Archive for March, 2013

Microlivestock

Each day your average well-nourished adult human being consumes approximately 70 grams of protein. For a large part of the world’s population obtaining this much protein can be quite problematic with protein deficiency or kwashiorkor affecting significant parts of the developing world. Perhaps microlivestock are the answer?

Invertebrates are already consumed by large numbers of people. Interestingly we are quite happy to eat aquatic invertebrates such as crabs, octopuses, squid, lobsters, mussels and oysters but recoil in horror (unless we are Bear Grylls) at the prospect of consuming terrestrial invertebrates. Some people don’t have this luxury.

More than 2000 species of invertebrates are used as food by humans worldwide. Their consumption can provide significant amounts of animal protein, especially during difficult periods of the year when fish and game are scarce. Invertebrates provide 60% of the animal protein consumed during the rainy season by the Guajivos Amerindians of Venezuela. Among the Tukanoan Indians of Colombia, insects and other small invertebrates provide up to 12% of the animal protein in men’s diets and 26% in women’s diets during the early months of the rainy season.

Over 50 different species of caterpillars are known to be eaten in Africa. The caterpillars are highly sought after to supplement the traditional cereal-based diet. Nutrient analysis of caterpillars in Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) revealed 63–65 g protein, and 457 kilocalories per 100 g of dried caterpillars. Most species are an excellent source of iron, with 100 g providing on average 335% of the recommended daily requirement.

Harvesting and marketing of caterpillars is a viable enterprise for rural communities. A study in Malawi showed that caterpillar collection generated a higher income than maize, bean and groundnut production, and did not directly compete for labour with these existing agricultural enterprises. Similarly, in northern Zambia incomes from caterpillar harvesting are higher than incomes from the sale of agricultural crops.

At present, invertebrates are mostly gathered from the wild, rather than farmed. This strategy takes advantage of a highly abundant and renewable resource. Wild invertebrates are available to all sections of the population, particularly the rural poor, and collecting them for consumption or sale in local markets involves minimal inputs.

Insects are generally more efficient than vertebrates at converting food to body mass. They do not need to use food to keep warm (being poikilothermic, or cold blooded), reproduce much more rapidly, occupy less space, use less water and produce less greenhouse gas. As an example, mealworms produce between ten and a hundred times less greenhouse gas per kilogram than pigs. Furthermore, compared to cattle or pigs, insects produce significantly less ammonia, which can cause acidification and eutrophication of water.

See: http://www.fao.org/docrep/meeting/022/mb390e.pdf, which contained much of the information used in this post.

For those who want to take this further check out the recipes at http://edibug.wordpress.com/.  You will find oatmealworm cookies, cabbage, peas ‘n’ crickets, bee-lt sandwich, waxworm tacos, deep fried scorpion, and caterpillars with groundnut sauce. Personally, I have always been partial to the odd wichity grub. And before you ask, “No, they don’t taste like chicken. More like boiled egg really”.

Dr. F. Bunny

 

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High As A Kite

If sport isn’t your thing (See “Be A Sport”) there is no shortage of alternative ways to discharge your inner caveman and release some of that pent up aggression.

Recently I saw the Offspring in concert. Being a seasoned headbanger, with the arthritic neck to prove it, I expected this would be no different: a bunch of longhairs sporting assorted metal oriented T-shirts bouncing up and down on the spot driving themselves into a whiplash inducing frenzy while their ears bled. Punk, it seems, is different, although the Offspring brand of punk bears little resemblance to what the Sex Pistols spewed out in the seventies. I was introduced to the circle pit, a spot on the floor that magically appears once the band takes the stage. People take it in turns to throw themselves into this space, aiming to collide with other people who are simultaneously hurling themselves into the space from the opposite side of the circle. They then rebound off each other back into the crowd, catch their breath and do it all again. The number and frenzy of the collisions accelerates dramatically whenever a song chorus is played. At the end of the night everyone is dripping with sweat, and sporting assorted bruises and massive smiles.

