How to Make America Great (An 8-Point Plan)

Make America Great

#MAG

My optimism stems largely from a belief in progress. Progress is the inevitable outcome of accumulated knowledge and enlightenment. As we understand the world better, understand ourselves better, we come to understand how to improve the world and our place in it.

The Progressive approach is guided by reason and virtue. In many regards (hunger, poverty, human rights) the world is in a better place than it’s ever been, and this is largely the result of people who utilize our scientific and intellectual advancements wisely.

At the same time, the world remains awash in fucked uppedness. With climate change, the cracks in the levy are rapidly becoming fissures, which promises to exacerbate all kinds of fucked uppedness unless we get somebody to stick their thumb in it, right quick.

Make America Suck Again

Here in the United States, we would only be so lucky if the Trump administration were merely fiddling while Rome burns (to mix metaphors slightly); instead, they’re throwing their fiddles and whatever else they can find onto the fire, whipping it into an inferno.

Long before Trump, though, the Regressives in this country, led by plutocrats, have been crapping on democracy. In addition to buying (or becoming) politicians, Regressives sow division, disinformation, and dysfunction, as they reap a bounty in the wake of discontent deflected away from their devious designs.

Put more concretely, certain Regressive elites in this country (present President included), primarily in an effort to entrench their power and wealth, have endeavored to:

  • Divide Americans:  From the Southern Strategy to welfare queens to Willie Horton to Donald Trump, Regressives (in this case, primarily Republicans) have been stoking white fear and anger toward people of color. Misogyny, xenophobia, and homophobia are other tools in the divisiveness toolbox. And among whites, Regressives promote tribalism via Fox News (Liberal Elites vs. Real Americans), the NRA, religion, etc. Here it must be said that liberals and Democrats are also guilty of regressive tribalism when they ridicule and show disdain for poor and rural white folks.1
  • Spread Disinformation: There’s a certain element of my news feed that’s tragicomic. Stories from Fox News2 seem to focus on either the crookedness of Hillary Clinton, tabloidy bullshit, people of color and immigrants doing bad things, or female teachers having sex with their male students.3 When there are stories that make Regressives look bad, they are downplayed or ignored; when the stories make liberals look bad, they are pounced on. The tabloidy crap serves to distract people from real issues. Fox is a pusher of the Regressive ideology. Limbaugh, Breitbart, The Blaze, and InfoWars follow the same playbook (to varying degrees of insanity). It’s funny how people of this ilk rail against the mainstream media, claiming it has a liberal bias. Well, to the extent that some mainstream media believe in facts and reason, I guess that would make them appear more progressive – that said, in the interest of appearing balanced, I still think mainstream media give too much credence to regressive ideas. Fair and balanced, indeed!
  • Create Dysfunction: Defund public education, diminish access to health care, destroy unions, deter people from voting, drown government. Weaker public education leads to a less enlightened populace, and has the added bonus of empowering for-profit education, which primarily benefits the wealthy. Reduced access to health care, lack of unions, and poverty in general distract people from political engagement (and of course create more wealth for the elites). Voting restrictions and gerrymandering, combined with artificially divided Americans, disinformation, and ignorance, help keep Regressives in power, even though their interests are aligned with a tiny minority of the population. When they do attain power, they follow the advice of Grover Norquist and try to drown government in a bathtub. A shittily functioning government works perfectly for Regressives: See, told you government sucks! Discontent and ignorance breed yet more Regressives.
  • Promote Plutocracy: All of this division and disinformation and dysfunction is made possible by a government that is easily bought, thanks to Citizens United and other systemic failures that allow money to infiltrate our government. Since money equals free speech in this country, the loudest voices don’t belong to you or me. Thus we have the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, where the only “jobs” being given are to the Republicans’ wealthy pimps.

What could be more unpatriotic, more un-American, than the way these Regressives defile democracy?

What Do Americans Want?

Thomas Jefferson wrote that the doctrines of Epicurus (which he described “as containing every thing rational in moral philosophy which Greece and Rome have left us”) included the moral that:

  • Happiness is the aim of life.
  • Virtue the foundation of happiness.
  • Utility the test of virtue.

From the Koch brothers to Rush Limbaugh to Donald Trump to Grover Norquist to my in-laws, what the Regressives have failed to grasp is that their own happiness is integrally tied to virtuous action.

