Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Hoppers Poppers

In light of World Food Day, and continuing with the alternative foods theme, here is a guest post from David Steen on green and healthy eating! David A. Steen received his Ph.D. from Auburn University, his M.S. from the State University of New York-College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and his B.S. from the University of New Hampshire. He researches the ecology and conservation biology of wildlife and blogs about his work at His copyrighted work appears here under a Creative Commons license.

Courtesy of

I’ve eaten bugs.  I can’t honestly say it was by accident either, because I went online beforehand to look for recipes. Now, before I lose you completely, let me explain myself.

A few years ago I read an article about a man that was attempting to promote insects as food in the United States (and he’s not the only one). Insects, he argued, are an abundant food source and a more sustainable form of protein than the animals Americans typically eat, particularly cows.  Raising cattle can be costly; each cow requires a vast amount of resources before they can be consumed.  In fact, more energy goes into raising cows than we get back from eating them. Plus, cattle can produce a lot of greenhouse gases. Together with concerns about antibiotics and growth hormones administered to livestock and animal welfare issues associated with large, factory farms, some have grown dissatisfied with the system.  Insects represent a food without the baggage.

That’s not entirely true, I suppose, as bugs could benefit from a public relations campaign.  After all, they’re gross.  But I was intrigued by the prospect of a cheap source of protein and my thoughts kept drifting to all the grasshoppers that would fly out of my way when I walked through the field next to my house. I kept telling myself that eating insects wasn’t really all that unusual, after all, many cultures have eaten insects throughout history.

When a friend announced that she was hosting a potluck dinner with the requirement that dishes needed to contain ingredients that we foraged for ourselves, I had the excuse I had been waiting for.  I would make fried grasshoppers.  I started referring to them as hopper poppers, hoping a catchy name would remove images of antennae and wings from everyone’s thoughts.

Catching the grasshoppers proved to be more difficult than I had planned.  I didn’t recall have any problems catching bugs when I was a kid (no, I didn’t eat them).  But after I ran around my yard pouncing after grasshoppers, I was left sprawled on the ground, arms outstretched in a futile attempt to grab one.  They would see me before I could see them; grasshoppers erupted out of the grass and flew away as I walked, always just out of reach.  I hoped that nobody was watching.  Don’t mind me, I’m just trying to get something to eat, I imagined explaining.

A change in strategy was warranted.  After borrowing a sweep net I was ready to try again.  I rapidly swung the net back and forth in front of me as I strode through the tall grass, hoping that I was snagging grasshoppers as I went.  It was tiring work.  After about ten minutes or so I ventured a glance into the net and I was pleased to see a wriggling mass of insects at the bottom.

I kept the grasshoppers alive overnight so they’d have a change to purge themselves of anything in their digestive system and then I placed them in the freezer.  After a quick bake in the oven to ensure they were cooked through, I dipped them in egg and breaded them in a mixture of flour, bread crumbs, garlic powder and oregano.  After that, they only needed to be deep fried for about 20-30 seconds before they were crisp and golden brown.  My roommate used about 20 grasshoppers to dip in melted chocolate. 

So there we were, standing in our kitchen looking at about 100 prepared grasshoppers.  All that was left was to eat them.  With a deep breath, I closed my eyes and threw one in my mouth.  They were good!  They tasted just like anything else you might deep fry.  Although the recipe called for removing the wings and legs, we decided that the ones I had caught were so small it would probably be okay to leave them on. Nevertheless, I will probably remove these parts next time (if there is a next time), or at least have a toothpick handy.

When we arrived at the potluck, everyone wanted to see me eat one first so they knew this wasn’t an elaborate plan to get them to eat bugs while I laughed.  After I obliged, everyone tried at least one.  Elaborate ruse or not, I still thought it was funny.

Courtesy of

Dave isn't alone in this feat. Check out what others have to say about eating insects:

Sunday, 2 October 2011

GM Alfalfa: Changing the Future of Dairy and Organic Farming?

With “World Food Day” approaching - October 16th - I thought it was timely to bring up some of the more ‘global’ issues reaching our ‘local’ food systems.

Let’s explore what COWS, BEES, and MONSANTO have in common.

The answer is ALFALFA!

