitable for moderate consumption by diabetics.

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Worms for Meals

Many people are squeamish at the sight of a worm, to ask them to put a worm into their mouths is in tandem of handling a severe physical and psychological punishment to them. However, we have been unknowingly tucking in worms as additives in flour, source, salad dressing, or jelly for decades.

A cup of roasted worms.

In colloquial daily language, the word worm is generally referring to various small living creatures including insect larvae, insects, earthworms, centipedes, millipedes and other crawlies. This article only focuses on edible insect larvae and caterpillar, including milk worm and silk worm.

Similar to many other ancient foods that have fallen out of favor from the mass, worm eating is not something new. The earliest finding of worm eating can be traced back to Bronze age. Many cultures around the world continue to enjoy taking worm as part of their staple food.

Think milk worm-laced Mexican tequila, or the extra savory tacos with meocuiles (butterfly caterpillar) or chinicuiles (moth caterpillar). In Asia, street vendors specialize in serving up bags of roasted, fried, steamed larvae or caterpillars are fairly common. In Africa, the Mopani worm of the Emperor moth is highly valued by the ingenious people of southern Africa. When in the season, collecting Mopani worms from the wild mopane trees is a community activity. In South America, beetle larvae, especially those of scarab or longhorn beetles are much appreciated on a plate. Similarly, bamboo larvae and sago larvae are as highly valued in Thailand and neighboring countries.

Why should we eat worms?
First of all, worms can taste heavenly. There are many varieties of larvae, pupae, caterpillars that are recommended as food. The Canadian night crawler is said to taste like bacon. A plate of sweet and sour roasted silkworms tastes just like a plate of sweet and sour roasted chicken. A bag of fried milkworms is as crunchy and savory as a bag of chips minus the guilt.

Secondly, they are protein-packed. From a pound to pound, larvae of some species can yield as high as 8 times more protein than beef.  They are also loaded with minerals such as iron, calcium, sodium, magnesium and vitamin B-complex.

Thirdly, we are giving a helping hand to Mother Nature. Livestock farming for meat is exhausting the environment in lands, feeds, and fresh water. In addition, livestock farming, especially cattle farming is found to be a major contributor to environmental pollution. A study carried out by the University of Oxford concluded that a daily 100g meat-loaded diets produced 7.2kg of the undesirable carbon dioxide compare to 3.8kg of CO2 emission by vegetarian or fish-heavy diets. The less red meat we eat, the better it is for the environment. Juicy, tasty, buttery worms can fill in some of the gap craved by meat eaters as the alternate food choice.

Fourthly, worms are inexpensive super foods. Insects tend to be prolific breeder producing hundreds of eggs with incubation periods of mere weeks and cost little to feed. As a result, they are very affordable nutrient-packed foods that are currently mostly fed to your favorite pets or garden birds.

Jumping on the worm wagon

The only thing that is preventing the urban folks from eating more worms is the psychological “ew” factor and the only way to overcome that is to start eating. For beginners, mealworms are a good choice. They tasted mildly nutty and they are easily available alive or in dried form. Most fish bait shops or pet shops carry them. If not, plenty of online stores are selling them. And you can easily keep them alive in a plastic container with cornmeal, oatmeal, apple, or suitable leaves until you are ready to cook them.

If gourmet food is your style, a search online may just list a restaurant not far from your neighborhood featuring worms and other critters on the menu.  It is not advisable to just go out and randomly pick up any critter or worm and pop it into your mouth as some are poisonous, pesticide-contaminated, or may trigger an allergic reaction. It is up to the due diligence of the readers to research and source for reliable edible worms.

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Buy Less Food, Waste Less Food

Have you ever wonder why certain communities are flooded with endless food choice while others are not sure where their next meals will come from? Why is that?

Wouldn't it be nice some of the wasted food reached this poor man?

Dana Gunders, the Senior Scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found every sixth American is not warranted a secure food supply. Yet, 40% of edible food is thrown away annually. Similar scenarios are played out worldwide. At the global level, one in every nine persons lack sufficient food to lead a healthy active life, yet one-third of global food goes to waste. As Dana put it, if total food wastage is counted as a nation, it is the third largest carbon footprint contributor after America and China.

While we can blame the incompetent politicians in managing food distribution; the greedy food producers and retailer in jacking up food prices; the bad weather in poor harvest and many other reasons; which by and large are not within our daily control.

So what can we do?

While the scientists and government agencies can search high and low for alternate food sources, we can help by managing our daily diet and grocery list better. What does that mean?

Dana pointed out in her website that Americans are literally throwing away every 4th bag of grocery at a cost of $30 monthly with uneaten food.

It is clear one of the sources of the problem is right in our homes. If every household consciously made an effort to minimize food waste, not only we are doing ourselves a favor with extra money saved, we are extending a much needed helping hand to mother nature by reducing landfill piled up and green gas emission. In addition, fewer demands for food may just drive the food price lower to the benefit of the deprived households.

One of her findings is that people are wasting food due to lack of knowledge and awareness of how detrimental the way we view food as disposable at will. Therefore, the barely eaten sandwich ended up in the dustbin, strawberries left rotten at the back of the fridge, aesthetically imperfect apples are being askew.

