Thursday, December 18, 2008

Cool new acquisition: Nsenene!

A couple days ago I drove about an hour and bought nine bags of African grasshoppers.
I’d learned in October that a Ugandan community gets a shipment of grasshoppers in December. I knew that I'd want some of them, but I didn’t want to drive all that way for nothing. Since I’d lost the business card from my first visit, it was time for some internet research to find the right number to confirm that the product was available. As usual the calls were circuitous, amusing, and ultimately successful.

I was told the price-per-bag but not the size or weight of a bag; this made the information meaningless. I wondered what the unit price, per-pound or kilo, would be. I figured that since the immigrant community was probably not very wealthy, the item would not be very expensive. Yet the product arrived only once or twice a year, and I was pretty sure that it had a lot of sentimental value as a taste of the homeland.

I arrived in the city and achieved my goal within 15 minutes. The bags were disappointingly small. I spent roughly the sum I'd planned to, but the amount of product was miniscule. I’m not sharing how much I spent, since it’s already easy for people to decide that I’m crazy. Some would say I’m making a big deal out of a modest amount of money, while others would be amazed at how much I spent. The little bags make a pleasant pile on the kitchen table.

Don’t they look like shrimp?

The important part is to find out what insects taste like, and in the bigger picture to understand how people can feed themselves within harmony with nature. I’m getting a taste of a market in Kampala. I’m increasing my stock-in-trade.

They’re called Nsenene, which I suspect is onomatopoeic in origin. Since pronunciation counts: say “NnnnnnSEH-neh-nay.” The word is spoken quickly, as though the syllables are running out of your mouth.

Googling the name, I found several helpful sites, mostly blogs of those who’d had Ugandan experiences. All described how the insects are caught and processed: legs and wings are removed. Few of the sites included a binomial, and most that did listed Ruspolia nitidula. I was/am curious to know if there's something similar here in the U.S.. When I checked Bugguide I found the genus Neoconocephalus, which features several very similar looking species. I figured out two useful things: first, nsenene are katydids, not grasshoppers. This is good to know. Second, it's the mass movements of nsenene that makes for relatively easy harvesting during the season; this is not the case for the American version of this kind of katydid. But there's always the Mormon cricket, a species of large, flightless katydid in the American West. They were routinely mass-harvested by American Indians. But since nsenene are so tasty, I'm wondering if they -- or something just like them -- could be farmed...

When I cooked a few [or simply warmed them, actually, on aluminum foil in the toaster-oven] they turned a reddish golden-brown.

Two friends had come by and were up for a tasting, though they were a bit hesitant:

Of course I had one myself, though I didn't get around to shooting that. All of us proclaimed them very tasty indeed. They’re surprisingly buttery on their own, and taste like a cross between chicken, shrimp, and croutons.

And there’s some other intriguing developments [which as you loyal and patient readers will know by now is nothing new.]

I’m speaking with the great and noble Steven of Louisiana about the potential for starting an insect-rearing facility in his area.
I’ve contacted a researcher in stinkbug propagation, and it might be possible for me to get a supply of these insects.
I’m hard at work on the reprinting of the Food Insects Newsletter. Right now I’m constructing the various indices, which is less fun than when I'd started.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

It's pretty much winter, so....

I won’t be hunting insects for a while. I got less this past summer than I had in 2007; some ants and a few interesting things in Louisiana, but not as much as I’d have liked. I spent two very intense months filming a TV program, did roughly 35 library presentations, taught a summer composition class, and had other responsibilities. I stopped posting entries partly because I felt overworked and stressed. Not that I'm complaining, really -- I like being busy.

Future entries will likely continue the different directions my company is going in. I haven’t decided whether it’s better to expand my stock of exotic edible insects or to increase supplies of the species that can be more easily cultivated. Whether to concentrate on developing the educational aspects or product generation. What about that whole ‘office space’ idea, can that possibly be smart? And then there’s the important progress toward gathering the literature and creating a community.

All of these have great potential value, and as I’ve mentioned I’m just one guy. Figuring out how best to spend my energies isn’t easy. New development frequently arise, any of which could bring great success. It could be communication with someone in China or Mexico who says he wants to export insects and is looking for sources, or a journalist writing an article [I just found a new one today], or something else. But I’m not going to include every lead when the vast majority of them end up going nowhere.