Wealthy Americans (I include myself in this category) have been afforded, whether we realize it or not, enormous opportunity by virtue of living in this country. Isn’t it our patriotic duty to ensure that all Americans receive similar opportunities? Premium taxes in return for premium opportunities.

Ultimately, I believe most Americans, most people, want a system that provides opportunity and fosters happiness (in the fulfillment sense). While the system is necessarily quite complex, there is precedent for what works and what doesn’t to achieve happiness and prosperity.

The Regressive way seeks to destroy; the Progressive way seeks to build.

Make America Great

So now let my lamentations and railing give way to an optimistic, Progressive path forward. Here’s my 8-Point Plan to Make America Great:

1. Return Government to The People

  • Enact campaign finance and lobbying reform that gets big money out of politics
  • End gerrymandering
  • End voter suppression

At a time when politicians brazenly pander to their big donors rather than their constituents, we are in dire need of substantive Campaign Finance Reform. Other than the small minority of Regressives, who wouldn’t agree that politicians should be focused on the vast concerns of their constituents, not just the concerns of a few large donors? Something like the Fair Elections Now Act would address this.

Gerrymandering is some of the most Un-American bullshit out there. Both Democrats and Republicans have been guilty of drawing districts that favor them over the years, but Republicans have taken it to new lows of late, with state and federal houses across the country receiving disproportionate representation by Republicans due to partisan gerrymandering. Soon, the Supreme Court will decide Gill vs. Whitford,4 a case that could provide a metric for what constitutes partisan gerrymandering. If we believe in reason and virtue, districts should be drawn using a nonpartisan metric that most accurately reflects the will of the people, not partisan manipulators.

One other strategy that Regressives use to stay in power is voter suppression. If your interests only align with a few wealthy elite, then, aside from those you’ve duped into voting for you, you want to ensure that less people have access to vote. You do this through restrictive voting laws, making it onerous (or impossible) for people to register or vote. As people who believe in facts understand, voter fraud is negligible. Rather than extinguishing it in the gutter of voter suppression, we should light the beacon of democracy by making voting as simple and straightforward as possible.

2. E Pluribus Unum

  • End divisiveness and promote a vision of unity in which all Americans are working to attain the same goal: a happy and prosperous society
  • Re-establish that knowledge, science, facts, truth are attainable, and that they should guide policy
  • Reach out to different demographics (rural, urban, black, white, Latino, conservative, liberal) to better understand their concerns5
  • Work with local community leaders to disseminate information about the benefits of a Progressive platform
  • Spread the message that purveyors of divisiveness and hate are undermining American values

In case you didn’t know (and you’re not a true patriot!) E Pluribus Unum is a motto of the United States, meaning “out of many, one.” The Regressives seem bent on a mission that would change that to E Pluribus Pluribus. Here’s a real quote I found in the comments section of an anti-Obama piece after he won the 2012 election:

I seriously think dumbocraps have at least 50% less brain power than normal people. Otherwise how can they continiously over look the damage that he’s already done, not see it, and want MORE of it????

Aside from the comical placement of the “sics,” the troubling thing about this statement is how emblematic it is of the tribalism that has done, and is doing, so much damage in our country. I actually agree with the commenter that far too many people on the left aren’t informed consumers of media. But far more pervasive than this ignorance is the disinformation and divisiveness spread by Regressives,6 of which this guy is an eager adopter.

Dumbocraps is a new one to me, but we’ve all heard of libtards and snowflakes, and from the other side, rednecks, white trash, Bernie Bros; all of these are Regressive pejoratives meant to divide. And of course, playing on people’s fears via racism, misogyny, homophobia, and xenophobia further divides us. As mentioned above, it’s a Regressive tactic to pit people against each other who would actually benefit from working together. The Regressives will be shitting their slacks when the rest of us figure this out.

Conservative rural voters feel under siege by liberal elites, and I think they’re right to feel abandoned by Democrats, who have mostly ceded this bloc to Republicans (who pay lip service but not much else). A true Progressive platform (not all dumbocraps) encompasses the needs of rural whites as much as it does those of urban blacks, or liberal elites, or the working class, or poor folks. 

Not to get all kumbaya-y or anything, but Progressives need to make it abundantly clear that our policies are inclusive of all working class folks (defined as anybody who works for a living, wants to work for a living, can’t work for a living, is retired, or is a child). In other words, E Pluribus Unum.

