DES MOINES, Iowa -- Cultural institutions in the U.S. are facing scrutiny to be more accessible and inclusive.
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The organization in charge of Iowa's main history center is making another attempt to reach all parts of the state. This month, a mobile museum led by the State Historical Society of Iowa began visiting various counties, with more stops planned for August and September.
The pandemic forced the custom-built Winnebago carrying artifacts to stop traveling for more than a year.
Michael Morain, communications manager for the State Historical Society of Iowa, said the project began in 2017, amid calls to boost accessibility for those who are not in a position to visit historical sites.
"Sometimes, history can seem sort of dusty and a little bit distant if we just see an old black and white photograph, or if we just read about it in a magazine article," Morain noted. "But when you see the artifact, it's often easier to put yourselves in the shoes of the people who lived through that chapter of history."
The project works with hosts such as community centers and festivals so that people from all walks of life can be reached. The first tour made 175 stops across all 99 counties, attracting nearly 65,000 visitors.
In light of the racial reckoning, Morain emphasized the historical society is continuing efforts through exhibits at its main site in Des Moines to try to tell a more complete history of Iowa.
"So I think history can help us understand Iowa in a more complex and more interesting way than you can see in a textbook," Morain contended.
He added "Iowa's People and Places" exhibit, which allows some artifacts to go into the mobile museum, represents a more robust telling of the state's history.
By Whitney Bauck for The Guardian.
Broadcast version by Edwin J. Viera for New York News Connection reporting for the Solutions Journalism Network-Public News Service Collaboration
Chef Joseph Yoon is used to people reacting negatively to his creations: he’s watched a child cry when she realized the pumpkin cake in her mouth was made with cricket powder, seen a grown adult spit out his bug-laden bite of food, and endured racist online comments aimed at him for suggesting that scorpions or mealworms are worth eating.
But none of that seems to faze Yoon. If anything, it just reaffirms the importance of his work destigmatizing entomophagy. As the founder of Brooklyn Bugs and a self-described “edible insect ambassador”, Yoon is on a mission to prove that eating bugs is good for the planet – and the palate.
Yoon’s work includes giving presentations everywhere from elementary schools to Harvard, partnering with institutions like the Smithsonian and Nasa on sustainable food initiatives, and occasionally cooking for journalists like me, all in an effort to raise awareness about the planetary benefits and culinary joys of eating bugs.
“I like to share the sense of hope and optimism and to be able to capture people’s imagination through cooking insects,” Yoon said from his kitchen table in Queens over a bite of stir-fried cicadas. “The question is: how do we start changing the perception from insects as pests to something that’s sustainably farmed, nutrient dense and that can add a tremendous amount of flavor to your food?”
Insect consumption has been highlighted by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization as an important tool in addressing food insecurity for a growing global population. And since agriculture is the second-largest greenhouse gas emitter after the energy sector, insect eating presents a compelling climate solution, too – crickets, for example, can provide the same amount of protein as cows for less than 0.1% of the emissions.
Yoon pointed out that people have been eating insects since long before the practice was recognized as a climate win. “There are over 2 billion people in 80% of the world’s nations that are already regularly consuming insects,” he said. But the stigma and yuck factor that persist in many places, including much of the US, are what Yoon is interested in changing.
His approach is to lead with the joy of eating. Learning to enjoy consuming bugs might require some retraining of your palate depending on where you grew up, he said, but we apply that training whenever we try new foods from unfamiliar cultures or admonish our kids to eat veggies.
“There are over 2,000 types of edible insects with wildly different flavor profiles, textures and functionality,” Yoon said. “Take garlic, for comparison. Say someone was like, ‘I love garlic, try a piece raw,’ and you’d never had it before, you’d probably be like, ‘This is really intense, I don’t like this.’ You have to learn to work with the ingredient, to roast it, to saute it … We’re just at the very tip of understanding how to truly work with insect protein.”
So where might the entomophagy-curious get started? And what do all these varieties of bug actually taste like? Yoon and I sat down together over a beautifully plated bug tasting menu served in his home kitchen to dig in to those questions and talk through a few of his go-to insect ingredients.