Got to get the camera back out; more pictures needed.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Back From The Dead

Meaning, this blog is. I’ve remained busy with my work throughout the summer and fall, and I’ll indulge an impulse to list my doings thus far in ’08 [this list is far longer than any from previous years, yet it’s probably incomplete]:

1/16: Banquet for the Gastronauts (exotic foods group), New York NY
2/10: New York Times Article (Sunday Magazine Section)
2/13: Colbert Report (aired same day)
2/19-2/21: FAO Conference, Chiang Mai, Thailand
2/28: Interview, Jay Thomas Show, Sirius Radio
3/2: Birthday party, Boston MA
3/6: Interview, Newport Mercury
3/21: ESA Conference, Liverpool NY
The Bryant Park Project [NPR program]
3/27: Appearance on One Guest [WGBH channel] Boston MA
4/17: Library program, Braintree MA
4/20: Cook-out in Southern Illinois
5/08: Discover Magazine article
5/25: Cooking contest in Richmond VA.
6/9: Time Magazine article
6/16: G Word program [on the Planet Green channel] (aired on 10/1/08)
6-7/08: Animal Planet program (air date TBD)
7-8/08: 35 gigs at various Libraries in RI and CT
8/08: Cooking contest in Philadelphia PA
9/08: RI Monthly article
9/12: Cultivating Life (PBS program), Portsmouth RI
9/16: Science Café presentation, Raleigh NC
9/21: BugFest, Raleigh NC
9/27: Birthday party, Exeter CT
10/2: The Tyra Banks Show (air date TBA), New York NY
11/14: Brown Daily Herald article, Providence RI
11/15: Birthday party, North Providence RI

As for updates regarding my endeavors:

I’m looking into getting an intern, and office space;

engaged in republishing the old issues of The Food Insect Newsletter [more on this
as it develops];

starting a conversation about founding an insect farm in one of the Southern states;

hard at work on a book about my progress from eccentric to creator-of-solutions;

continuing to expand my stock [I’ve been getting several new kinds of bugs];

and other stuff….

I’ve also been corresponding with a lot of people, so many that I couldn’t include them all so I’ll mention two promising contacts: Mr. Bart Hogebrink of the Netherlands regarding his very exciting project: and the Fourth Grade class of Ms. Deanna Lengyel in Oakley, California. I hope to continue dialogues with both parties, because either [or both] could change the world.

Mr. Hogebrink intends to create a factory to make insect foods and feed the hungry. The students of Ms. Lengyel’s class seem fascinated with the idea of what edible insects could represent. THIS is why I’m in the edible-insect business! The next challenge is to post more frequently…

Monday, June 16, 2008

Playing Catch-up

A lot has gone on and doing it all has kept me too busy [and a bit exhausted] to blog. First, I won the cook-off!! David George Gordon was a worthy opponent, but somehow his orthopteran orzo, tarantula tempura, and 'Centi-pasta' couldn't stack up to my own three dishes, at least in the judges' consideration. It was a great day and a wonderful first visit to Richmond, a funky city I'd never been to. I can recommend Croaker's highly.

Then I went to my college reunion and saw a lot of folks for the first time in many years. Immediately after that my family drove me to NYC and left me there, at the Gershwin Hotel. The next day we started shooting for this Animal Planet show, and then the day after that we flew to Louisiana. Started filming here and there, having adventures. It's been amazing, and some day the show will air. For right now though I'm a bit too busy actually living the dream to blog a whole lot of details about it!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Time for Waxworms

I'm in Richmond VA now, one of two insect 'chefs' engaged in a gentle version of Iron Chef. My competitor is David George Gordon, well-known entomophagist and author of [among other works] the Eat-A-Bug Cookbook. We'll see how I'll do against him; I MUST post coverage of this event in a prompt fashion, and that will include images of our dishes.

The crucial part of this to note is that I'll be working with waxworms (Galleria mellonella). Various people had told me how good they are, but between the crickets and the exotic items I get in, I hadn't made time for waxworms. Now that I have, though, there's no looking back.

As usual, they're not worms but larvae -- caterpillars, in fact, and their adult form is a small, nondescript moth. The name comes from the fact that the caterpillars consume beeswax! They're a pest for beekeepers, but a real treat for frogs, lizards, and people.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Big Ants 2008!