3. Invest In Us

  • We are a big country – we need big government to administer equal opportunity
  • Ensure that our big government runs smoothly and efficiently
  • Enact fair regulations that ensure government, businesses, and individuals work for the benefit of society
  • Incentivize businesses to empower and reward employees
  • Establish that taxes are investments in the happiness and prosperity of our country and its citizens
  • Publicly account (via a simple website) for how our taxes are spent – our investments should pay dividends in the form of safety, security, education, health, convenience, and sustainability
  • Make filing taxes free and easy on a government website

According to the 2017 Happiness Report, Denmark is one of the happiest countries in the world (#2 after Norway). Danes pay 41-56% income taxes. For this, they receive free health care, education, and a financial safety net. They work less than 40 hours a week and get at least four weeks of vacation a year. Between them, parents get over 50 weeks of parental leave when a child is born.

Among advanced economies, the United States ranks 2nd highest in net income inequality. Out of these same 30 countries, the U.S. is 13th in happiness. They say money doesn’t buy happiness, but with about 40% of the world’s total wealth, it seems like we could be doing better.

Wagner’s Law states: “The advent of modern industrial society will result in increasing political pressure for social progress and increased allowance for social consideration by industry.”

In other words, wealthy nations have a tendency to provide more opportunities for their citizens over time. So, why, while much of the rest of the wealthy world (including Denmark) moved toward greater opportunity, has the U.S. remained relatively flat in that regard? Why, it’s those pesky Regressives, convincing people that what we really need is smaller government and less regulation – meanwhile, even as production increases, the Regressives have concentrated more and more of the resultant wealth among themselves at the top.

4. Invest In Education

  • Provide equal opportunity for all public schools by increasing and equally distributing funding among schools
  • Promote excellence in education by properly valuing and incentivizing teachers
  • Reward innovative and effective curricula that energize students
  • Integrate schools and communities more closely – many learning projects (gardens, food, building, service, technology, research, etc.) can also benefit the community
  • Use evaluative procedures that aren’t one-size-fits-all and that don’t force schools to teach to the test
  • Provide free preschool and college
  • Institute a year or two of mandatory national service after high school in which students work on national or international projects (military or civilian)

Preach a crusade against ignorance; establish and improve the law for educating the common people. Let our countrymen know that the people alone can protect us against these evils, and that the tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance.

This is Thomas Jefferson again. Note that one could substitute “Regressives” for “kings, priests and nobles.” Sadly, it seems that the Regressives have used this quote prescriptively: Hey, if we crusade for ignorance, we should be able to rise up among the people!

Of course, Jefferson didn’t mean for this to be a recipe for plutocracy, but rather against it. His prescription was that we must invest in education to enlighten the common people so that we may be informed participants in democracy.

5. Invest In Health

  • Enact universal health care
  • Establish a network of health advisers who work with individuals to promote preventive health care through healthy lifestyles and preemptive diagnoses
  • Regulate standard rates for various procedures and prescriptions
  • Regulate the ability of pharmaceutical, hospital, and other medical institutions to influence research, doctors, and hospitals
  • Provide adequate funding for impartial scientific research on health, medical procedures, and pharmaceuticals
  • Create a national database that tracks health issues to provide researchers with data to establish cause and effect for both illnesses and their cures (or prevention)
  • Include DNA, microbiota, and environmental information in this database
  • Focus more resources on determining the causes, prevention, and cures of mental illness, as well as creating more opportunities and better care for the mentally ill
  • Provide better detection, education, counseling, care, and monitoring for people with unhealthy or dangerous sexual or violent tendencies
  • End the war on drugs and utilize the resources saved (as well as taxes from alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana) to regulate dangerous drugs, and provide education, counseling, and care (not punishment and prison) for those who are addicted
  • Educate people better about diet and exercise, and properly regulate and tax unhealthy foods
  • Promote measures that will reduce traffic deaths – such as less reliance on vehicles, better urban design, and self-driving vehicles
  • Recognize that guns, like vehicles, can be much better regulated to promote safety

