Buzzing: On bad experiences
Hello everyone, how are you all doing? I know it’s going to be a long weekend for many people around the world, so I am wishing you lovely family reunions, happy day trips or lazy days, whatever is on the cards for you.
This week in Buzzing:
When insects are starvation food
In Other News: Jobs galore and all systems go in Africa
Test Corner: Cricket Granola 2.0
I believe that insect protein is part of the answer to more sustainable food systems; this is why this newsletter is free to read. It is not free to produce however so if you’ve enjoyed reading it, you can support me on ko-fi.
I recently finished reading Trevor Noah’s memoir, Born a Crime. I first came across Noah and his stand-up comedy in the early 2010s and loved his humour straight away. I saw him live in London before he got his big break on The Daily Show in 2015, and I’ve watched most of his shows on Netflix since.
I knew he’d had humble beginnings in apartheid South Africa, but I hadn’t realised quite how hard it had been and the tragedies he’d faced. That made me appreciate his comedy and journey even more.
Anyway, the reason I wanted to write about him today is that at one of the lowest points of his life, when his family faced incredible hardship, the Noah family were forced to eat mopane worms. The name is somewhat of a misnomer: they’re actually the caterpillars of a large emperor moth. Here is what he had to say about them:
“Mopane worms are literally the cheapest thing that only the poorest of poor people eat. I grew up poor, but there’s poor and then there’s “Wait, I’m eating worms.” Mopane worms are the sort of things where even people in Soweto [a poor Black township near Johannesburg] would be like, “Eh… no.” They’re these spiny, brightly colored caterpillars the size of your finger. […] They have black spines that prick the roof of your mouth as you’re eating them. When you bite into a mopane worm, it’s not uncommon for its yellow-green excrement to squirt into your mouth.”
Noah says he made do, until he couldn’t take it any more and begged his mother not to cook them again.
The reason this anecdote struck a chord is that I heard a similar story when I was at the Bug Buffet at Montana State University (MSU) in Bozeman in early March. KayAnn Miller, the chef (and PhD student) at MSU who supervised the student cook-off at the Bug Buffet, told me that her family had had a similar experience. Miller is Potawatomi, a Native American tribe initially from the Great Lakes. In the late 19th century, the tribe was displaced from its homeland and sent to a reservation in the Dust Bowl of Oklahoma. Her father was born in the 1930s, during the Great Depression, and times were desperate so the family had to turn to insects. Although some Native American tribes do eat insects, the Potawatomi did not and Miller’s father saw insects as starvation food.
Miller says that her father’s experience long influenced her prejudices against edible insects, until she met Florence Dunkel, who slowly made her realise that insects could in fact be tasty.
It goes without saying that starvation food cannot, by its very definition, be “tasty”. The desperation, the lack of free will and probably the lack of options for seasoning/cooking aren’t conducive to nice food. Noah’s and Miller’s father’s situations were desperate, and I imagine the insects genuinely disgusting.
I wanted to give mopane worms a fair hearing however as I know many people in southern Africa love them. So I reached out to Phuti Mmamohale Kabasa, a South African entrepreneur who started Mopani Queens in 2017. It sells ready-to-eat flavoured mopane worms as well as dried mopane worms for stewing.
Kabasa said that she grew up eating insects. “They were introduced to me when I was little so they have never been gross to me. [I think] they taste like a combination of wild spinach and egg yolk. My favourite way of eating them is as part of a stew; I love eating them with our staple starch, pap [maize meal].”
I can’t imagine Trevor Noah will be reading this but on the off-chance, I hope next time he’s back home, he’ll try a peri-peri mopane worm bite, because I definitely will.
In Other News
💲 Containerised Black Soldier Fly farm company Better Origin has raised $16 million in Series A funding. (Tech Crunch)
📄 Fancy working on insect protein? I have noticed that multiple insect companies are currently hiring, amongst them Protix (Netherlands), Better Origin (UK), IPIFF (Belgium), Mutatec (France) and Entocycle (UK).
🌍 There is real momentum regarding insect farming in Africa: Healthysect, an initiative running in Ghana, Kenya and Uganda recently had a meeting, whilst Uganda approved standards for the safe commercialisation of edible insects (KBC) and Rwanda approved standards for insect farming and opened its first insect farm (The East African).
Test corner: Cricket granola 2.0
I have experimented with cricket granola before and the feedback I’d got from the kids was that the granola was fine, but the crickets were not. So this week, I’ve made another batch of granola, this time using cricket powder. I’ve also decided to go for a slightly different recipe, one with more fruit and nuts. I liked the proportions in Tom Kerridge’s recipe so I used it as a base and customised the seeds, nuts and fruit I used. And I added 50g of cricket powder to the mix, which blends in perfectly.
I had to bake the granola a bit longer (45 min) for the mixture to crisp properly but the finished result was absolutely delicious. It didn’t need anything more than a splash of my alternative milk and felt very sating. I think I could have increased the cricket powder content: I can’t really taste it at the moment, so I’ll aim for 70-80g in the next batch.
Here is what went into my granola:
300g rolled oats
100g mixed seeds (I used pumpkin and sunflower)
200g mixed nuts (I used flaked almonds, peanuts, and a few leftover walnuts)
50g dessicated coconut or coconut flakes
150g mixed dried fruit (I used raisins, sultanas and cranberries)
50g cricket powder
4 tbsp coconut oil
125ml maple syrup
1 tbsp honey
Turn oven on at 150C. Mix oats, seeds and nuts in a large bowl. Melt the coconut oil, maple syrup and honey on a low temperature. Pour over the oat mixture and stir well. Spread out over a couple of baking trays. Bake for 20 min, remove from the oven and add the dried fruit, dessicated coconut and cricket powder. Mix thoroughly and bake for another 25 minutes or until the mix has a nice golden colour. You may want to stir the mixture a couple of times during the baking for everything to cook evenly.