The next big thing in sustainable protein: Bugs!

I recently had a birthday, and Mr. HP surprised me with these:

chocolate bugs


What a lucky girl I am!

Mr. HP set up a chocolate-dipped bug tasting for six at a Southwest Virginia winery. The accompanying pours were less for wine appreciation and more for steeling of nerves.

no bugs thanks

The buggy treats came from My Chocolate Shoppe in downtown Charlottesville, which has created quite a buzz (get it) locally with its chocolate-dipped worms, crickets, and scorpions. The bugs are farmed and baked in California, shipped to My Chocolate Shoppe, and hand-dipped on site.

bugs and wine

As insect farming is a rising trend in sustainable and ethical protein production, I felt compelled to write about my entomophagy experience here.

Sustainability of insect farming

We all know factory farming is bad for the atmosphere, waterways, local community, resident animals, facility workers, and potentially consumers of the end product. Production of traditional livestock (chicken, pigs, and beef cattle) contributes more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than the transportation sector and consumes vast amounts of freshwater. Factory farms pollute waterways with fertilizer, pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics. CAFOs are blights on their surroundings and poison their neighbors with chemical runoff and manure lagoon leaks. Antibiotic use in livestock is causing the development of resistant strains of bacteria that are difficult to treat in humans. See my notes from a US Food Systems course I took last year for more horrifying details and appalling statistics.

As the global population continues to expand, there will be more and more pressure on the land to produce enough protein to feed everyone. Insects can fill this need with a much smaller footprint on the environment; they simply don’t require the land, water, and food resources that chickens, pigs, and cattle do. Insects produce fewer greenhouse emissions, their containers can be stacked on shelves, and insect farming doesn’t involve the hormones, antibiotics, fertilizers, and pesticides that CAFOs rely on.

It takes 2,900 gallons of water, 25 pounds of feed and extensive acreage to produce one pound of beef and just one gallon of water, two pounds of feed and a small cubicle to produce a pound of crickets. – “Edible insects a boon to Thailand’s farmers


Thus, considering all factors, the actual food conversion efficiency of insects may be 20 times that of cattle. This means insect farming — along with other forms of “microlivestock”, could be one of the elements of a sustainable global agricultural future.- “Edible bugs and insects: Are these high protein critters the future of food?

Bug farming ethics

Are the bugs treated ethically while alive? Are they humanely slaughtered? I believe so. Farmed insects are raised in dark colonies, as they are found in nature; they are provided food, and protected. When harvesting time rolls around, they are chilled to a natural hibernation-like state, and from there the temperature is lowered until they die quietly.

Insects raised in farms live in teeming dark conditions (preferable environment), with ample and abundant food supply, no natural predators, no risk of outside diseases or parasites, and when they’re culled we lower the temperature so that there’s no violent death or change in state (because insects are exothermic their metabolism slows until they go into a coma-like sleep without any pain). I can’t think of a more humane way to raise our meat. – Robert Nathan Allen of Little Herds, via NPR

Bug nutrition

Bugs are a high protein, nutrient-rich, low fat and low cholesterol food. Insect protein is a complete protein, meaning all nine essential amino acids are present. Bugs are also are significant sources of zinc, iron, and vitamin A.

According to Chapul, makers of cricket-based protein bars, insects have:

  • 15% more iron than spinach
  • 2x more protein than beef
  • as much B12 as salmon

The table below (source) compares insect nutrition against that of chicken, beef, and salmon:

Warning to those with a shellfish allergy: bug exoskeletons are made of chitin, which also makes the shells of shrimp, crabs, and lobsters.

But how did they taste?

We decided to eat the worm first, as it was the least intimidating, and we’d eat in in a single bite so we wouldn’t have to see any innards. It was… not bad. The worm had no flavor, so it just added a rice krispie-like crunch to the chocolate.

Next was the scorpion, which was a similar no-flavor-big-crunch addition to the chocolate as the worm. No problem.