6. Invest In America

  • Rebuild infrastructure to make it smart infrastructure, geared toward a sustainable and lower-impact 21st century America
  • Design urban space that promotes community, civic pride, safety, enjoyment, and of course happiness and prosperity
  • Create nationwide, public internet access
  • Research and reward smart and sustainable agricultural practices
  • Regulate and reward businesses and cooperatives that foster positive community and societal ideals
  • Provide amnesty for the 11 million or so undocumented immigrants living in this country
  • Establish fair and effective immigration laws, and work with Mexico and other countries to establish worker exchange programs that benefit both those countries and the United States
  • Maintain and create more open space and wilderness
  • Recognize that equality of opportunity makes a stronger society

7. Invest In The World

  • Recognize that the United States has had a huge, often negative, impact on the rest of the world, especially through our outsized use of resources, but that we can also have an outsized positive impact
  • Invest in developing countries to help them develop in a sustainable manner – more than just altruism, these investments are repaid in the form of greater security, climate change mitigation, and ultimately more prosperous nations with which to cooperate
  • Work with the United Nations to strengthen its mission of maintaining world peace and security
  • Change the Department of Defense to the Department of Global Development, with the primary mission of advancing peace around the world7 – the vast resources afforded to our military could be better spent by fostering goodwill toward the United States
  • Create a leaner, smarter, stealthier military, ready to step in when power is needed
  • Work with countries to establish fair trade

8. The Environmental Moonshot

None of the above will ultimately matter much if we don’t address climate change now. Luckily, there are multiple economic factors involving renewable energy, battery storage, electric vehicles, lighting technology, agricultural practices, and other innovations that are increasingly making it more feasible for the world to drastically reduce its carbon footprint.

What we need now is the moral leadership and vision to accelerate into this new sustainable age. This could also be an effort that galvanizes our country around an existential cause (similar to the war effort during World War II, but with some of the energy and excitement surrounding the Apollo Mission). This environmental moonshot can and should be a massive jobs creator, and a boon to the U.S. economy as a whole.

  • End subsidies for fossil fuel and other polluting industries
  • Provide training to help people in these industries shift to new ones
  • Enact a carbon tax, with proceeds going toward sustainable energy innovation and endeavors
  • Become the world leader in green energy technology and goods
  • Shift to primarily electric transportation
  • Shift to an integrated and sustainable agricultural system
  • Work to restore and preserve biodiversity nationally and internationally
  • Work with impoverished, environmentally degraded communities to rebuild sustainably
  • Become a zero-waste nation by 2035
  • The Moonshot: become a 100% renewable energy nation by 2035

America, Fuck Yeah

I can hear all the naysayers laughing at my idealism, calling me Pollyanna. But this is ‘Merica, dadgummit, and when we want something, we take it! Many of the above ideas are already underway, if not here, then in other nations. We can see the success that they’re having – we can emulate and improve upon it.

Who would’ve thought in 2010 that, in just a few years, the Supreme Court would find that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry under the Constitution, or that pot would be legalized in multiple states? When there’s a good Progressive idea, the dominoes often fall pretty quickly. And, of course, many of the above ideas work synergistically, amplifying the domino effect.

Maybe it’s time to throw down the gauntlet to the rest of the world and show them what American exceptionalism is really about. Instead of internecine fighting, Americans need a common enemy we can unite against… the Danes, of course – fuck the Danes! We need to knock their shiny happy asses down a peg or two. Too tribal? Fine, then let’s just unite against Regressive thinking and fight for a Progressive America.

 

Hands Off My Car

“From my cold, dead hands”

Car rights supporters are up in arms about measures that have curbed their freedom.

The most egregious of these car controls is speed limits on how fast one can drive. “By imposing these limits on how fast I can drive,” Carl, a car rights activist said, “they have taken my freedom to go as fast as I want away from me. There will always be people who will kill people with reckless driving, but I drive safely when I’m going 150 miles an hour. Cars don’t kill people, bad drivers do.”

Another huge freedom killer is the requirement that drivers register their vehicles and have licenses. “This is all part of a slippery slope that will lead to car control liberals banning cars outright,” Republican Senator Paul Ridin complained. “What possible reason could they have for registering our vehicles and forcing us to prove that we can drive them, other than that they want to create a government database that they can use to track vehicles and their owners, which destroys our freedom.”

On top of all that, vehicles are required to have a myriad of burdensome equipment, like seat belts and headlights and bumpers. “All these safety and environmental regulations have stripped car drivers of their freedom,” said Wayne LeCar, the head of AAA,* the primary lobbying group for car rights. “Next thing you know, they’ll be making self-driving vehicles, and we won’t have any freedom at all.”