Crickets: a nutty flavor
“Crickets are commonly referred to as the gateway bug,” Yoon told me, serving up a few different varieties of his homemade kimchi that substitute cricket powder for fish sauce. “I’ve cooked easily over 100 unique dishes with crickets.”
Available in both whole and powdered form, crickets are farmed in indoor settings and given a savory, “nutty” flavor by roasting. Yoon noted that crickets are remarkably versatile – you can add the powder to smoothies, baked goods or hummus to increase the protein content, or use them to form a crunchy crust on fried foods.
Grasshoppers: a savory snack
There are many flavor and texture similarities between grasshoppers and crickets, Yoon said, though grasshoppers tend to be a bit meatier. But the grasshoppers he served me, nestled on a bed of delicately arranged avocado and mango, were something special: they were chapulines, seasoned with lime, chillies and salt. Gathered from Oaxaca, Mexico, these are some of the only insects that are caught outside in specially designated fields, Yoon said.
“These are also sold at [T-Mobile Park] in Seattle, and they sell out of grasshoppers every ball game,” he said of the stadium where the Mariners play. They were so tasty that I found that easy to believe – and they were the first insects I looked into buying for myself after leaving Yoon’s kitchen.
Ants: ‘insect caviar’
Yoon described black ants as “insect caviar” and “almost like Pop Rocks” while sprinkling them as a garnish over soft-boiled quail eggs. Their formic acid content gives black ants a bright, citrusy tang, which is why Yoon uses them in “virtually any application where I want a citrus flavor”, he said, whether that’s a vinaigrette or a cocktail.
Weaver ants, while similar to their ebony counterparts, are bigger and “a little woodsier, with a little bit of a lemon flavor”, said Yoon. They’re particularly popular as an ingredient in chutneys or salsas, he added.
Manchurian scorpions: a shrimp-like taste
Despite being some of the more intimidating-looking critters in his pantry – those stingers! – Manchurian scorpions actually have a rather familiar flavor, Yoon noted. “These are brined in salt and sun-dried. They’re arthropods just like shrimp, so they have a baby-shrimp-esque quality and flavor,” he said. The scorpion he served me was tantalizingly dripping in gochujang, but he said he also enjoys eating scorpions in the form of a dashi stock that combines them with mushrooms and kombu.
Bamboo worms, weevils and wasps: creamy, coconutty, sweet
Bamboo worms, which hail from south-east Asia, aren’t worms at all, but caterpillars that live in bamboo thickets. Yoon said that they’re so mild and creamy that they’re tasty enough to be eaten straight out of the bag.
Another creamy variety is the palm weevil: besides being a low-carbon protein source, palm weevils are also an invasive species that causes damage to palm trees, which is all the more reason to eat them. Yoon served the slightly coconutty critter toasted on a bed of roasted beets with a cricket-powder-infused green goddess dressing and a sprinkling of black ants.
For a different kind of sweetness, look to Japanese wasps. Their flavor “starts a little bit sweet and finishes with this really fascinating minerality,” Yoon said. In Japan, people sometimes add the wasps to sake to infuse the alcohol with their unique flavor.
Mopane worms: pungent and earthy
Popular in Botswana and Zimbabwe, mopane worms are actually the caterpillar form of the emperor moth. Gathered from the mopane tree, they are commonly enjoyed in stews or maize porridges. For the western palate, Yoon recommends using aromatics like onions and garlic to balance their pungent flavor.
Cicadas: a meaty treat
The surprisingly meaty cicadas Yoon served on a bed of rice are “the most buggy” item on the menu: with legs and wings intact, there’s no mistaking them for anything else. But their flavor, enhanced by stir-frying with chillies and garlic, was enjoyable enough that I’d happily eat them again. These specimens were extra-special for a few reasons – first off, Yoon foraged them himself, and second, they were part of last summer’s Brood X emergence, an occurrence that only happens once every 17 years. He also served some cicada kimchi to showcase other ways they can be eaten.