While, on this occasion, I decided to remain a circle pit observer I am certainly no stranger to extreme exertion for its own sake. As Metallica said, “It don’t feel good until it hurts”. I have embarked on “fun” runs, completed a Tough Mudder and currently beat myself senseless a couple of times a week at Krav Maga (a form of street fighting developed by the Israeli military, so you know it’s going to be crazy). The bizarre thing is that after having crawled in the mud under barbed wire, hauled myself over a range of unnecessary obstacles, faced fears that don’t exist in normal life (like jumping off a 15 foot platform into a bottomless lake) and punched and kicked my way through an hour of Israeli insanity I feel incredibly happy, satisfied and more than ready to do it again. Why?

I suppose there is a certain satisfaction in emerging from my comfort zone, knowing I can overcome whatever obstacles and challenges are placed in front of me. But it is more than that. Exercise releases endorphins which act like morphine to decrease pain perception and induce a state of euphoria. However, unlike morphine, endorphins do not lead to addiction, unless you count the need to do it all again. Exercise, presumably through the release of endorphins, reduces stress, boosts self-esteem, improves sleep, decreases feelings of depression and bolsters the cardiovascular system. This system is another one that is evolutionarily hard wired into us. Because endorphins reduce pain and the release of inflammatory chemicals we are able to work out harder and longer, thereby improving our chances of escaping that charging mammoth.

In fact I can see one coming now.

Dr. F. Bunny

 

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What’s Up Doc?

I pity us poor veterinarians. It seems every other profession has managed to come up with some sort of scam designed solely to increase business and profits. The accountants invented GST and quarterly BAS statements to keep themselves busy four times a year, instead of just at tax time. Electricians came up with test and tag. What a waste of time and money that is! I had one test and tag my desk lamp at work. It passed his inspection and was awarded its little tag, even though the lamp was completely non-functional! Veterinarians, on the other hand, invent ways to put themselves out of business. After recommending for years that dogs and cats be vaccinated annually researchers have now discovered that the vaccines are so effective that they only need to be given once every three years.

You won’t find the medicos making that sort of mistake. They obviously subscribe to the “no man gets left behind” philosophy because, no matter what the problem is, the GP must be involved. My daughter fell off her horse and injured her wrist. Instead of seeing the appropriate specialist we had to attend the GP, who gave us a “note” which allowed us to then see the specialist. When I broke my nose I also wasn’t allowed to see the ear, nose and throat (ENT) guy without first getting my “note”. Interestingly the “note” was only valid for 12 months. So, after a year I had to get another referral from the GP, even though I was an ongoing ENT patient. The GP, who is actually a marvellous fellow, was concerned about my cholesterol, so I had it checked. It came back a touch high and he suggested a repeat in four months. Four months later I tried to book it in, but still had to get my “note” from the GP first, before they would consent to take my blood.

It seems to me that GPs spend more time these days writing referrals than they do actual medical work, and they are virtually impossible to contact. When was the last time you rang up the doctor’s surgery and actually spoke to the doctor? Not so the veterinary clinic where you will always be able to speak to the veterinarian, unless he has his arm up a cow somewhere. And I can take my little Fluffy-wuffykins straight to the veterinary ophthalmologist to get the grass seed taken out of his eye, without first getting my “note” from the regular veterinarian.

Dr. F. Bunny

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Speaking In Tongues

I have a friend who is a truly prodigious linguist. I have no natural flair for languages, while he picks them up like the morning paper. He has a knack for detecting common threads that run through different languages, similarities in grammar, vocabulary, etc. that seem to make it relatively straightforward for him to gain at least a rudimentary working knowledge of almost any language. Even more importantly, he seems to enjoy it. Years ago I gave him a dictionary that translated Norwegian into Sami (the local language spoken by the indigenous people of northern Norway) and back again. He absolutely loved it even though he could not speak either language at the time. Now he is very likely proficient in both.