Alfalfa Plants (photo courtesy of
Some may be thinking, so what? I don’t eat much alfalfa myself. But, if you eat chicken eggs, cheese, ice cream, or cows, you do eat alfalfa. Alfalfa is used as cow and chicken feed. In fact, it is the backbone of the dairy industry. Alfalfa also creates its own natural fertilizer. It captures nitrogen from the atmosphere and makes it available in the soil. This makes alfalfa a key resource for organic farmers who do not use chemical fertilizers.

Alfalfa Hay
The dairy industry, and organic farming in general, is about to change drastically with the proliferation of genetically modified alfalfa, aka GM alfalfa. GM alfalfa seed is the project of a multinational company, Monsanto. GM alfalfa was once banned in the USA, but courts have recently overturned this ban. GM alfalfa is not yet legal in Canada, but a quick Google search, or conversation with a Canadian farmer, will reveal that the pressure is on

We know the links between dairy, Monsanto and alfalfa, now where do bees fit in this equation?

Bees pollinate alfalfa. Once a GM bee-pollinated crop is let loose there is no turning back (recent history tells this story for GM canola). Bees go everywhere; therefore, so does the pollen they collect and exchange among distant plants. An exchange of pollen from a GM plant to a non-GM plant can result in the exchange of genetic material. Successful exchange of genes means that the seeds of a new plant generation in the non-GM fields may be genetically modified (aka “genetic contamination”). Because bee pollinated crops are at high risks of genetic contamination, even farmers who want to avoid these GM plants often can’t. For certified organic farmers, the introduction of GM alfalfa is particularly alarming.  As you may know, organic certification prohibits the use of genetically modified seeds. Therefore, farmers that rely on non-GM alfalfa can run the risk of losing their certification if they are found with GM plants in their farms.  

Organic Alfalfa Put To Use!

What is GM Alfalfa?

Like other Monsanto-modified seeds, such as soy or canola, GM alfalfa is genetically altered to be resistant to a broad-spectrum herbicide. This herbicide called “Roundup” – also produced by Monsanto - is marketed because of its chemical capacity to kill weeds. “Roundup Ready” crops can be sprayed with the herbicide Roundup to support industrial-scale crop production (on the short-term). Although GM crops are resistant to herbicides, components of such herbicides (e.g., glycophosphates) can affect other life forms, such as aquatic organisms, as well as soil system complexes. 

Canadian farmers I’ve spoken to see no reason for GM alfalfa. They also view Monsanto as the only beneficiary. First, this company will benefit because the use of their seeds goes hand in hand with the use of their Roundup chemicals. Second, Monsanto holds the patent, thus the legal rights to control the GM seeds (and the herbicide-resistant genes for that matter). Therefore, once crops become contaminated with GM genes, farmers are no longer owners of their crops. This prevents farmers from saving-seeds after harvests, and implies the need to purchase new seeds from companies each year. The implications of this cannot be overstated. For millennia farmers have saved and traded seed maintaining natural sources of diversity. In the words of Bartlett and Steele, “Monsanto has turned this ancient practice on its head.”

One farmer I spoke to sees a benefit in GM crops.  This Manitoban said that his “Certified Local Sustainable” bee farm is stuck in a sea of crop monocultures frequently sprayed with pesticides. In his opinion, GM crops have resulted in less frequent spraying of herbicides because GM crops have a high level of pest resistance. He said that less spraying has resulted in his bees picking up fewer chemicals. We ended our discussion on the note that more attention to GM crops is needed, especially because the human experience with GM crops is extremely limited.

This begs the question, why are we modifying crops in the first place? Or similarly, why are we growing so much of the same thing?

Being that there is strong political and economic support for seed modification, I am curious what support exists for those that explore alternatives to GM seeds. If you weren’t sure how to contribute on “World Food Day”, here is an issue we can talk about. If anyone has any GM crop-related comments, please feel free to post them here, or to e-mail me.

Also, in light of World Food Day, I hope to post a few short posts related to unique projects seeking alternatives to industrial food production. Any ideas? Send them my way!


Relyea, R. (2005). THE LETHAL IMPACT OF ROUNDUP ON AQUATIC AND TERRESTRIAL AMPHIBIANS Ecological Applications, 15 (4), 1118-1124 DOI: 10.1890/04-1291

Doublet, J., Mamy, L., & Barriuso, E. (2009). Delayed degradation in soil of foliar herbicides glyphosate and sulcotrione previously absorbed by plants: Consequences on herbicide fate and risk assessment Chemosphere, 77 (4), 582-589 DOI: 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2009.06.044