Meal Worms, Anyone?

Of all our food sources, what is the most efficient at converting carbohydrates to protein?

Not cattle, certainly. Ten pounds of feed generates one pound of beef. Plus each cow raised in the industrial system needs about 2000 gallons of water to produce one pound of meat, and a single cow can produce up to 132 gallons of methane a day. Methane is twenty times more heat-trapping than carbon dioxide.

Chicken? It takes ten pounds of feed to generate five pounds of chicken meat, and 468 gallons of water to produce one pound of chicken.

The most efficient protein source? And the most environmentally friendly?



I don’t actually know if ladybugs are edible

Ten pounds of feed produces nine pounds of cricket meat. Insects barely need water, and generate almost zero greenhouse gases. Insect meat is high in fat, which, contrary to the diet soda hype in the U.S., is critical for health. Insects reproduce rapidly, in small spaces. They can be used as food for livestock.

compare insects

Source: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, and the US Dairy Export Council, Finke 2012

Two billion people already rely on about 2000 edible insects as a source of food. We’re not just talking exotic chefs in Asia. Here in the U.S.A., the FDA allows up to:

— 30 insect parts in 100 grams of peanut butter
— 30 fruit fly eggs in 100 grams of tomato sauce
— 10 insects in 8 ounces of golden raisins
— 10 maggots in 100 grams of drained mushrooms

Bottom line: Americans eat about 500 grams of insects and insect parts every year. That’s the equivalent of a little over a pound of chicken.

Fans of the film “Snow Piercer” will appreciate the potential for insects as a food source. Or maybe not.


Image source: StackExchange


Feeling brave and looking for your own arthropod recipe? If you’re in New Orleans, drop by the Insectatorium where the Executive Bug Chef is whipping up holiday treats.

How about this as a gift to yourself or a loved one?


Image source: David George Gordon

David George Gordon’s Eat-a-Bug cookbook was listed as one of the New York Times best cookbooks of 2013. If you’re in Seattle, Mr. Gordon’s home town, you can join one of his cooking demonstrations.


Image source: David George Gordon

Moi? Truth be told, the only insects to pass my lips (except the FDA-allowable ten bugs per eight ounces in my raisins), were chocolate covered ants a so-called friend fed me for a joke, many, many years ago. She watched me chew with bright-eyed glee that would have tipped off anyone but the most ardent chocolate lover. They tasted, incidentally, the way ants smell.

Still — Scribbler is willing to bet there will be more insects on plates in the not to distant future. Maybe even on mine.

Have you tried eating or cooking with insects? How did they go down? Or up?

Voter Turnout

How was voter turnout in your state for mid term elections?


Feeling patriotic. Just returned from a visit to Gettysburg and Washington, D.C.

Oregon’s was darn good.  69.5 per cent. Not everything went the way Scribbler deigned it should, locally or nationally, but I’m a patient woman.

In most states, turnout was low.

What’s Oregon’s secret?

Exciting ballot measures. $8 million was spent to support a measure requiring that GMO foods be labeled, much of it from out of state. $20 million was spent in opposition to the measure, most of it from out of state.  Yay Citizens’ United. We were buried in hyperbolic ads and flyers.

Also on the ballot: a top two (as opposed to party system) voting initiative.

And, a measure to legalize marijuana …

Voting in Oregon, which is by mail, is easy and encouraged. Does it help? Maybe some. Washington, however, also votes by mail and turnout there was down.


Voters who don’t mail in time, drop ballots off at special boxes. Photo source: Lincoln County Voter Info.

How do we compare to other countries?


Image source: NPR, Diane Rehm Show

In national elections we flounder somewhere around 60th.

How do other countries do it? Some hold all elections, national and local on one day. Some impose a fine on people who don’t vote (Uruguay and Singapore), or automatically register everyone to vote (France and Sweden). None of those happening here anytime soon.

What do you think about voting by mail? Is there controversy about voting and voting rights in your state? Should we do more to encourage voting? If so, what?

Tinker Crate

My father advised us to watch the things our children naturally are drawn to, over and over. “That’s what they’ll do in life. Encourage them,” he said.

Andy & Marc 2

Andy (right) and his buddy Marc, circa 1992. Photo credit: Jim Whitmore

We took that advice to heart. For years we endured encouraged surgical tubing catapults, PVC pipe swords, bannister puppet shows, legos between the sofa cushions, potato/ping pong ball/rubber band guns, magic tricks, chain maille, funny smells.  My husband, bless the man, was a gleeful participant in anything that involved shooting things and running around. One spring our children decided to dig a fort in the woods behind the house. The kitchen floor was muddy for days. A decade later a utility inspector knocked on the door and solemnly opined that there was evidence of a geological event back there.

Who would believe all that feverish activity would lead to a paying job?  Here’s Andy, 2014.

The job title, for you parents of young inventors? Product Designer.

Know any 8-to-13 year old artist/explorers? Who need time away from a screen? Yeah, this is a screen, but stay with me. Check out Tinker Crate. For younger kids, see the hands-on kits at Kiwi Crate. You too can have experiments going on nonstop at your house.

