“I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass…and I’m all out of bubble gum.” – They Live.
Last month I turned 39. Not quite ready for a mid-life crisis, but not so far off that reflection upon my life isn’t something that I do from time to time. To say this assessment is a new thing would be incorrect. Over the last few years I have tried to make a conscious effort to evaluate and improve myself. I detest stagnation and if I am put in a position where there is little to no chance of any actual positive change, then I get antsy…if not a little angry from time to time.
For nearly the last five years, maybe more if I’m truly honest with myself, I found myself in just such a place. School, then work that was largely unfulfilling. Sure, there were wonderful moments and wonderful people, but there was no challenge, no new knowledge, no chance for growth. For many, I had achieved a dream: I had a graduate degree, a stable job with benefits, and a 9-5 schedule with weekends and holidays off. Who could ask for more!? Well, me…that’s who. Please, do not misunderstand my point here. I am very well aware of how good I had things. After spending a number of years on benefits, struggling just to find any job, I know what I had/have. But it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t what I promised myself I was going to do with my life.
When I was a very little kid, I used to watch reruns of a show called Quincy, M.E. It was a fun show and for me, still holds up (nostalgia goggles be damned!). Quincy was a medical examiner who was always getting himself into trouble because no one would listen to him. He was a doctor! He saw what the science and the victim were saying, but the bureaucrats were having none of it! And he lived on a boat for crying out loud! Medical dramas weren’t really my thing, with the exception of Doogie Houser M.D. but I did like the occasional episode if it came along. I’m talking about TV here for a simple reason; besides my pediatrician, it was the only exposure I had as a child to the world of medicine. Yes, I’m using that phrase loosely here, it was, after all TV, but it was something. It was a world I had no clue about. And I wanted in. I am a product of The Scully Effect, and I own that fact.
However, I am a late bloomer. Quite late, in fact. My upbringing was in a town with minimal access to medical care, and expectations laid upon boys and girls that were rigidly tied to perceived gender norms and societal requirements. The boys who couldn’t measure up as football stars were most likely headed to a physically demanding job and in many cases enlistment in the military. Girls? If you’re very lucky you can be a nurse or a medical assistant. Don’t forget to get married right out of high school and have some kids along the way. Boys, go die for your country, girls, reproduce.
My dreams had been replaced by familial and cultural pragmatism and I tried to find a middle ground. I became a nursing assistant and worked with the elderly, disabled, and provided hospice care for almost ten years. I loved much of that work and still would rather help someone with Alzheimer’s, than talk on the phone any day (Guess what I’ve been doing for the last three years?) Along the way, I managed to not develop a drug habit (common back home), not have kids (also very common back home), and moved away to complete undergraduate and eventually graduate degrees. With each move east I changed, grew. Slowly working myself out of what I had been and into something I wanted to become. And then I landed in a cubicle.
Though that cubicle may be a miserable little box, I still got to use my entomological skillz (insert sassy z). But, as stated earlier, it wasn’t enough. So, I made the most logical decision I could, I was going to become a doctor. I was no longer deluded about TV fantasy of the 1980’s and 90’s, I’d worked around doctors, communicated with them, I even had the opportunity to view a few autopsies while I was working at a funeral home and later in preparation for my med school application. I was going to be a doctor. MCAT prep done (working full time and part time while prepping is not recommended) and some night classes at a community college to redo some very unsightly D’s on my undergraduate transcript (Damn You Organic Chemistry!!!) I was on my way to completing my application for the 2019 year…and it didn’t work. One interview, no acceptances. Sort of…
Due to my not-so-great stats (I was a B-average student in undergrad) and the fact that I finished undergrad in 2009, the feedback I received from some schools was that I needed to seriously up my gpa game. And how does one do that? Night classes weren’t going to be enough, I had to go big or go home. But, how could I risk giving up my job for something that may not pan out? The solution was a program with guaranteed acceptance pending successful completion. I applied and got that acceptance.
A one year Masters of Biomedical Sciences program designed specifically to prepare students for entry into medical school is my new destination. I’ll write soon about this particular program and what I will be doing, but here’s the short version: It’s one year of intense biomedical science coursework with some field experience. Benchmarks for automatic matriculation into the associated medical school must be met. I already have some done. I just need to maintain a 3.6 or better gpa and not piss off any faculty and I am good to go. The premed/med student community calls these Special Masters Programs. Look for future posts about the SMP for info on the process.
So that’s that. For those who have followed or perused this blog and occasional podcast this is an update a long-time-coming. For new people, I welcome you. This post is uncharacteristically long and far more personal than most of them are. I will not leave my beloved bugs by the wayside. After all, mosquitoes kill more people every year than people do, so I will definitely have many opportunities for overlap. I still love Entomology and I’m not giving that up at all. But I need to do more than just rear them in a lab, count moths in a light trap, and talk on the phone while I poke at yet another Excel spreadsheet. In less than two weeks I will once again be a full time student. And by this time next year, I’ll be a 40-Year-Old Medical Student.
I was recently asked to give a talk to some high school students about possible careers in the sciences. Specifically, Entomology and related areas. I had my not-so-trusty phone with me and was able to record my presentation. I hope you enjoy.
New Episodes Coming Soon!
Music: The Underscore Orkestra
Season 2 has begun!
Some technical glitches slowed me down but it looks to be working now!
Check it out. Star Trek? Parasites? What’s not to love!?!