Where will it all end? Maybe they’ll ban tanks on our roads… Oh, they’ve already done that? See! We need more freedom!

Expressing ourselves with our vehicles is a right given to us by the Founding Fathers. No one will ever forget George Washington declaring “I cannot conceive one more honorable, than that which flows from the uncorrupted choice of a brave and free people” as he sped off in his shiny red Ford Mustang.

Let Freedom ring from our un-mufflered tailpipes! Vroom vroom, baby!

At a gathering of car rights activists, the eminent and eloquent William Wallace spoke:

Sons of America, it is tyranny what they’ve done to our vehicles: putting limits on our speed, forcing us to accept their rules and regulations, keeping us from taking our cars and trucks on airplanes, into schools, into libraries. Debasing us via prima nocta on our vehicles. I see a whole army of my countrymen in defiance of tyranny. You’ve come to fight as free men, and free men you are. What will you do without freedom? Will you fight?

 

Editor’s Note: Traffic deaths in the U.S. have decreased from about 50 per billion vehicle miles in the 1950s to about 12 per billion vehicle miles today.

*AAA, much like the NRA, spends much of its members’ dues lobbying for items that don’t necessarily benefit its members.

Save The World: Eat Insects

A few years ago I worked with some colleagues to write a paper about the potential for entomophagy to address undernutrition. We titled it, fittingly enough, “The potential for entomophagy to address undernutrition,” and it was published in the Ecology of Food and Nutrition journal. Entomophagy is the fancy word for insect eating.

My brother and I had been doing research on entomophagy and I came across a paper in which somebody surmised that we could feed all of the world’s hungry people using insects produced in just a few buildings. I did some calculations of my own and brought this up in a phone conversation with Dr. Florence Dunkel, one of the world’s preeminent entomophagists. She was intrigued, and enlisted my brother and me and another professor, Dr. Frank Franklin, to collaborate on a paper based on our calculations of how much land it would take to grow enough insects to meet the food deficit of all of the world’s undernourished people.

While not quite as optimistic as those first estimates I had read, our calculations indicate that insects could represent a radically more efficient source of calories, protein, and other nutrients, as compared with conventional Western livestock.

Here’s a brief summary of our findings:

  • There are almost 800 million undernourished people in the world (undernutrition is “the result of prolonged low levels of food intake and/or low absorption of food consumed.”)
  • As of 2014, the average food deficit is 84 calories per person per day. Food deficit describes “how many calories would be needed to lift the undernourished from their status.” Some areas, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, experience much higher average food deficits.
  • Increasing population and food consumption patterns, coupled with pressures from climate change and overutilized resources, may cause more food shortages.
  • Humans knowingly and willingly eat over 1900 species of insects worldwide.
  • More than 2 billion people eat insects on a regular basis, in spite of centuries of Western pressure against it.
  • Many insects have similar nutrient profiles to conventional Western livestock meat and products.
  • Yet farming insects uses far fewer resources, less energy, less water, less land, creates less waste, and reduces global warming potential, as compared with conventional livestock.
  • Many insects can utilize organic side streams for feed. Organic side streams are biowaste from agriculture, forestry, and household processes. Insects also have huge potential as recyclers of organic side streams, in turn becoming feed for conventional livestock (see Mad Agriculture for more information).
  • On less than 50,000 acres, one could raise enough mealworms (in a light industrial operation utilizing organic side streams for feed) to erase the world’s food deficit. That’s about 0.0004% of the world’s 12 billion or so acres devoted to agriculture.
  • On less than 250,000 acres, one could raise enough crickets (in a small farming operation utilizing organic side streams for feed) to erase the world’s food deficit.

Our calculations were meant to illustrate the enormous potential for entomophagy to help reduce hunger while reducing pressure on our resources, but, clearly, increased entomophagy represents only one component in a complex approach to combating hunger (including reduced poverty, better education, better food distribution, less wasted food, better agricultural yields, and less environmental degradation).

Just for fun, though, how much land would it take if we derived all of our calories from mealworms? There are about 7.5 billion people in 2017. If we should eat an average of about 2000 calories per day (2400 for men, 2000 for women, less for children), that’s a mere 15 trillion calories a day. Since one could theoretically grow about 10.7 million calories of mealworms per acre per day (not including the feed for the mealworms), it would take about 14 million acres to feed the entire world all-mealworms, all the time (that’s less than one-thousandth the agricultural land we have in production today).