Hug and a kiss to my dad, Andy Sr., for his sage advice. He turns 87 this month.

Is this who we are?

What do you feel about the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay?

In 2001, thirty-year-old Syrian Abu Wa’el Dhiab was in Kabul, running a food import business.

When 9/11 brought war to Kabul, Dhiab, his wife and four children left Afghanistan for Pakistan, hoping for safety. He was picked up by the Pakistani police. They turned him over to the American military, probably for a bounty. He was not charged with any crime. Dhiab was transferred to the prison at Bagram Airbase in June 2002. Two months later he was sent to Guantanamo Bay.

American taxpayers pay $2.7 million per prisoner per year  to keep Guantanmo running. Of the 149 prisoners still there, 79 are cleared for release.


Photo Source: Global Issues

Dhiab was cleared for release in 2009.

Four years later, he joined other detainees in a hunger strike protesting their incarceration without charge.

Prisoners who are judged to be dangerously underweight are force-fed. If uncooperative, they are “forcibly extracted” from their cells, strapped down, a tube jammed down nose and throat. The procedure often causes choking and vomiting.

One U.S. Navy nurse at Guantanamo has refused to administer force-feedings, calling the practice a “criminal act.”

Guantanamo Bay Facility Continues To Serve As Detention Center For War Detainees

A restraint chair used to force-feed detainees on hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images. Source: The Guardian

In 2013, Dhiab  filed a legal challenge to the force-feedings (Dhiab v. Obama).

This month, U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler rejected a Department of Justice’s bid to hold Dhiab’s hearing in secret, and in a separate decision ruled that videos showing Dhiab being force-fed, be released to the public.

The Department of Justice has appealed.


U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler dismissed the DOJ’s bid to seal Dhiab’s hearing. Image source: Legal Times blog

Dhiab, now 44 and confined to a wheelchair, waits. The Uruguayan government offered to resettle him and five other prisoners, but the transfer is mired in politics, both American and Uruguayan.

His wife, Umm Wa-el writes:

More than a decade has passed since Abu Wa’el was taken from us in the night. I had just given birth to our fourth child; our other children were just toddlers. My husband is a kind man and a superb cook. I miss the dishes he learned to prepare in his father’s restaurant. He is guilty of no crime, has never been charged, and was told by President Obama five years ago that he would be released from Guantanamo.

This year has been one of the hardest to be without him. Last July we were still living in Syria. The civil war forced us to leave for Lebanon, and then to seek shelter in Turkey. I tried to rejoin my family in Jordan but was immediately taken in for questioning at the border and refused entry because of Abu Wa’el’s detention at Guantanamo. The stigma travels. We’ve made it back to Istanbul now. I’m proud that the children are registered in school, and that their teachers tell me that they have already caught up in their studies.

I had to do all that alone. Abu Wa’el is nearing his 13th year at Guantanamo Bay. When I speak to his American lawyers, I can tell that they are shocked and appalled by his case. I’m not so shocked. I was a teacher in Syria. The government locked me up twice in the past just because of Abu Wa’el’s detention, so I know what it means when politics disregards the law.

Excerpted fromThe Obama Administration Must Let the American People See Footage of My Husband Being Force-Fed in Their Name” 7/15/2014



In a May 23, 2013 speech, President Obama stated: “Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are holding a hunger strike. Is that who we are? … Is that the America we want to leave to our children? Our sense of justice is stronger than that.”

President Obama’s legal team is debating now about whether a treaty ban on “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” applies to U.S. military prisons overseas. In 2005 President Bush said it did not apply, that torture overseas in prisons or by the CIA was legal. As a senator Barack Obama supported legislation making it clear that cruel and inhumane treatment of prisoners was not legal, anywhere. Since becoming President, however, he has never declared his position on the treaty ban.

What do you think? Have you been following Abu Wa’el’s case, or of any of the other Guanatamo prisoners? Seen any of the protests supporting the detainees?

Book Review: A solution to global warming right under our feet

We know there are billions of tons of carbon floating around in the atmosphere that weren’t there 200 years ago.

What if there was a way to put it back, for free?

There is.

Microorganisms  –  billions in a tablespoon of healthy soil — can absorb carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and turn it into soil carbon, reducing the need for fertilizers, pesticides and genetically modified seed, protecting land and crop from drought, improving crop yield, restoring range and grasslands.

It sounds too good to be true.

That’s why New York Times bestselling writer Kristin Ohlson’s book, The Soil Will Save Us, is worth a read. Ohlson takes readers on an around-the-world tour, from Zimbabwe to Oregon to Australia, visiting agronomists, horticulturists, farmers, ranchers and herders who are changing the way we grow food. She profiles farmers experimenting with low tech solutions to some of our biggest challenges — sustainability, food shortages, obesity, and yes, climate change.


Not necessarily because farmers are joining the fight against climate change by design. 70%, according to the industry-connected American Farm Bureau, don’t believe humans are causing climate change. Farmers do, however, prize carbon in soil. It’s what makes soil black, rich and fertile.

