Find out here, in a new lab note I wrote for our project on experiment.com!
For the people I know who eat them in Burkina, the answer is that they taste like caterpillars - or that they taste like meat. But what about people who've never tried caterpillars before? What do they think caterpillars taste like?
Find out here, in a new lab note I wrote for our project on experiment.com!
This is the landscape in the dry season in Burkina Faso. Temperatures reach highs of over 45C during the day, but many women and children must walk through the heat to carry water for the household, often from unprotected wells. The soil is baked by the sun, and it's impossible to grow crops - unless you can afford irrigation.
Hello, and happy World Water Day!
I guess 'happy' isn't the right word to use here.
A couple of days ago, I read that Wednesday 22nd March would be World Water Day. And, I read that 663 million people live without a safe water supply close to home; that women and children are those who must carry the burden of collecting water for the household; that a lack of safe water is a major contributor to health problems in the developing world.
Those facts and figures felt familiar to me - Where I live and do fieldwork in Burkina Faso, the water that I and most people living around me rely on comes from unprotected wells, which don't fulfil the WHO's definition of safe water.
Also in the same villages, drawing water is definitely women's work - I've never seen a man carrying water. Whether it's safe or not, the transport of water is back-breaking, time-consuming, energy-sapping. Wealthier families (and me, I use my bicycle) have bicycles and donkeys to help the women to carry the many litres of water a family needs each day to wash, cook, clean and drink. But many women carry their water - 25-30 litres at a time - on their heads, walking up to 1km between their homestead and the nearest dug well, several times a day, in temperatures of up to 45C.
As I was reading about World Water Day, three memories came to mind. The first is trivial, the second two are not:
1- The memory of time that the nearest well to me was contaminated, and for a week I had to walk twice as far to get water. What was already an arduous and time-consuming task became more so - and I felt guilty and resentful of the privilege that allowed me to be frustrated by this.
2- The memory of a man in the village pointing out that if they only had the money to build a dam, they'd be able to grow so much more. A river flows past the village where I work. In the dry season it's a cracked riverbed, and in the rainy season it's a dangerous and volatile torrent. The surrounding homesteads are water-poor. They can only grow crops during the short rainy season, limiting them to staple crops requiring little water. As soon as he said it I could see it in my mind's eye - a diverse, water-rich vegetable garden, communally-owned and fed by irrigation via a simple dam. I've seen it in other villages nearby. Fertile soil is a sure ticket to a more food- and financially-secure existence, and this can be achieved with a plentiful water supply.
3- The memory of woman in my village who came home one evening feeling unwell. She couldn't walk the 500m to collect water (which they draw from an unprotected well) to prepare food. Her neighbour came round and made her and her husband some maize porridge. She felt better, and went to sleep. The next morning, she was dead, and her husband buried her next to their 9-yr-old son, who had died a few months before, also from unexplained causes. They live 7km from the nearest clinic, along dirt tracks that are inaccessible by car, so an evening visit to the doctor wasn't an option. They'd had a bad harvest, so they were stressed and food insecure. Was it a water-borne disease that killed them? Would better sanitation have protected them against ill-health? A lack of access to safe water is part of a vast suite of interrelated problems that make it near-impossible for households to even see a way out of the struggles of poverty, let alone have the strength to do so.
So back to World Water Day. After my three memories/stories, I've three thoughts:
Firstly: This is NOT just about water. In many parts of the world, a lack of safe water is a symptom of a much greater problem: Wealth inequality. Just look at my stories above. In the first, I'm jolted out of my comfort zone by a situation that could be deadly for some, but for me it's just an inconvenience. Why? Because when I get ill, I have the money to pay for healthcare, for transport to the nearest clinic, for medicine, etc. If it's really bad, I even have money to fly me to the UK for round-the-clock medical care.
Secondly: I think the same is true for food security. It's NOT just about food; it's a term we use to describe another symptom of wealth inequality. This is evident in the second story sbove - food security and water security are both dependent on financial security.
Thirdly: By focusing on the symptoms of food and water insecurity, are we missing the point? Are we failing to diagnose and confront the greater malaise of wealth inequality - and in doing so, failing to acknowledge our role as perpetrators of this system?
I know that this is where I should tell you about a great way to help in the fight against wealth inequality, and towards a more water-secure world. But it's not easy - even the World Water Day official website just has advice on how to spread the word about unsafe water..which is not bad in itself, but I can't help feeling that there is something more that we can, and should, do.
So here are my three ideas for small actions we might want to take today:
1. A bit of wealth redistribution. Water.org offers affordable loans to women to install safe water and sanitation facilities! Every $1 you give has a $4 return. So donating to water.org is one positive action to take today.
2. A bit less water wastage. Get into the habit of doing one or more of these practical steps toward a more water-secure world: Take a shorter shower. Wash your hair less frequently. Eat less meat, & swap it for vegetable protein, which uses FAR less water. Or, just cut down on your protein, as most people in developed countries eat too much anyway. Dont leave the tap running when brushing your teeth or washing plates. Turn off the shower when you're applying soap/shampoo. Handwash your clothes when you can.
3. A bit of altruism - if you'd like to do something to help the water-, food- and financially-insecure communities where I work, please consider donating to our crowdfunding campaign here. If you've other ideas for how these communities can be more water-, food- and financially-secure, please contact me directly. And if you're interested in knowing a bit more about the women I work with, here's a recent blog post that gives a bit more information about their lives.