The cricket had the biggest gross-out factor, in my opinion. Its body is meatier than the other two. And sure enough, I didn’t like it. It had a bitter flavor along with its crunch.

plates of bugs

It was a fun experiment. But – surprise – we Americans have been eating bugs all along in processed food. The FDA allows certain amounts of insect parts, including pieces, larvae, eggs, and sacs, in foods like dried herbs, canned and frozen fruits and vegetables, coffee beans, flours, peanut butter, sauces, and more. This article estimates that “on average an individual probably ingests about one to two pounds of flies, maggots and other bugs each year without even knowing it.” Sorry to break it to you, but you’re already an entomophagist! Congrats!

I had no plans to eat more bugs in the immediate future, but while researching this post I enjoyed reading the Exo “Why Crickets” page so much I ordered a couple of their cricket-flour protein bars to try. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Stockholm’s Best Burgers

exterior view of Flippin' Burgers

Just before Team HP left on a short jaunt to Stockholm, the ever-observant Mr HP caught a tip in one of Huffington Post’s ubiquitous Top X Most Amazing [Random Thing]s Ever lists: the Number One Greatest Burger Outside America is at Flippin’ Burgers in Stockholm–and, per the article:

All Widegren’s beef is grass-fed, sourced from local farms, and ground in-house. A nearby bakery provides the buns.

As a recently recovered pescatarian, I have discovered that I love a good burger, but my rule is that I will only eat a burger if it’s from a local, happy, pastured, hormone- and antibiotic-free, humanely slaughtered cow. Flippin’ Burgers does it right:

Well, we only buy meat from small producers who have an eye on animal husbandry and slaughter. With animals staying outside and eat grass because they simply feel the best of it… Right now, we use E-marked Archipelago Meat from a small slaughterhouse in Värmdö who slaughter animals mainly from farms in the Stockholm archipelago. We have also worked with  Swedish Grass Meat and Greens Farms .

In Charlottesville this summer, Mr HP and I have enjoyed a Sunday tradition of burgers and beers at Champion Brewery: Every Sunday Champion hosts JM Stock Provisions and their magical grill of delights, serving fantastic burgers from local, pastured, hormone/chemical free cows, and man, are they good. So we were excited at the prospect of local happy-cow burgers on Sunday despite being 4200 miles from home.

Flippin’ Burgers has a wait for tables ALL THE TIME. We arrived at 5 and still waited for a half hour at the bar. While there, we got some tips from the (normal-sized) man next to us polishing off his order of FIVE cheeseburgers.

Flippin' Burgers bar

Flippin' Burgers menu

Based on our bar friend’s recommendation, we opted for Burglers, a basic cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, and house sauce. Mr HP got a double because he is extra manly. My sad phone pictures do not do the food justice, so you’ll have to take my word for it that these burgers were excellent: juicy, flavorful, not too saucy, and the buns were fresh and not overly bready (you know how sometimes there’s too much bread for the quantity of innards? these were well-sized).

Flippin' Burgers Burgler

Part of the fun of the Flippin’ Burgers experience was the Americanish diner scene. The food was American-inspired: burgers, fries, and Ben and Jerry’s milkshakes. The Swedes next to us ordered Blue Ribbon beer (PBR to you and me). The Spotify station (Spotify started in Sweden, remember? Seems like all restaurants/cafes/stores here have “Check out our playlist on Spotify” signs.) was heavy on early-90s American Top 40. But we were surrounded by Swedish-speakers and we were drinking Swedish beer, so all culture was not lost.

Flippin' Burgers diner scene

Ice cream case

Stockholm Brewing Co

We considered sharing a milkshake for dessert, but instead shared another burger for dessert. Five Burger Guy’s ladyfriend recommended the Cricket burger, which is not made of crickets, but rather a burger topped with cream cheese, pickled onions and jalapenos, inspired by the Cherry Cricket in Denver; this was our dessert.

Flippin' Burgers Cricket

Oh what a terrible picture. The onions were sweet, so it was sort of dessertesque. I wonder how the calorie count compares to that of a milkshake… no, I don’t want to know anything about the calories involved in this meal. It was an interesting and surprisingly tasty combo, but the more traditional burger was better in my opinion.

In conclusion, pastured, local, happy cows make the best burgers, and if you’re craving a top-notch burger in Stockholm and have the time to wait for a table, check out Flippin’ Burgers. If you’re craving a top-notch burger in Charlottesville, meet me at Champion on Sunday!