Take her introduction of a farmer in North Dakota, Gabe Brown:

          He [Gabe Brown] had been carrying around a slim 4-foot metal rod. … We walked into the cornfield, which seemed to be at least a foot taller than any of the neighbors’, and he nudged it into a bit of bare soil. And then — and then! — he pushed all 4 feet of the rod straight into the ground, all the way up to his knuckles.
         “I can’t believe that!” I think I dropped my recorder. “Do it again!”
          So he walked a few feet away and shoved the rod into the soil again, then it pulled it out and held it out to me. “You try it.”
          My arms aren’t nearly as substantial as Brown’s. Where his arms bulge with muscle, mine jiggle. Without much expectation of success, I took the rod and pushed it into the ground. I tried it in several places. And each time, I pushed the rod all the way up to my knuckles.
          I knew what an amazing thing this was, since I’ve been a backyard gardener ever since I was 25. Even after years of babying my beds with bags of compost, I never had soil like that… I could hardly stick a fork in my lawn back in Cleveland! But through his management of this harsh landscape, he had created soil that was so rich with microbial life that they had built aggregates going down at least 4 feet. Four feet of carbon-rich soil, stacked with billions of tiny cups to hold water.
          Brown shrugged. “I don’t worry about drought.”    
                                                              from The Soil Will Save Us, Kristin Ohlson

Brown, who owns land outside Bismarck, started out as a conventional farmer. “He tilled, he applied fertilizer, he sprayed pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and he hung fly-killing ear tags on his cows.” He also experimented with no-till and organic farming, but with mixed results. Then, a 4-year cycle of hail, drought and late frost left him too poor to afford fertilizer. He took another look at the soil in plots he’d been experimenting with and realized it had improved dramatically. He began to study and apply practices such as no till and mixed crop farming. Before long, his neighbors were asking for tips. Then farmers from all over the world began consulting him.


Gabe Brown in one of his fields. Photo credit: Prairiefire Newsletter

Brown’s expenses are now a fraction of what he paid as a conventional farmer. His yields are above average in the community. He hasn’t used fertilizer since 2008, doesn’t use fungicides or pesticides, and only uses an herbicide every couple of years.  Brown has no doubt that what he calls regenerative agriculture can help solve our problems with atmospheric carbon.

The hitch? There are several. Our current farm program is geared to a monoculture system. As Gabe Brown says, we are “stuck in the current production mode.” Many people are invested in the sale of chemicals. Farmers are understandably risk-averse, and leery of the 4 to 5 years it takes to restore soil health.

But we can change. Ohlson writes, “As entrenched as chemical farming seems to be, it’s only been with us for 50 years.” It won’t be easy to turn this boat around, but we can do it. A lot of people have already started.

Ohlson’s book will make you rethink the potential for soil management and farming, and offers hope for a new way to address many of the challenges we face, including climate change.

Don’t miss this great 3 minute talk by Gabe Brown, on his farm.

Here’s an interview with Ohlson on Science Friday.

What to do in the Middle East

What do you think about President Obama’s decision to start a new round of bombing in Syria and Iraq?


Most US citizens support the President, but there are a few quavery hands raised, a few voices saying, wait a minute. Scribbler’s hand is waving.

Every military intervention since 9/11 has failed. Not one Jihadist group has been wiped out. That at least should cool everyone’s jets. No doubt about it, a new, bigger-than-ever iteration of extremist jihadists is scary. Something must be done. But by whom? And how? Here’s Scribbler’s admittedly superficial summary of how we got here.


Photo credit: Vice News

IS is a shaky coalition, and it is facing a lot of pressure. What IS needs is a badass from somewhere else to threaten them, a David vs. Goliath template to unify their barely-holding coalition.


IS needs US to intervene, and with thirteen years of lessons, IS leaders have a pretty good idea of how to push our buttons. Beheadings! Makes us look like wusses. Bombs away.

Once IS starts posting videos of dead babies next to US shells, there will be a lot, they hope, more than 15,000 fighters for their cause.

And look what’s coming in the US in November? Elections. Politicians who start wars go up in the polls. All aboard! Finally, something the Democrats and Republicans can shake hands on.

But wait. The countries that are threatened by IS, Iran and Saudi Arabia — are refusing to help. Worse, they funded the extremists that are causing the crisis (Iran backed the Shia and Saudi Arabia the Sunnis). Won’t it muck things up if we take the lead? Aren’t we going at this backwards? Shouldn’t our beheading-happy friends the Saudis be begging us for assistance, not the other way around?


Photo credit: Headline Politics

OK, OK, it looks like a done deal.

Given what looks like the inevitability of war, Scribbler reluctantly agrees that parceling out bombs to “moderate” Syrian rebels, forcing them to YouTube the use of those bombs and return the empty cannisters; pretending to set up another Iraqi army — is better than sending more US soldiers to Iraq for another goose egg war.

Hopefully though, the quavery hands will keep waving.