Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Insect Foodies Buggin' Me Again

I'm open-minded about this global push to eat insects--I sampled a grilled witchetty grub in Australia, stir-fried grasshoppers in Japan, and probably flies that stuck to my Tootsie Roll Pop when I was a kid in bib overalls hanging out near the feedlot on the farm.

But on most occasions, I'm not looking for a restaurant that offers scorpion on toast, and I haven't yet bought in with the Texas group that is creating a line of nutritious, environmentally sustainable cricket protein bars. Jiminy Cricket is still a cute little cartoon character to me.

So, for those ready to look into the edible insect world, here are a few links that might help:

Palm weevils are relatively unassuming, perhaps even slightly creepy to the insect-adverse. But some say they are the solution to many of the ills facing the developing world. Check here to see if you agree that the humble palm weevil could potentially eradicate world hunger and malnutrition.
In case you’ve tried all the suggestions in your current edition, they’ve now released the revised edition of 40 Ways to Cook Crickets, Grasshoppers, Ants, Water Bugs, Spiders, Centipedes, and Their Kin.   

The media is crawling with reports about the UN recommendation that we all consider eating insects. Apparently, two billion people already do--and that doesn't count those of us who involuntarily suck in bugs while biking on warm summer days. Edible insects are being promoted as a low-fat, high-protein food that comes with appetizing side benefits: Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and livestock pollution, creating jobs in developing countries, and feeding hungry people around in the world. 

Bon appétit---in an entomological sense.

by dan gogerty  (top photo from, bottom pic from

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Ragbrai Déjà Vu All Over Again—in a Good Way

The rolling hills, lush cornfields, and rustic farms. The food stalls, small town main streets, and family lemonade stands. The flat tires, sore butts, and sag wagons.

The Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (Ragbrai) has been flowing since the mid-seventies, and I’ve jumped aboard ten or eleven times since 1981. This year I could only link up for two days, but I pedaled enough to know that many things have stayed the same—and that’s a good thing.

The ride involves an average of 10 to 20,000 folks migrating across the state on bikes, and details of the week-long odyssey are available on several sites, including the official Ragbrai page. I rode with friends, their friends, and a herd of strangers from around the world—you can easily strike up conversations with local residents, bikers from overseas, and maybe a zen meditation practitioner from Fairfield or a wind energy expert from the West Coast—who also loves talking about Stalin, Teddy Roosevelt, and Deng Zhao Ping. 

Of course the nature of farming has changed in the past decades, and Iowa now has giant wind turbines sprouting near confinement hog operations while a half-million dollars' worth of equipment works the fields. Drones soon—robotic tractors too—but the farmers and small town residents seem much like the folks we encounter on every trip.

Last year I wrote of townsfolk who let us stay in their homes and the fact that I never lock my bike or worry about crime on the trip. Today’s headline from Ragbrai is that the Mason City police have cash that has been turned in by those who found it during the overnight stop there. The town famous for the flim-flam Music Man Harold Hill is also known for its hospitality and honesty.

Two years ago I wrote of the hellish heat on the trip. It hit for one day this week, but on Tuesday a front moved through and cool northerlies took over. The weather is quite rightly the key topic of conversation. But by the time you’ve ridden in lightning storms, 100-degree days, constant headwinds, and a freak July rainy day that only reached 58 degrees, then you are ready for anything. You’ll still complain, though.

For many riders, the week-long bike ride is about as close as they ever get to agriculture. Three years ago I wrote about the way farming looks from the top of a tortuous bike seat. This year I’ve found a link to the Iowa State University Cyclaholics—ag professors who make the annual trek to observe agriculture—and have a good time. And of course some things have changed with my bike gear since my first ride in ’81. I eventually gave in to wearing the padded shorts, padded gloves, and clip-on shoes. I was a late holdout—those things are for wimps. My legs, hands, and tailbone wish I would have wimped out much earlier.

I also used to ride a clunker bike—it had gears but was as heavy as a small jeep. I still haven’t moved to an elliptical or recumbent or other new style, but this video clip has short interviews with those who have. I’m also quite sure I won’t try a unicycle, roller blades, or the “banana boat bike” that appears every year. I don’t mind a few changes, but the beauty of the trip is the flow—the feeling of hitting the road with 18,000 other bikers as you cruise across Iowa’s fields of dreams.

by dan gogerty

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Scientific Look at Real Creatures from the Black Lagoon

Aquatic plants were not on my radar screen until recently. When I first heard CAST was organizing a team of experts to analyze the problems of nuisance aquatic plants, I figured they’d have to dredge up something about the Creature from the Black Lagoon to get much material. Hand me my snorkel and face mask—I was wrong.

Safe, accessible water resources are essential, but various threats are closing the taps. This paper keeps the flow going as it looks at plants that invade rivers, lakes, and other aquatic ecosystems. These invaders can affect aesthetics, drainage, fishing, water quality, fish and wildlife habitat, flood control, human and animal health, hydropower generation, irrigation, navigation, recreation, and, ultimately, land values.

The authors encourage long-term funding, sustained research, and creative problem solving. They believe that a collaborative push to meet the challenges posed by nuisance aquatic plants will support a sustainable civilization that depends on clean and abundant freshwater resources. 

Fishing, Swimming, and Creatures from the Deep
Now that I think back a bit more carefully, aquatic plants were lurking below the surface a few times during my youth. We kids often grabbed bamboo fishing poles and a can of worms so we could spend the afternoon on our farm creeks. Thistles and poison ivy hid along the banks in the pasture, but the main aquatic plants we dealt with were spindly reeds and batches of algae—sometimes clumps of the slimy green substance were the only weighty catch we hauled in for the day.

Algae and other lily-type plants clogged the nearby farm lake we fished in, and decades ago the authorities worried about silt and obstructed water outlets there. County officials recently dredged the area and constructed a new dam with the hope that camping and local tourism would increase. The battle against aquatic nuisance plants will no doubt be part of their maintenance program.

Once we hit the car generation, we joined friends for summer outings at a place we called the Gravel Pit. As teens, we’d swim there in cut-off jeans and swing off old ropes tied to overhanging trees. Legends floated there about a drowning at the far edge of the pit where algae and tangled aquatic plants could pull a swimmer under. I don’t know the facts, but it was enough to keep us cautious; the Creature from the Black Lagoon might not be real, but water hazards are.

Global water issues are now front and center, but many are unaware of the problems aquatic nuisance plants add to looming water crises. CAST’s new paper gives a solid background and plenty of practical suggestions. Today Black Lagoon Creatures come in the form of invasive plants that damage our water systems—both rural and urban folks need to figure out solutions.

by dan gogerty (pic from