Adventures in Brazilian steak eating: the Rubaiyat restaurants

While in São Paulo last week, I was lucky enough to feast at A Figueira Rubaiyat, one of the city’s top restaurants. The “figueira” part of the name comes from the magnificent Bengal fig tree, over 100-years-old, that the dining room was built around. Here’s a picture from the restaurant’s website:

… because the pictures I took don’t do it justice:





But probably more interesting to you, dear readers: who are the cows served at A Figueira Rubaiyat and its sister restaurants in the Rubaiyat Group?

The Rubaiyat Group claims to be a “Farm to Plate” operation that rears pasture-raised beef cattle, chicken, and pigs on their own farm in Dourados, Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil, since 1968. The animals are “fed naturally and raised in freedom,” according to a press release; but it is unclear from everything I could find online if “naturally” means they’re not fed hormones or unnecessary antibiotics, if the cows are finished on grass or on a feedlot, and if humane slaughtering practices are employed.

The meal was enormous and delicious and we were too busy cramming food into our faces for me to take any pictures, other than of the tree as we were leaving. Sorry. Imagine, along with the steak and fish entrees: fresh breads; an appetizer platter of sliced salami, olives, mozzarella balls and tomatoes, and salmon chunks; sides of grilled veggies, puffed potato slices, and hearts of palm; and an elaborate dessert buffet that we were sadly too painfully stuffed to try.

I’m sure you’re wondering if I ate steak. Unfortunately for me (by all accounts from my cohorts at the table), I didn’t do this research into the origins of the beef until after our dinner, so not knowing if the meat was from happy cows, I didn’t try the steak. Instead, I tried the exotic-sounding pirarucu, a large, ancient, air-breathing fish from the Amazon. It was good, but the steak eaters said there was no comparison to the meat. I’ll just have to go back to Brazil to try it!

In closing, since I didn’t get a food shot, here’s a cityscape. It’s a really neat town.

Sao Paulo

Which animal welfare charities do you support?

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! As we approach the close of 2012, many of us are reflecting on the people and organizations that affected us over the last 12 months. It’s time to tell those you appreciate how important they are to you. If you are fortunate enough to be able to contribute financially to charities, and are looking for organizations that support farm animal welfare, here are some recommendations:

Animal Welfare Institute

What do they do for farm animals?

Today, one of our greatest areas of emphasis is cruel animal factories, which raise and slaughter pigs, cows, chickens and other animals. The biggest are in our country, and they are expanding worldwide.

What does Charity Navigator think of them?

4 out of 4 stars, 64.91 out of 70 overall rating

Humane Society of the US

What do they do for farm animals?

They have active campaigns in the following areas: Cruel confinement of farm animals, humane eating, swine flu, force-fed animals, cruel slaughter practices, environmental impacts of factory farming, and avian influenza.

What does Charity Navigator think of them?

4 out of 4 stars, 60.73 out of 70 overall rating

American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

What do they do for farm animals?

Since 1866, the ASPCA has worked to stop the cruelties committed upon animals involved in the food production process. In the late 1800s, early ASPCA agents had their hands full inspecting New York City’s stockyards and slaughter- houses, while ASPCA founder Henry Bergh was exhaustively pursuing legislation to ensure that animals raised for human consumption were handled humanely. Today, as the industry has fallen out of the hands of small farmers and into the hands of large corporations, the issue of cruelty remains—and the ASPCA continues its efforts to create distress-free lives for the many animals who are raised for food.

What does Charity Navigator think of them?

3 out of 4 stars, 59.09 out of 70 overall rating

Do you have other charity recommendations?

Homegrown Foods: Local, organic food in Hong Kong

I’m in Hong Kong, on the last leg of my Asia trip. At dinner at Linguini Fini last night, a dear friend told me the last time she had been at the restaurant was for a harvest dinner put on by Homegrown Foods. Linguini Fini partners with Homegrown Foods for locally sourced organic and natural food, including hormone-free meats and eggs.

Homegrown Foods provides natural, seasonal, local food to businesses and individuals in the Hong Kong area, from family farms in the New Territories region of Hong Kong, and neighbor China. The farms are inspected periodically to ensure quality of food and sustainability of farming practices. Homegrown Foods offers a CSA-type subscription delivery service, and also a la carte groceries.