Having such a love of languages he is also understandably passionate about the dwindling ones, of which there are many (See UNESCO’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/culture/themes/endangered-languages/atlas-of-languages-in-danger/). Here, unfortunately, our opinions differ. Certainly one of the most difficult things about travel is the fact that there are so many different languages and communication can at times be extremely challenging. Having said that, one of the most exciting and interesting things about travel is the fact that there are so many different languages and communication can at times be extremely challenging. Many of my after dinner stories contained the Florentine waitress doing chicken impersonations over the restaurant menu, or my own choo choo noises in Croatia to help me find the railway station. And how much fun was the restaurant in Costa Rica where we pointed at random items on the menu and marvelled at the fact that each dish seemed to contain some form of seafood? We found out later that it was, in fact, a seafood restaurant.

So, I will admit to a small twinge of disappointment at the thought of a language disappearing forever. But surely language was created to facilitate communication between people? If that language no longer performs that function because far more people speak English than Taushiro (a language spoken in Peru by only one person, which must make conversation exceedingly difficult), then who are we to try and stop its extinction? If the native speakers themselves have no more use for it then why keep it alive for its own sake? I am sure it was a pity when the last gong farmer (someone who dug human faeces out of cesspits for disposal) and pinsetter (someone who set the pins back up in bowling alleys after they had been knocked over) disappeared, but we no longer have need of their particular skills. Even English itself has changed radically over the years, but who wants to go back to “thee”, “thou” and “hast”?

As the world becomes increasingly more homogenised it seems inevitable that the number of actively spoken languages will decline, until we are left with a few, or possibly even just the one language. While that will certainly facilitate trade and commerce it will also make the world just a little duller and greyer. Never again will I be able to buy a Greek phrase book telling me that my “handbags are in the net” or sit in a Thai airplane informing me that there is a “live vest under the seat.”

Dr. F. Bunny

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Be A Sport

Imagine being paid a six figure sum each year to roll around in the mud and chase a piece of leather. This is how former AFL footballer Justin Madden described his career. Never mind six figures. What about all those guys being paid millions to chase bits of rubber and leather about? This madness reaches its pinnacle with Cristiano Ronaldo, who is paid twelve million euros per year to follow a ball around and occasionally kick it into a net. Have these people spent years studying at university? Do they hold the lives of millions, or even one person, in their hands every time they perform their jobs? They are paid more than orthopaedic surgeons, politicians and nuclear physicists to do what the rest of us do for fun and for free. And why? Because we love to watch them do it.

Why do we even care if one arbitrarily chosen team scores more points or goals or whatever than another arbitrarily chosen team? Why do our moods and sometimes our entire lives hinge on these sporting results which, if they go the wrong way, can provoke us into immediate and insane violence? There is absolutely nothing depending on the outcome of these contests or even if these contests occur (we all seemed to survive the recent NHL lockout). And yet, even I am not immune. One of the greatest days of my life (falling just behind the birth of my children) came many years ago when my football team scored an upset one point victory against a rival much more highly fancied team. I lost my voice and nearly exploded with excitement when the siren went. Why? As Bear Grylls said, “If you have to ask, you will never understand” (Mud, Sweat and Tears).

When I think about it objectively I really can’t explain it. I know, deep down, that it doesn’t matter but I still can’t help feeling devastated when things go wrong and gloat mercilessly when they go right. I assume it is some kind of tribalism, some kind of group bonding pitting my group against your group. I felt the same thing while playing. Suddenly guys you wouldn’t give the time of day to if you met them on the street were your best mates, to be defended and supported to the death. Bizarre, but it generated an incredible sense of camaraderie, in supporters as well as players, which just wouldn’t exist if you didn’t have a common enemy.

Many people denigrate sport because it generates a primitive tribal aggression amongst its adherents. And they would be right. Most sports are, after all, played by males. However, isn’t this kind of ritual aggression better than the real thing? In this day and age when, thankfully, fewer and fewer of us are called upon to go to war to defend our tribe all those evolutionarily hard wired traits are still there, and they need some kind of outlet. If men cannot indulge in the whimsy of sport then all that testosterone will spill onto the streets outside pubs after closing time.

Until the last of my testosterone leaks out of my testicles I will continue to convince myself that the support of my football club is essential to the existence of the world and that nothing could be better than to defeat the hated enemy. Go Blues!!

Dr. F. Bunny

All that whingeing about the weather must have worked. We just had an entire month’s rainfall in two days. At least the water tanks are full.

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