Superworms: nature’s cheese puff
When eaten alone, superworms have a somewhat cheesy flavor that makes them a nice pairing for fruit, Yoon said. Tasting one by itself, I could see what he meant – it was a little like nature’s cheese puff. He then pulled out brownies for dessert that he told me contained both mealworm powder and whole mealworms, which he described as tasting “nutty with a hint of cacao and dried mushrooms,” and though I could sense a bit of a unique crunch, the truth is they just tasted like deliciously chocolatey but otherwise normal brownies.
Yoon laughed. “That’s very commonly the reaction when people try my food. They’re like, ‘Oh, that’s just food.’ It’s not this crazy thing. And that’s really what I’m trying to help people appreciate, so they can see insects as a new ingredient they can integrate into the things they already like to eat.”
Whitney Bauck wrote this article for The Guardian.
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If not for the colonial postal system, newcomers to the frontier soon to be known as New Mexico would not have kept up with relatives to the south in Mexico or those overseas in Spain.
It is National Card and Letter Writing Month, designated by the U.S. Postal Service in 2001 as a way to honor and celebrate the efforts going into the mail service.
Callum Sharp is a writer and editor based in Vancouver, Canada. He penned a column on the subject for the Writing Cooperative, noting letter writing has been largely supplanted by digital technology, but letters are far more thought-provoking and personal than a text or email.
"I think a lot of people would like to get a real letter," Sharp contended. "I mean, it's a lost art form these days, because technology really has stopped us writing by hand. There's like a lot more thought that goes into writing a letter than sending a text."
Americans have lots of choice when it comes to sending packages, but only the U.S. Postal Service is responsible for the delivery of letters in the United States.
Sharp pointed out he regularly writes letters to his grandmother, and knows taking the time to stamp and post those letters can make them invaluable possessions. He added handwriting is one of the few things today which can be difficult to do with distraction, and instead, requires focus and attention.
"You have to sit down, you have to sort-of like think before you put your pen onto paper," Sharp outlined. "And there's just a lot more intention up front and a lot more, I think, love and care that goes into a message that you send to someone. And I think that can have a real impact on the relationship you manage to build."
Letters can be traced back to ancient India, Egypt, Rome, Greece, and China, primarily used to self-educate throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. Sharp added he keeps a couple typewriters for the purpose of letter writing, which has other perks.
"So, one of the joys of it is being able to go to the stationery store, and being able to buy nice paper and buy a new pen every once in a while, or pick up another typewriter," Sharp explained. "That's all part and parcel of the experience of writing correspondence."
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April is the fifth annual Arts, Culture and Creativity Month in California, and advocates for the arts are promoting diversity in the arts workforce and celebrating recent policy wins.
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In Los Angeles, the County Board of Supervisors just voted to join Arts for LA's Creative Jobs Collective Impact Initiative, which aims to create 10,000 living-wage jobs in the state's creative sector by the year 2030.
Gustavo Herrera, CEO of Arts for LA, said the idea is to rebuild the arts economy after COVID.
"We really are focusing on centering youth and adults from historically underrepresented communities," Herrera explained. "Here in Los Angeles, approximately 59%, or nearly three-fifths of our arts workforce, currently self-identify as white."
The collective's steering committee is putting together recommendations on legislation, budget investments, joint programming, data/accountability, and collective communication efforts - and will report back to the Board in October. Find out more about arts advocacy at 'ArtsforLA.org.'
Meanwhile, artists, advocates and policymakers are gathering in Sacramento for an Arts and Culture Summit on April 17, followed by a rally and meetings with lawmakers on April 18.
Herrera emphasized April is the perfect time to get involved.
"It's so important that we have a strong community of advocates, really pushing for arts and culture in every community," Herrera urged. "And then also, to just go out and experience the arts and celebrate all of the creativity across the state."
The summit will celebrate recent policy wins for the arts sector, including the passage of Prop 28 last year, which will direct millions more per year toward arts education.