Homegrown Foods is an asset to the citizens of Hong Kong, but also to the entire region, as they teach the value of sustainable farming to the Chinese farmers they’re partnering with. If you live in Hong Kong, check them out!


Plane reading

Haute Pasture is on the road again, this time to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where we are doing as much eating as possible in order to report back to you guys. It’s a hard job.

On the plane, I caught up on some newsletters and articles that have been collecting dust on my desk. Here are some highlights:

ASPCA 2011 Annual Report, page 27

The ASPCA helped prevent the passage of “ag-gag” laws in Florida, Iowa, Minnesota, and New York last year. Ag-gag laws seek to prevent the leaking of graphic videos taken by undercover workers at factory farms by criminalizing the investigation of farm animal abuse. Exposing ethical and environmental violations on industrial farms would become much more difficult, to the benefit of the violating farms. Much more information about ag-gag laws is available on the ASPCA site.

Animal Welfare Institute Quarterly, Summer 2012, Vol 61 No 3

Did you know the USDA “organic” label does not guarantee anything about animal treatment? AWI has been working to help improve the recommendations given to the USDA by the National Organic Standards Board regarding minimum space allowances for poultry, vegetation availability for poultry and pigs, tail docking bans for pigs and cattle, and pain medication requirements for cattle dehorning.

Do you get confused by food labels? Who doesn’t! AWI has a downloadable guide to help you navigate the grocery store. Find out which labels actually indicate humane treatment, and which are meaningless. (I took a stab at deciphering egg labels last year; AWI’s guide is, ah, a bit more user-friendly.)

The Globalization of Animal Welfare,” Foreign Affairs, March/April 2012, pp 122-133

About 2/3 of the poultry, meat, and eggs, and over half of the pork produced in the world come from factory farms, but no international regulations exist for farm animal treatment. Meat, dairy, and egg exports have exploded since 1980, while footage depicting cruel animal treatment has become easier to distribute, leading to increased pressure on Western governments to crack down on animal abuse internationally. The European Union leads the US in enacting laws to protect farm animals, having banned barren battery cages for hens and gestation crates for sows. In the US, agricultural lobbies continue to successfully prevent the creation of federally mandated animal welfare protections, despite increasing public interest. Developing countries in Latin America and Asia, seeking efficiency and economies of scale, lag behind the US and EU in animal protections, but in China, a law offering basic protections to animals has been proposed, and public awareness is growing. Multinational organizations such as the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations are leading the animal welfare effort at a global level, emphasizing not only ethics, but also the importance of food security and sustainability in developing countries. The FAO’s Gateway to Farm Animal Welfare provides easy access to animal welfare information to international users, explaining that “(b)y giving less economically developed country governments, professionals and producers online access to the latest information and the opportunity to contribute information relevant to their own situation, the portal will help to improve livestock welfare, health and productivity worldwide.” The private sector is beginning to recognize the importance of animal welfare to business sustainability and social responsibility, and groups such as Global Animal Partnership seek to unite the public and private sectors to form strategies that will benefit the stakeholders while progressing animal welfare improvement initiatives worldwide.

The GAP page for consumers is worth a read. The important point is:

We don’t need to work for a multi-lateral institution or be a world-famous chef or be part of the leadership of an international corporation to make a difference.

Each one of us, in our daily lives and in our own homes, can improve the lives of animals simply by choosing to support those farmers and ranchers who have a commitment to providing higher welfare to the animals they raise.

Know where your food comes from! Shop responsibly! Sound familiar?

Local Food Hub’s Open House

On Sunday we visited the Local Food Hub’s Educational Farm for “A Taste of the Farm,” their spring plant sale and open house. Here’s what the Local Food Hub does, from their website:

We are developing a sustainable local food distribution model right here in Charlottesville, Virginia. By working together with farmers, eaters and our community, we are addressing three major issues in our nation’s local food system: distribution, supply, and access.

A Taste of the Farm

It was a dreary day, but that didn’t stop people from touring the farm, petting animals, and buying plants and packaged food. We arrived late in the event in a misty rain, and were impressed by the number of cars in the lot.

Stop 1: the chicken yard.

Rooster info sign

“A happy, healthy chicken produces even healthier eggs for us to eat!” Amen. These chickens were living the life, other than having small children chasing them around. But they didn’t even seem to mind that. They had run of a big yard, with a large, wheeled henhouse that could easily be moved to a new patch of grass.