In September 2015, Obama administration established the nation’s unprecedented food-waste reduction campaign with a target of halving food waste by 2030. The United Nations announced a similar target a few days later.

Responding to the call to curb wastage, shelf space for less appealing fruits and greens are appearing in grocery stores, appliances are being designed for better food storage, edible food packaging is being actively developed, well-coordinated food donation marketplace is being championed.

However, grocers, farmers, and all other parties involved in the food distribution response according to the demands and attitude of consumers. Without an all-encompassing cultural awareness of treating food as precious life-giving essentials, all the registrations, guidelines, enticements, and technology advancements will not be sufficient to solve the inequality in food distribution.

With better grocery and meal planning, awareness in every man’s responsibility and ability to curb food waste and world hunger, we might just be on the right path.

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Grasshoppers, Alternate Food Source

The Bible recorded John the Baptist ate grasshoppers. Eating locusts or grasshoppers may have fallen off the edible food spectrum of modern societies but it is certainly not new. Many societies around the world continue to have the insect as part of their diet. In fact, once you can get over the “ew” factor, they are down right tasty.

a grasshopper resting on a person fingers.

Roasted grasshopper skewers can be bought at Beijing and Bangkok easily; fried critters in Yogjakarta, Indonesia; boiled, salted and sun-dried snacks in Arab world. The Ohlone people of native American are expert herder of grasshoppers to collect them as food; Mexicans have chapulines in their tortillas and so forth.

Weight by weight, grasshoppers offer more protein than beef and it is definitely on the alternate food source list of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FOA).

Roasted or deep-fried, grasshoppers are crunchy and have a fragrant nutty flavor. Once you are accustomed to the idea of eating grasshoppers, popping them into your mouth like chips are likely to occur.

You can catch grasshopper from the garden in warmer area but it is not advisable as they may have been pesticide-contaminated. They can be easily bought from pet stores. Freeze-dried, ready to cook versions are already available for online purchases.

To prepare them for cooking, live grasshoppers are first dropped into boiling water briefly to kill them, then taken out, allow to drain and cool off. For later consumption, either oven-dried, sun-dried or freeze-dried are recommended. For immediate preparation, the legs and heads are sometimes removed just prior to further cooking, some people prefer to leave them on and let the diners decide whether to eat the whole critters or just the torsos. If you have purchase grasshopper flour, incorporate them into your favorite smoothies or your cake recipe is a great way to start.

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Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cookie with Cricket Flours

Let jump into the kitchen and bake up this marvelous chocolate chip butter cookie with extra goodies- cricket flours! Come on, you know it is good for you!

A couple of chocolate chip butter cookies baked with cricket flours.

Ingredients:
• 1/4 cup cricket flours, preferably with chocolate or peanut flavor
• 2 1/4 cup baking flour
• 1 tsp salt
• 1 tsp baking soda
• 1/2 cup sugar
• 3/4 cup brown sugar
• 2 sticks softened unsalted butter, softened
• 1 tsp extract of almond
• 2 eggs
• 1 cup peanut butter chips
• 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate morsels

Steps:
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Mix together the cricket flour, baking flour, baking soda, and salt in a mixing bowl.
In a kitchen mixing bowl, whip together the sugar, brown sugar, butter, and extract of almond. Next, add in the eggs and lastly add in the flour mixture slowly until fully blended.
Next, manually fold in the peanut butter chips and chocolate morsels. When ready, spoon out the cookie dough into a cookie baking sheet and set in the middle shelf of a preheated oven for 9-10 minutes. When cookies are fully baked, let it rest on the table top for a couple of minutes before tucking in!
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Oh Offal! But Waste Not

The ingenious people of America made full use of the buffalo and other game they hunted, from head to tail, nothing is not completely utilized. In today’s world, we purchase only the part we want and rarely give a second thought to the rest of the animal, especially the offal.

Offal of animal
Stomach, intestine and other offal parts of an animal.

Unless you are a hunter or living off the grid, there is probably very little chance that you need to somehow make full use of a whole animal.
Nevertheless, we can choose to consume other parts of a livestock that are mostly thrown away now in search of alternate food source.

Here are some examples that how we can minimize the waste.

Blood – Blood is the life source of the animal, it is iron and nutrient rich. Chucking it away is really a shame. Making blood pudding or blood soup is an ideal option. Don’t worry, the color changed to dark brown after cooking.

Bones, tendons, and cartilage – Rich in anti-aging collagen and other good stuff, they made excellent soup stocks and it is so easy to make. Chopped up a little if the piece is too big, put in a big pot, throw in some herbs with some seasoning of your choice, fill up with water, boiled away and simmer a little. Voila, you have your homemade bone stocks that can last for a while. In East Asia, chicken feet are considered delicacies and consumed in a variety of ways.

Offal – Scottish haggis made full use of an animal offal and then some more. Haggis may be a little off-putting at sight, it is tasty with a desirable nutty flavor. If you have had a bad experience with the kidney, liver or other offal parts, perhaps it was not prepared to your liking. I often find oriental restaurants have mastered the use of offal in their culinary as they have a long history of taking them.

Due to the social environment and upbringing, all of us are guilty of shunning certain things without ever trying it first. Once we are proven wrong or overcome the mental block, we may actually enjoy it. Consider this, all the body parts listed above are considered delicacies in some cultures.

 

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