“What’s for breakfast, dad?” “Mealworms!” “Again? We always have mealworms….” “Yes, that’s all we eat.”

Getting back to the present situation, I’ll draw your attention to the first bullet point above. There are 800 million undernourished people in the world today. Let that sink in for a second. While that number has fallen fairly significantly over the past few decades (from close to a billion in 1990), that’s about one in nine people in the world that are going hungry. Most of us are so far removed from this tragedy that it can be hard to connect to the very real suffering. This recent New York Times video by Nicholas Kristof helped make that connection again for me – we are living in a world where we let children die in a dystopian climate change-induced landscape. These kinds of stories will become more common if we don’t work on solutions.*

One part of the solution, as detailed in the 2013 UN Food and Agriculture Organization report Edible insects: Future prospects for food and feed security, is entomophagy. This report came out before our paper, and did not include detailed calculations about the land and other resources needed for farming insects, but it establishes entomophagy as a very real component of the FAO’s approach to combating hunger.

Wageningen University in the Netherlands is where the rock stars of entomophagy research reside. There is some skepticism there that insect calorie production will be as efficient as our calculations indicate. But, on the one hand, even if our numbers were off by a factor of ten (or a hundred), insect farming is still far more efficient than farming conventional livestock. On the other hand, I believe that our numbers could be too conservative, if anything. Consider that insect farming is currently very primitive relative to much conventional agriculture. As insect farming technologies improve, I believe we will see leaps and bounds in its efficiency, which could far surpass what we suggest is possible in our paper.

Of course there are a lot of unknowns, but that’s where organizations like MightI and Aspire come in. MightI is a nonprofit working with local communities in Sub-Saharan Africa to study the feasibility of implementing insect farming there. They are also doing research into how different feeds affect insect nutrient profiles, as well as the health impacts of insect consumption. Aspire is a for-profit that is using higher tech farming to create cricket flour in the U.S., and is also working with local communities in Africa to farm insects.

In the U.S., meat-eating is one of the largest contributors to climate change. Entomophagy represents one way to curb the amount of conventional meat we eat. Culturally, most Americans are averse to eating insects, but are generally open to new culinary experiences (witness the explosion in sushi eating over the past few decades). And flours made from some insects can provide a protein boost in things like soups, shakes, baked goods, protein bars, etc. that, if anything, adds to the flavor. I could envision a time when we add a little mealworm or cricket powder to almost everything we eat, allowing us to cut back significantly on more expensive and wasteful (and some would say unethical**) proteins.

 

Where do we go from here? My plan is to keep evangelizing entomophagy. Practicing a little of what I preach, I’ve been growing mealworms in the basement now for over a year. My next move will be to see if I can grow enough to meet my protein needs for a week. I’ll also do some experimenting with organic side streams (mostly our erstwhile compost) as feed, to see if I can get decent mealworm growth with nary an ounce of high-grade feed. In agriculture, I see a lot of potential in indoor vertical farming, especially with advances in solar power, LED lighting, lithium battery, and other technologies); entomophagy fits right in with this (imagine taking old abandoned warehouses in places like Detroit and Baltimore and turning them into beautiful farms).

Want to grow your own mealworms (GYOM)? Or start your own insect factory? Or maybe travel to developing countries to see how you can help with entomophagy projects there? If you’re interested in getting involved in entomophagy in any capacity, check out the great resources below.

Warning: A lot of insects are great to eat, but don’t just go out grabbing insects willy nilly and eating them. Some insects are poisonous. Some insects carry pathogens. And some insects may contain pesticides.  

Entomophagy Resources

Organizations Working With Entomophagy in Developing Countries:

  • MightI: “Aims to use robust, multidisciplinary research to investigate ways edible insects can contribute to sustainable food security and improved health and well-being globally. Our vision is to generate applied research on edible insects that has the potential to improve lives and protect our precious environmental resources.”
  • Flying Food Project: “Aims at rearing and eating crickets as a delicious, affordable and healthy solution for malnutrition.”
  • Aspire: “To celebrate, innovate, and advance responsible farming and healthy eating of insects. We will continue to research and invest in sustainable insect farming practices to bring this protein alternative to market.”