Notice how the chickens are under the house–that was to avoid the enthusiastic clutches of the children racing around their yard. These two hens were captured, but seemed happy to sit in the boys’ laps and be petted! Tame chickens = happy chickens = happy eggs?

happy hens

The chickens weren’t the only animals getting loved on. In a pen down the hill were two pygmy goats and a baby cow. Children and adults both were lined up to enter the pen and commune with the animals. Giving people the opportunity to meet the types of animals that produce food for them is a great way to get them thinking about where their animal products actually come from.

pygmy goats and baby cow

We were happy the goats (presumably) couldn’t read the sign in front of them at the truck selling local goat meat kabobs and burgers!

goat kabobs

We walked a signed route through the crop fields and ogled the sprouting produce, but were most impressed with a sign describing a farming apprenticeship program the Local Food Hub offers at their educational farm. A husband and wife team are apprenticing on the farm, cultivating their own plot of land, and learning on the job before striking out on their own. The farm provides them with support, in equipment and advice.

Local Food Hub crops

The Local Food Hub is one of the things that makes the Charlottesville locavore scene so healthy and vibrant. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for their next community food event!

The People’s Garden

urban garden in DC

While wandering around Washington DC, I was happy to stumble upon The People’s Garden, an urban garden near the USDA headquarters. A USDA initiative, these gardens exist all over the country as collaborations between local and national groups. They must be located on public property, and the produce is donated to those in need. From the USDA’s website:

They must benefit the community, in some cases by creating recreational spaces and in others by providing a harvest for a local food bank or shelter. They must be collaborative – that is, the garden must be created and maintained by a partnership of local individuals, groups, or organizations. And third, they should incorporate sustainable practices.

Nice job, USDA!

Random happy-farming news

I have a zillion articles waiting to be read! Here are a few blurbs I’ve enjoyed as I work through my pile of mail:

urban farming trend

From Heifer International‘s WorldArk magazine: Urban farming, in the form of windowbox gardens and backyard chickens, is on the rise in the US.

Also in WorldArk, scientists are experimenting with growing meat from stem cells, hoping for a cleaner process for mass-producing meat.

Gotham Greens

From the JW Townsend, a landscape contractor in Charlottesville, VA, newsletter, a blurb about Gotham Greens. Gotham Greens grows produce in rooftop greenhouses in Brooklyn, and supplies NYC markets and restaurants with local, sustainable food.

Switch to grass-fed beef

From Reader’s Digest, Feb 2012: an article called “The 20 Tips Health Pros Beg You Not to Skip.” Number 19, from a psychiatrist, is “switch to grass-fed beef,” for the health benefits.

Hyatt commits to cage-free eggs

From Mary Jane’s Farm, Aug-Sept 2011 issue, good news that Hyatt Hotels & Resorts is switching to cage-free eggs. That’s 2.4 million eggs fewer per year coming from battery cages.

Facebook CEO's Food Challenge

And finally, from the same Mary Janes Farm issue (yes, a bit outdated, but still an interesting read), a paragraph about Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg’s personal mission to learn more about sustainable farming and meat animals. The only meat he ate last year was from animals he killed himself.

That was the easy stuff. I have a stack of Foreign Affairs magazines staring me down. I’m halfway through The Globalization of Animal Welfare; comments to come soon!

NYC Coffee Break

Our friends took us to Jack’s Coffee near their apartment to get fueled up for a day of exploring. What a lovely surprise to be greeted by this sign!

Jack's Stir Brewed Coffee local milk

My delicious latte was made with milk from family farms in the Hudson Valley. Love this quote from the site:

Hudson Valley Fresh is indebted to Jack’s Coffee. Jack’s was the first coffee shop in New York City to serve our milk and promote our mission of high quality and sustainable dairy farming. Jack has shown his conviction by bringing his baristas to the farm and educating his customers. He is passionate about sustainability and continues to be our best advocate by encouraging customers and competitors to use our milk.
– Dr. Sam Simon, President of Hudson Valley Fresh

Jack's Stir Brew Coffee

Kudos to Jack’s Stir Brew Coffee! It really was a delightful latte. Must have been the fresh, local milk. If you’re in NYC and see a Jack’s, go there!