It's True. The Great Penny came through for the second year in a row!! Her weekend off from work coincided with a thunderstorm or two in Southern Texas, and she was able to gather a mess of queen leaf-cutter ants. In fact she included [on her livejournal] a description of what she had to do in order to get them, and I'm most grateful.

The difference between last year and this one is that she's gotten a little tired of waiting for me to send her some 'authentic' Colombian-prepared ants, and decided to throw an ant-tasting party of her own. I'll still send her some of the pre-packaged sort, really I will, but it's fantastic that she and her friends went ahead and ate their own.

Have a look for yourselves:

This is just the kind of thing I'd like to see others doing. These good people found out that yes, insects can be very tasty. It's time that others learned the same.
I'll let you all know when the ants arrive.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Bread and Vodka (and new friends)

Among the several new projects at SLS are two that have me working with new colleagues!

The first is insect flour. I'd worked with it a few years ago and wanted to do more with it. This speaks to the question of, "is it okay to transform the insect as part of processing it into food, or is that 'selling out?'" For a while I was against 'hiding' the bugs, but I've come to realize that if people are aware and content to benefit nutritionally, environmentally, etc from the experience of eating insects, that's what matters. Besides, it's good to meet people half-way. If eating a slice of toast (ground-up insect and all) is easier than chomping on an entire insect body, then why not help the people out in that regard?

The process is simple: take your thawed crickets out and dry/toast them in the oven. Then grind into flour.

A couple weeks ago I dropped off the flour at Liberty Elm Diner at 777 Elmwood Avenue in the glorious city of Providence. Liberty Elm is a relatively new establishment and they're multo cool -- not just because they're willing to bake with insect flour. Their food is great, they've got live music, and they're friendly and wiki-enabled. You can learn more about them at

Here's the flour and what we made with it.

In fact the diner's baker made the wheat-flour/potato bread both with and without the cricket flour, for comparison's sake. The dark one contains the cricket flour; it was also quite a bit denser. I'm mildly embarrassed to say that I don't yet know exactly how she worked that recipe -- how much flour was called for, and how much cricket flour was used, and did the latter simply replace the usual flour or was added to? Questions like these need answering, but the more important details are that the cricket rolls were very tasty, with a sort of parmesan cheese taste to them; AND that even though the rolls were not officially on the menu, several people ordered and paid for them! Most cool. With a little more effort I could help Providence reach the forefront of entomophagic cities in this country...

The other project: BOOZE!

I am fortunate enough to be in contact with the illustrious Baron Ambrosia, who creates some pretty amazing stuff in NYC. He's classy, enthusiastic, and he excells at staying presposterous. You can get a taste -- nay, a banquet! -- at

I have no images yet, just this link to the episodes of Underbelly. As can be seen upon a perusal thereof, each of the episodes concludes with the proclamation, "Stay Preposterous!!" From what I can tell he's all about the high life, and to that end he's got some very interesting ideas about capturing the essence of insects [particularly the giant water bugs, for example] in distilled spirits such as vodka. This is just the kind of thing I want to work with, since it's another way of making the concept of entomophagy a viable option. But in terms of the Baron himself, there is a good deal more going on.

Granted, at first blush it looks like he's only playing around, there's a serious message too. The Baron has filmed not only in the gritty 'first-world' of The Bronx, but in Liberia and Sierra Leone as well. He and his crew plan to visit Somalia and Chechnya in the coming year. When I asked him about his predilection for travelling to places wherein he's likely to have his ass shot off, he said something like, "The Baron loves the world. I want to do things the other shows won't do, which is to show how beautiful people really are." Granted this was a telephone conversation, so I can't claim to quote verbatim, but the gist is that in the service of humanity there is no danger to fear. I was moved. And I look forward to working with him.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Finally: Two important links!!

Hey there, everyone.

Although these things happened about two months ago, and though all of my friends have found them already through simple Google searches, here's the links to those two milestones:

the New York Times article of 2/10/08, written by the great Sam Nejame:

and, following the above, my 2/13/08 guest appearance on The Colbert Report:

Maybe it's just taken me this long to get used to the idea that these things have really happened. That said, though, it's not like they've propelled my little company into any stratospheres of prominence and/or success. Yet. But they have been efficacious. My webmaster tracked the "bumps" in the hits, and suchlike marketing details.

