Hey, America: Edible insects just might be the next tasty taboo headed for your plate.
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Gates Foundation: The Story of Food

Walk into a high-end restaurant in Oaxaca, Mexico, and you might see chapulines, or grasshoppers, on the menu.

In Mexico and many countries around the world, it's not unusual to see a variety of bugs on the menu. Chapulines can be served casually, as bar snacks, or as street food, but they also make appearances in more upscale cuisine.

"Plenty of high-end restaurants, especially in Oaxaca, serve chapulines," said Myles Snider, an American cook who trained in Mexico City and has worked in restaurants in Tulum.


Chapulines, served casually as a snack. Image via iStock.

The attitude toward serving insects as food there differs from the United States.

"It's far more normalized here," said Snider. "I think people acknowledge that it's an insect, so they know foreigners might have reservations about eating it, but mostly people just realize that they're delicious."

In the U.S., most of us aren't used to encountering insects on the menu. Could — and should — they become part of our normal fare?

If you're like me, the mere mention of eating bugs triggers an instant reaction of disgust. But what is it about eating bugs, exactly, that we protest?

Disgust is a response that our body uses to prevent us from doing things that are bad for us. We've been taught since we were children that bugs are "yucky," so the idea putting them in our mouths is something that our body naturally rejects.

So it follows that in Western culture, entomophagy (as the pros call it) has developed a stigma associating it with poverty and poor living conditions, since we assume that cultures relying on what we consider "yucky" as a primary source of food must be doing so out of desperation. But that's not so!

The reality is that insects are a regular part of the human diet all over the world, not only in lower socioeconomic strata. They just haven’t really broken the boundary onto the palate of the American people — yet. Insects have a lot to offer, though, so it might be worth considering adding them to your grocery list this week!

See? Simba gets it. GIF via "The Lion King."

Here are 14 things edible insects have going for them, in the U.S. and abroad.

1. It's much easier to farm crickets than it is to farm cows. While livestock require land, feed, and equipment — all of which cost quite a bit — insects are scavengers and can basically subsist on their own.

Entomologist Yupa Hamboosong inspecting crickets raised on a farm in Vientiane, Laos. Photo by Hoang Dinh Ham/AFP/Getty Images.

2. Insect farms can be scaled to any size and can consist of as little as a breathable container, a damp towel, and food scraps or compost. That means that anyone can be an insect farmer, no matter their financial status.

3. Since geography isn't as much of a factor in insect farming, the growth potential for it as an industry isn't limited by location. A boom in insect farming could benefit cities as much as rural areas.

4. Since the food industry is often able to remain relatively stable in times of economic crisis, insect farming could bring increased job reliability to areas that aren't conducive to traditional farming.

5. Adding insects to the global diet could help solve world hunger. Insects are a nutrient-rich source of protein that can be grown locally in any environment — no other livestock product or crop provides the same benefits at such a low cost of maintenance.

Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images.

6. Insect farming is environmentally friendly. Since insects require so little to thrive, they place significantly less strain on finite global resources like grain, water, and real estate.

7. Meat production puts a huge strain on the global water shortage; one pound of beef requires nearly 2,000 gallons of water. By contrast, cricket farmers like Big Cricket Farms assert that producing a pound of crickets requires only a single gallon of water.

8. The water footprint of crickets is so small, in fact, that some places like Bitwater Farms are finding it can be met with rainwater alone.

9. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization's major report on the topic, insects require less feed than any other animal protein, like cattle and pigs. (This fact has been contested specific to crickets, as a 2015 study found that the feed-to-meat ratio can vary greatly based on crickets' appetites.) Feed-to-meat conversion rates as reflected by the FAO estimate one pound of edible beef requires about nine pounds of feed, while one pound of edible cricket meat needs only about one and a half pounds of feed.

10. Greenhouse gas emissions are significantly lower in insects than in livestock. In a study of farmable insects (mealworms, crickets, locusts, cockroaches, and sun beetles) the insects were found to produce proportionally less carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ammonia than cattle or pigs. By contrast, producing beef has been noted by several scientists to be more harmful to the environment than driving a car. The World Bank calculated in 2010 that producing one kilogram of beef is equivalent to driving 49 miles in a car.

11. Certain types of crickets can have about as much or even up to twice as much protein content as beef, usually with much less fat.

12. Insects can be beneficial as food without ever making it to the human plate, too. Switching to insect-based animal feed to sustain livestock would cut down on the strain that grain production places on land and water resources.

Mealworms, like this little guy, can be easily and efficiently ground into an animal feed that's more enviro-friendly than grain. Herman/Flickr.

13. It's possible to incorporate insects into meals more subtly than simply chomping down on a cicada. Crickets can be ground into a protein flour that can be used in a variety of ways, including baking, as a dietary supplement, or to replace other protein sources like soy.

14. Insect protein has the interest of the start-up world. In 2014, cricket protein bar company Chapul scored a $50K business deal with investor Mark Cuban on "Shark Tank." Other investors are following suit — earlier this year, a similar energy bar company called Exo raised $4 million in its first round of funding.

Crobar is a protein bar made of cricket with cricket flour. Photo by Ton Koene/Picture-Alliance/DPA/AP Images.

Insects may be on their way to conquering the world markets, but there's one drawback: Right now, insect protein is still cost-prohibitive for widespread use. Since the number of people farming crickets is still relatively few, the market price of a pound of harvested crickets is still pretty high: A pound costs manufacturers about $4-5. That price would need to fall by about half to make it competitive with livestock meats, soy, and other protein substitutes.

So does this mean our Instagram feeds will soon be full of delectable cricket and grub food creations?

It's possible! Insects aren’t the first food source that were once considered taboo in our country. Raw fish used to strike Americans as disgusting, too — until the sushi craze hit in the 1960s. The exact cause for its rise is unclear, but it’s likely that it had to do with the whirlwind of change that was overtaking a nation ripe for trying new things. The restaurant Kawafuku opened in 1964 and quickly became a Los Angeles hot spot. As celebrities began adopting the “healthy food” trend, sushi appeared in metropolitan cities and eventually made its way across the country.

Could the same thing happen with insects? There's nothing stopping it. Specialty restaurants in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago already serve dishes like fried grasshoppers, ant egg salads, and silkworms. And though you won't find them here at street stands or in bars (yet), you don't need to travel to Mexico to get your hands on a chapulín, either — many authentic Mexican restaurants serve the Oaxacan dish stateside.

So while insects still have a ways to go before they conquer the United States, they're definitely gaining traction. Anyone with an adventurous palate and a desire to be ahead of a trend would do well to head to their local entomophagist eatery and try them out. It could be only a matter of time before insects are the next must-have dining experience.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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