A Small Sampling of Companies Raising Insects or Selling Insect Products in the United States and Canada:

  • Aspire: “We raise food-grade crickets on a commercial scale, and are actively working to normalize the consumption of insects in the western world.”
  • Tiny Farms: “To enable adoption of insects as a source of sustainable alternative protein, Tiny Farms Inc. applies designs thinking, IoT, and automation to build smart, easily scalable farming systems.”
  • Mad Agriculture: “We harness the nutrient recycling abilities of insects to turn food waste into a protein rich feed supplement so we can be less dependent on unsustainable ingredients like fishmeal and soy.”
  • C-fu Foods: “A new approach to protein that comes from a more sustainable source, insects. Through our innovative process we’ve created a healthy meat replacement that helps you create culinary staples like burgers, schnitzel, or nuggets.

DIY Insect Farming:

  • A series of videos detailing how to start a mealworm farm
  • Third Millennium Farming: Small-scale cricket farms
  • Open Bug Farm: From the Tiny Farms folks, open source instructions for building mealworm farms
  • Livin Farms: Countertop mealworm farms. Looks sleek and high tech, but fairly spendy at $649. Harvest over a pound of mealworms a week.

Articles, Books, and Videos on Entomophagy:

 

*I’m hopeful that, just as with the Millennium Development Goals, we can work together to achieve the even more ambitious Sustainable Development Goals, which call for ending hunger and extreme poverty by 2030.

**We know pigs and cows and chickens experience consciousness and pain and suffering. Do insects feel? Here’s an interesting disquisition on that. Insects may have a form of consciousness, but probably do not feel pain as we define it.

A Quarter a Day

Food is a problem for a good chunk of the planet. There are over 800 million undernourished people in the world, and millions more that have other forms of malnutrition. According to Mark Bittman, the problem is more one of poverty than of a lack of food. Maybe this is true, but almost all of the potential agricultural land on the planet is currently in use (with an enormous toll on the environment), and with a growing population and complications from climate change, it will be harder to produce enough food to meet the world’s needs.

National Geographic currently has an ongoing series called The Future of Food, and in the November 2014 issue, there’s a blurb with some interesting facts. They mention bug eating as part of the solution to hunger.* Additionally, it only costs a quarter a day to give a child a school meal with enough for leftovers. So that would be about 0.002% of the annual U.S. budget to end hunger in the world? Seems worth it.

The good news is that, largely thanks to the UN Millennium Development Goals, hunger is dropping quickly worldwide. And, with the follow-up to the MDG, Sustainable Development Goals, the plan is to effectively end extreme poverty and hunger by 2030. There is some skepticism about these goals, but that shouldn’t deter us from trying. Imagine what an incredible human accomplishment this would be.

 

*I’ve had some involvement with the idea of entomophagy. My colleagues and I calculated the amount of land potentially required to meet the caloric needs of the world’s undernourished via insects, and it’s astonishingly small. Our paper was published in the Ecology of Food and Nutrition journal, and I’ll have more details on it in a future post.

 

Soil Yourself

As visitors to the Cottage are aware, we like to get dirty. Another thing we like is the potential that crowdsourced science has to rapidly improve our knowledge. Here’s an opportunity to combine the two. The Natural Products Discovery Group is offering free soil collection kits, which they will then analyze for fungal compounds that may have medical uses.

Wouldn’t it be great if these guys were also looking at all the bacteria and other microbes in the soil samples? A database like this could help elucidate many of the ecosystem functions that soil microorganisms serve (with agricultural and climate change implications), as well as many potential non-medical uses for millions of unstudied compounds. But, hey, it’s a start.

I got mine – get yours!

Relative Understanding

lorentz transformation

If you understand this equation, this post is not for you.

I’m not much of an aural learner, so in college I generally didn’t garner much from lectures. In physics, I made it to class about three times (five, if you count the exams), preferring to learn from the textbook. The professor was incredibly dry, but he was a smart guy. At one point, after one of the few classes I attended, I asked him if he could explain relativity to me.

“If a ten foot ladder is traveling at the speed of light, and it flies through an eight foot barn, the whole thing will be inside the barn at once.”

Earlier, in high school, my physics teacher had attempted to explain relativity:

“If you went on a trip into space and traveled close to the speed of light, when you arrived back on Earth, everybody you know would be dead and gone.”