Bugs Blood and Bones
Find the podcast on iTunes, Google or wherever the heck else podcasts live.
What demon monsters will we be talking about this time!?!
Greetings fellow lovers of all things creepy and crawly! Brief hiatus for Pod continues for now. Projected return is Wednesday, June 6th! I’ve got something very special planned. Hope you paid attention to the end of my last episode.
I’m also hoping to do a Q&A episode. Send me your questions and I’ll get you some answers! Post here or PM me.
Until next time, keep calm, and carrion.
In todays episode of random thoughts of entomo-interest, I was philosophical about the implications of the arthropod pet trade, whether the beetle will win or my cats, and what that might mean for the smaller infestations that crop up along the way.
Stay tuned to the very end for a brief snippet of what is to come in future episodes!
Please check out the Underscore Orkestra, an amazing group deserving of all of our praise.
If you were to conduct a random sampling of entomologists, you would find that there are a number of issues in which we firmly divide ourselves when it comes to important, life decisions.
What are the best IPM methods?
Who is better: The Beatles of The Scorpions?
Would you be willing to host a bot fly in your body? You know, for science.
And would you eat a bug? And it’s here that we land today. So let’s dig in, and get a taste of the history of insect eating. Some pros, cons. and downright weird.
**Originally published several years ago as part of my project Arthropodology**
A recent YouTube video about seemingly arbitrary things mentioned how, though we here in the West consider the voluntary consumption of insects to be bizarre and taboo, we are in fact the minority. The reality is that over 80% of the surveyed cultures on the planet consume insects on a regular basis. It’s an odd thing when you really think about it. Why don’t we consume bugs more often than we do? Why do we have this seeming “natural” aversion to eating bugs whereas other cultures do it readily? Indeed, many cultures look at our consumption of cow or pig to be bizarre. Most North American and European cultures will gladly eat lobster, crab, or shrimp, but will run for the high hills if you pull out a deep fried cricket. Or, Ceiling Cat forbid, a deep fried tarantula! Why is that? When did it start? In a coming YouTube video I touch on these questions and go a bit further. **Will link when this damned cold goes away and I can finish it**
Let’s start with the assumption that our species is an insectivorious one. Why would I think that? Evidence indicates that our closest non-human primate relatives, the bonobos and chimpanzees, regularly consume insects. This is not incidental consumption, but regular and deliberate. Gorillas and other primates are known to do this as well. But that’s not necessarily enough; what about our ancestors? Cave paintings in Spain dated 30,000 – 9000 BCE depict bee nest harvesting. This could be indicative of honey or even larval harvesting. Analysis of coprolites (fossilized poo) found in the Ozark mountains showed the remnants of ants, beetle larvae, ticks, and mites present. I’ll break that down for you…scientists sorted through fossilized human poop and found leftover bits of insects inside. Yup. Cool huh? 😉
Pliny the Elder wrote of the Roman aristocracy’s love of beetle larvae reared on a diet of flour and wine. Aristotle also got in on the action many years later writing about the best methods for procuring the tastiest cicada “larvae” (modern entomologists would refer to that stage as nymphs). Silkworm pupae appear to have been consumed in parts of ancient Shanxi, China (~2500 – 2000BCE).
Ancient Romans, Greeks, many Native America tribes, Chinese, Australian Aboriginal peoples, and pretty much every other culture. Because the West is largely influenced by the Judeo-Christian-Islam sphere of history you might be thinking that somewhere along that history rose a moratorium on the consumption of bugs. Well, yes, and no. All three of those religious rely on aspects of the Old Testament. In those pages are rules stating the acceptability (kosher law) of some foods. Guess what? Crickets, grasshoppers, and locusts (winged grasshoppers) are A-Okay by OT terms. There’s also reference in Exodus of this thing called Manna from Heaven. Can you guess what that is? That’s actually the honeydew secreted by aphids! Later on, in the New Testament, the travels of John the Baptist are powered only by the consumption of locusts and honey. Scrumptious! But bees, wasps, beetle larvae, and flies are definitely not kosher.
There it is. Plain as day throughout the history of our species, all across the globe. So why are we in the West so opposed to it? To be honest, we’re not sure. The prevailing hypothesis has more to do with a cultural shift in food acquisition rather than religious taboos. Approximately 10,000 years ago many cultures made the life altering shift from hunting and gathering to plant and animal based agriculture. Some cultures became reliant upon the growth and storage of grains while a few became dependent upon cattle and a pastoral lifestyle. Though this intensive lifestyle allowed for more awareness and control over food production it also have the unfortunate side effect of making our previously mobile societies stuck in one location and thus more susceptible to disease and other previously unknown hardships. Not only were disease epidemics more likely among human populations, they now would impact our cattle and flocks. When locusts could once be used as a comfortable source of food, now they were a threat to our crops with the potential to devastate entire fields in days.
From there we see some critters making their way into western diets over the years but mostly they fall by the wayside until now. There is a push to bring back the bugs. Some think it’s just a novelty and will never get any full traction among westerners. But I am hopeful. With global food, especially protein shortages, projected in our not-so-distant future it is important we explore all avenues of making food readily available. We need to get over our fear and irrational cultural perception that crickets are the enemy. They may in fact, be one of the best chances we have at a sustainable and healthy future.
To learn more about the history of entomophagy, current and future prospects check out this FREE book:
Published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations – Rome 2013