More big things ahead...

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Thailand II

The first insects I had eaten were in the evening market on Sunday, the first day I'd gotten into CM. The mixed bag was about 60 cents U.S. and contained six kinds of insect. They were all pretty good, but a few kinds were delicious.

I'd bought them at this table; there was only one such vendor at the market that late afternoon.

I'm aware that pictures like this are kind of a tacky standard subject for foreign tourists, and I felt a little strange shooting away like this, just as if I was some gawker. But I tried each kind of insect and then bought a second bag for later, and some of these were very tasty. For my money, the best of all were the BIG grasshoppers.

The conference,

Edible Forest Insects: Humans Bite Back

took place on a Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday. Presentations took up the first day, and that evening there was a banquet of sorts. The main courses were beef, pork, chicken, and fish; before these dishes were many insects. I tried all of them.

The Bamboo Caterpillars

and grasshoppers were among the best. Unlike most of the other conference-attendees, I tried all of the insects on offer, though several of them weren't fantastic:

Of these, the ones in the lower right quadrant -- the bedraggled sphinx moth, the rhinoceros beetle, and the longhorn beetle cut off by the edge of the image -- were pretty bad. The Giant Water Bug also was disappointing. But the large crickets (genus Brachytrupes) in the upper right area, and the house crickets on the left side of the plate, were quite good, as were the two varieties specified already. After finishing the great majority of this plate I will admit that I was ready for the vertebrate selections that evening.

The second day consisted of a driving tour full of stops related to the development of insects in one application or another, but mostly as foods. We went to an insect zoo; a cricket farm; a bee farm; and another market -- where I sampled some deep-fried scorpion.

One of the 39 cricket pits housed in an unwalled area the size of a four-car garage -- a concrete circle a meter across and half as high. It's a self-contained cricket utopia (except for the part about being harvested as food, but then the crickets themselves never know about that part). There's plenty of hiding places, food [chicken feed], and water [two plastic water-bottles laid on their sides, with paper towels out of the holes punched to let the capillary action draw the moisture up for the insects to drink -- brilliant in its simplicity!] There's even a handy laying-tray with the right kind of substrate: coconut husks and potting soil. The eggs can hatch in a new pit and thereby start off the next generation. Seven weeks later, harvest time.

The scorpion (Heterometrus spinifer, looks a lot like the emperor scorpion that's a somewhat-popular pet choice among certain circles here in the U.S.) didn't have a lot of real flavor, but the texture of the exoskeleton was unique, and a fairly pleasant eating experience. But it was hardly as much fun to eat as some already mentioned items.

The last day included some papers (including mine, which went pretty well) and group meetings.
Afterward I hit the night-markets, as I'd done several times by then. The next two days were spent with new friends on a driving tour -- we drove Northwest-ish from Chiang Mai towards Myanmar, and stayed at the Cave Lodge. It was amazing: a large cave with thorough tours, a five-minute walk from the Lodge.

Best of all: after the tour, we lay ourselves on the dry riverbed and watched the hundreds of thousands of cave swifts speeding through the evening air, back to their perches in the cave. Spectacular!! The shots I took didn't do them justice, but a charming Montrealean named Madga sent me some video she had shot. If anyone just has to see it, let me know and I'll try to send it to you.

Too soon I had to return to Chiang Mai and fly home, to Bangkok, where I wasn't able to see a thing because I didn't plan it into this trip; then Tokyo, where I had sushi in the airport; and back to Chicago, Boston, then home at last to modest, cozy Providence. I'm looking forward to my next trip to Thailand; we'll have to see how soon I'll be able to go.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

What's going on these days

I'll be posting more about Thailand soon, but for the moment I want to just run through current projects:

I’m trying to be patient during some heavy-duty business negotiations.

Bugstock 3 will take place in rural Louisiana at the end of May: I’m deciding whether I can make it.

I’m trying to write a book, at last, on my life as an entomophagy guy.

I’m busily making cricket flour for baked goods, and a couple days ago I dropped off some at a diner here in Providence. I'm told they'll make some oatmeal raisin cookies with it, and I'm definitely hoping they'll use it in bread as well.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Colbert and then Thailand: Part One

I've been back a little over a week and it's time to start describing my adventures.