After college, my cousin’s girlfriend tried to explain it to me:

“If there’s a clock orbiting the Earth, it measures time more slowly relative to a clock on the surface.”

OK, I was getting a little closer to understanding what happens, but not why it happened. When I asked Neil deGrasse Tyson about relativity,* he showed a picture of how gravity bends the spacetime continuum:spacetime

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This gave me a better visual understanding of how relativity works. Gravity bends the spacetime continuum, thus slowing time down relative to areas of less gravity. So, if we were in space looking at a clock on the surface of the Earth, that clock would appear to be ticking slower. Conversely, standing on Earth, if we were to look at a clock floating in space, it would appear to be sped up.

But, as it turns out, this is only part of the picture. What Neil showed me was a representation of general relativity, which Einstein posited 100 years ago. Not that I understand much of what he was saying, but it was fun to read it in Einstein’s own words. The relativity of time due to gravity is called gravitational time dilation. But it doesn’t address the three explanations I had over the years of what relativity is – in fact, it seems to contradict my cousin’s girlfriend (blast you, Melanie!).

That’s because general relativity is different from special relativity. Why didn’t anybody tell me there were two different kinds of this shit?** Special relativity, introduced by Einstein 110 years ago, deals with all that velocity stuff. My professors and Melanie were talking about special relativity. According to this, time is also relative depending on the velocity (relative, of course) of an object. This is called relative velocity time dilation. If you have two clocks and you throw one, the moving clock will tick less time off than the stationary one. Relative velocity time dilation explains why a guy traveling close to the speed of light will find that all of his friends and family have long since turned to dust when he returns from his space trip***; and it also explains why a clock orbiting the Earth tells time slower than a clock on Earth (good job, Melanie!). The fact that the orbiting clock is moving faster than the clock on Earth outweighs the opposite effect of gravitational time dilation (depending on how fast it’s going, relatively). In fact, the cosmonaut Sergei Avdeyev has aged about 20 milliseconds less than the rest of us, due to his time zooming around the Earth at about 7.7 km/s on the International Space Station – he has, in a sense, traveled forward in time. Personally, I’m going to run everywhere I go now, to slow aging (that should add a nanosecond or two to my life relative to the rest of you slouches).

Another component of special relativity is length contraction.**** This means that a relatively fast-moving object will be shorter than it was at rest. This explains the ladder-in-the-barn trick, I guess. But it’s all about perspective, right? If you’re on the ladder, shouldn’t the barn seem smaller? (Whoops, just saw that this is called the ladder paradox and that I’m suffering from the mistaken assumption of absolute simultaneity – simultaneity is also relative.) OK, well, at the speed of light, does everything seem infinitesimal to an observer? Maybe photons are just ladders and space travelers and universes and whatnot zipping past and through us all the time.

So where does this all leave me? Relatively lost still. Why does gravity bend spacetime? How the hell does gravity even work? Why does time move more slowly the faster one goes (relative to a stationary observer)? Magic, of course – Bill O’Reilly and I can agree on that.***** I guess I’ll have to be content accepting what smarter people than I have figured out – if I can’t wrap my mind around four dimensions, how am I going to do with ten or 26 dimensions?

 

*OK, I didn’t ask him so much as watch one of his shows. And, just as Neil himself has a fallible memory, mine may be misremembering the actual host of the show, but it’s nice to think that it was Neil.

**Well, they probably did but, y’know, the whole aural learning thing. My wife needs to draw me diagrams to get me to remember to feed the kids when she’s gone.

***What if, relative to a third object (say, a distant planet), the space traveler is actually not moving at all, but the Earth and the distant planet are moving apart at almost the speed of light? Is it not then the Earth moving close to the speed of light, relative to the space traveler, so wouldn’t the Earthlings be aging more slowly? Does the space guy need to return to Earth (necessitating even faster travel relative to the distant planet) to realize his slower aging? Ahh, I guess this is called the twin paradox, and apparently I’m using an incorrect naïve interpretation of time dilation and relativity – somehow relativity of simultaneity and length contraction and separate inertial frames come into play, and this goes beyond my ability to comprehend. But it does seem dependent on the space traveler making the return trip, right?

****To tie this in with my last post, one might also call this shrinkage.

*****Neil deGrasse Tyson, not so much.