I'm part of a new project! We're exploring how to best enjoy insects and wine together, two of the world's greatest luxuries...
Here is my first blog post on the site, which describes the first five of ten traditional pairings of insects with wine. I chose to start with this because I wanted to emphasize that globally we have a rich history of eating insects alongside fermented alcoholic drinks - so, there's firstly a great historical precedent for the project, and also probably a lot to be learned from traditional pairings. Here are some pictures from that first post:
We also had a launch party last night, which was fantastic. We're hoping to get lots of people involved, contributing to the blog and exchanging recipes, tips and recommendations. Please be in touch if you're interested in being a part of the project!
In Burkina Faso, International Women's Day is a big deal. In the village, the women party and the men prepare food for them. I'm back in the UK now and really sorry to be missing out on this!
I'm going to a women's day celebration this weekend, and for it, I've submitted some photos of women from the village in Burkina where I work. Here they are, with some explanations below:
Bertie, 50, and Mouche, 6 months. Bertine has many adult children in the same village and now lives alone with her husband. She is Dagare, a minority ethnicity in the village she lives in, and her husband is Pul, also a minority ethnicity. But they're both pillars of the community! She speaks more French than nearly any other woman in the village, as well as five local languages.
Argita, 20, and Alimatou, 3 months today. Argita is of Bobo ethnicity, and is married to a man who's part of the chief's family. Her husband is currently doing a course in the nearest town, training to be a schoolteacher (he visits on weekends), so she lives with his family so that she has support for herself and Alimatou. Her home village is a couple of hours away by bike.
These photos were taken at the request of the women in them, and selected by them. They live in a village in southwestern Burkina Faso.
Burkina Faso is an inspiring country for many reasons: Muslims, Christians and animists live alongside one another as friends and frequently intermarry. The same is true for people of different ethnicities - 4 different ethnicities (and languages) are represented by the women in these photos alone.
Yet in terms of equal opportunities for women, it is less inspiring. FGM was made illegal in 1996 but allegedly still continued in this village until just five years ago. Many men have multiple wives, with age gaps of many decades, but women cannot have multiple husbands. Women cannot own land. Women are judged by their ability to prepare food for their husband and to bear many children.
And in terms of equal opportunities with us, their UK-based counterparts, it is devastating. The majority of families in the village are food insecure, due to a lack of means to purchase food. This means they also lack the means to purchase medicine and medical care when needed. They lack the means to attend school or pay for their children to attend school, meaning that literacy is very low (of the women above, only Albertine can read and write). And they lack the means to visit their birth family, too - women usually marry outside of their home village.
Feminism is solidarity. Please share in the strength, self-confidence and happiness in these photos, and consider acting in your solidarity by contributing to our crowdfunding campaign, or by any other actions - I'll be going back their again this year and will happily take gifts, direct contributions, letters etc.
(I've also put a version of this post on our crowdfunding page as a project lab note)
I think locusts are a really exciting edible insect.
Type 'locusts food security' into Google and you'll see lots of hits that give examples of locust swarms destroying crops and threatening food availability in some of the most food-insecure regions of the world. The FAO has even developed technology to monitor locust swarms, making them easier to combat. Yet the common locust is also one of the most popular edible insects, and its large swarms make it fairly easy to collect.
What does this mean for farmers who combat their locust invasion by harvesting them and using them for food or additional income? Is there still a net loss, and if so, what does it take (efficient harvesting methods? higher prices? fairer commodity chains?) to convert that into a net gain? These are crucial questions that could help reduce the devastating impacts of locust crop pests.
Locusts can also be farmed, though they're reportedly picky and will only eat fresh leaves, according to colleagues of mine who breed them in Japan. Perhaps they're a bit like the caterpillars we're working with at the moment!
Anyway. Enter Kahit Hien of FasoPro:
We're working together with Kahit to try and develop a way of breeding edible caterpillars to improve West African food security. But when I saw him this weekend, he was keen to talk about locusts, too.
Locusts are a popular snack in Burkina Faso, and they're usually imported from Niger or Nigeria.
Kahit had just returned from a business trip to Niger, where the locust season has recently come to an end. The future of his company, FasoPro, may well involve diversification into the farming, production and distribution of locusts, as well as caterpillars.
So, he showed me how to cook them! He tipped a bag of dried locusts into a pan over an open flame, and added a small amount of oil, stirring them periodically. After about 7 minutes, a delicious savoury smell rose from the pan, and he declared them ready.
Kahit removed the locusts from the heat and added salt and chilli, stirring to make sure they were seasoned evenly. He tried one himself to check the flavour, smiled, and offered one to Timothy and I (we were keen to be his willing students-cum-sous-chefs for the afternoon).
They were delicious! I've had dried locusts many times, and they often lack any real flavour. But these, perhaps because they were freshly collected, and then freshly re-cooked, were really tasty. We put them into sealed packets so that I can take them back to Cambridge with me - I'm really looking forward to taking them in to the office when I go back next week, and seeing what my fellow researchers think of them :)
Our crowdfunding campaign on experiment.com is going well - in just 10 days we've already raised nearly a third of our target!
And, since I'm now on my way back to the UK, I thought I'd write an update about some of the things that we've achieved in the last few weeks:
Please click here to read the rest of the update. And please do spread the word about our project, and our crowdfunding campaign!
Thank you so much to our backers so far :)