Being on The Colbert Report was great, though the interview wasn't quite everything I'd hoped for. A bunch of people had commented that it's too bad he didn't try an insect and I guess that's true. I was nervous and didn't quite live up to my own standards but I had fun, didn't embarrass myself too much, and even made him laugh so that's something. I didn't get my picture taken with him or anything like that, so there's nothing to show you really. At the time I didn't have that starstruck 'must get photo opp with celebrity' thing.

I stayed overnight in Manhattan and managed to do some extra filming with an independent TV maker the next morning. Took the Acela train back and had a few hours in the evening with my family. Finished packing. Left for Logan Airport around 1am [thanks again John!]. Then to a layover in Chicago, where I was smart enough to buy Nyquil. 13 hour flight to Tokyo, then to Bangkok and then Chaing Mai at last. My first time in Asia.

Chiang Mai is a medium-sized city full of bad air, tourists, temples, and street shopping. It never took very long for me to get a little sick of walking the streets yet the city has its charms. Due to my limited world-travel background it was like a different world, though as you can see some things are universal:

The streets were very quiet in the mornings and full at night, even though the days weren't so hot when I was there. Lots of foreign shops, probably for the farangs [tourists]. Lots of everything except urban greenspace.

And then those temples:

But the heck with the scenery: you might want to know whether I ate insects there. Do you think I'm the kind of guy who would eat insects there? THAT will have to wait for the next installment.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

I've Got Representation!

Since I'll be in Thailand for a little while, it would be a shame if those who'd like to talk with me missed out. While I'm away please direct inquiries into me and/or Sunrise Land Shrimp to:

Mike Ritz

Media, contact 617-462-6908 to schedule interviews.



Sunday, February 10, 2008

Some Big News for SLS.

Today there's an article about my work in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. Sam Nejame wrote it and he did a really nice job on it. It arose from an ice cream project I'd done in the Fall, which -- along with a few other subjects, like my wonderful Gastronauts experience and Zack's shipment of bugs from the wilds of Louisiana -- I need to post about. Though the article includes neither my website nor the name of my company, I know that potentially interested parties will be able to locate me well enough.

Other news: I'm to be a featured guest on the Colbert Report this Wednesday, 2/15. That'll be interesting. And I'll be leaving for Thailand on 2/15 for the FAO [Food and Agriculture Office, a branch of the UN] Conference mentioned in the NYT article. I'm looking forward to seeing Thailand; I've never been to South-East Asia before.

Please stay tuned, you wonderfully patient and loyal readers.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Another country heard from

There's a lot of things to talk about, I need to blog them but for the moment here's a thought for the day.

I'm slowly starting to get ready to research the underlying issues and realities around food-production and the ways that entomophagy can fit into a paradigm of living sanely on the planet. This desired research may have to cover a vast amount of territory, including water consumption; efficient conversion of plant foods into edible proteins; the quirks and patterns that shape food preferences and biases; animal flatulence; and stuff like that. The above article is about the loss of topsoil, which I would never have thought was a problem but yup, it seems to be.

More soon.

Friday, January 4, 2008

A New Challenge for the New Year

Greetings Everybody. Happy 'O8.

There are a lot of good challenges facing me and my little company this year and I'll write about them soon. I promise.

For the moment, I've got a challenge for you, especially those of you in or near American cities. As I've mentioned, several small markets here in Providence offer three kinds of insects in the frozen food section. I'd love to hear about what's sold in NYC, or DC, or LA, Chicago, El Paso, Denver, places like that. I just learned about an African market in Burlington VT [not most people's idea of a very diverse part of the country] that sold dried caterpillars or grubs not long ago.

My visits to both Chinatowns [if one can still use that word in this day and age] in New York turned up practically nothing. There was plenty of exotic foods, especially in Flushing, Queens, but nothing in the way of insects. Inquiries went nowhere. The same happened in Boston.

Is it possible that a smaller city like Providence has the bugs but larger cities don't?? Seems really unlikely. It's more likely that I don't know where to look.

I can offer small rewards -- we could easily work out just what that would mean. But just as I need insect hunters to beat the bushes throughout this country and world, so do I need pairs of feet through the aisles of stores here and there.

Whaddaya Say??