Welcome to STEM Tuesday: Author Interview & Book Giveaway, a repeating feature for the fourth Tuesday of every month. Go Science-Tech-Engineering-Math!
Today we’ve the pleasure of interviewing Christy Mihaly and Sue Heavenrich, co-authors of Diet for a Changing Climate: Food for Thought. Kirkus called it an “optimistic introduction for those who want to ‘take a bite out of climate change'” by eating bugs, weeds, and invasive species!
Mary Kay Carson: What is Diet for a Changing Climate about?
Sue Heavenrich: Between climate chaos, habitat loss, poverty, and hunger, we’re facing a bunch of environmental and societal challenges. It can feel overwhelming, so we wanted to provide some tools for kids and their families to help meet these challenges.
Christy (Chris) Mihaly: We humans sit at the top of the food chain. So we wanted to discuss rethinking what we consider food. What if we ate “invasive” species, like periwinkles and lionfish?
Sue: What if we substituted crickets and other insect protein for meat? Or, instead of spraying dandelions with poison, we ate them?
Chris: The fact is, if enough of us changed what and how we eat, we can improve the health of our communities and our planet.
MKC: How did the two of you come to write it?
Sue: I started thinking about eating insects many years ago while in my garden. I was knocking Japanese beetles off my bean plants and into a bucket of soapy water. When I looked at the thick layer of beetle bodies bound for the compost pile, I bemoaned the waste of all that insect protein. My next thought was: I wonder if they are edible. Soon I discovered that not only are many insects edible, but people all over the world eat them. I began scribbling ideas for a children’s “field guide to eating insects.”
Chris: Around that same time I was interviewing a local environmental activist for a magazine article. This young woman was an entomophagy (insect-eating) advocate who hosted public bug-munching dinners at which she emphasized the environmental and nutritional benefits, as well as the tastiness, of eating insects. I began researching the topic and learned about the UN’s longstanding advocacy of entomophagy – and I was hooked. We’ve been critique partners for many years. The summer of 2014 we both attended a nonfiction conference. I told Sue about a proposal I’d submitted to one of the conference editors: “Entomophagy ABC’s.”
Sue: I’m like, “No way! I’m working on an entomophagy book.” We decided to collaborate.
MKC: I have to ask, how many of the critters in the book have you personally eaten?
Chris: We begin the book by presenting more traditionally palatable food items: dandelions and other weeds, lionfish filets and other tasty invasive animals. As for eating insects, I’m a more recent (though willing) convert. I’ve done the crickets and the beetles, and a few others.
Sue: I remember picking chokecherries and elderberries with my mom in Utah. When I was in high school I discovered Euell Gibbons (Stalking the Wild Asparagus) and field guides on edible plants. I experimented, cooking up dandelion greens and mashing – and leaching – acorns for pancakes. Now I gather wild greens for quiche and purslane and edible flowers for salads. Eating insects happened by accident, and usually while camping. While working on the book, I began integrating bugs into my diet. Those little green caterpillars on the broccoli? Extra protein for the stir fry. A carpenter ant invasion became an opportunity to experiment with frittata recipes. Hint: they are sweeter than I expected! And those Japanese beetles? A friend taught me how to roast them and sent me a good recipe for marinade.
Chris: Sue dedicates the book to her husband, who, she notes “does not know about the ants in the frittata yet.” Hah.
MKC: What challenged or most surprised you both while researching the book?
Chris: We were surprised by how many people already eat invasive species and insects. We hadn’t realized the extent of entomophagy and invasivore Facebook groups, websites, associations, restaurants, courses, conventions, cooking events, and more. We also were struck by the grave environmental and economic problems presented by invasive plant and animal species—as well as by industrial farming.
Sue: A major challenge was the recipes. Dandelions and weeds weren’t a big deal, but eating crickets and Japanese beetles took a leap of faith. So we reached out to more experienced folks who shared their recipes, and then we tested a few. The other thing was an ethical conundrum. I love insects, so we spent a lot of time discussing and researching humane ways to catch and kill bugs. Freezing turns out to be the best, and easiest, way.
MKC: To whom did you imagine yourself writing to while drafting the book?
Sue: As we worked on this book I thought about what 6th-grade me would have wanted to know. We also wanted to include hands-on activities to get readers engaged.
Chris: We wanted to counteract the feelings that so many kids (and adults) have of being powerless in the face of climate change. So we show that changing what you eat can make a difference.
MKC: How does co-authoring a book work, exactly?
Sue: From the beginning, we viewed this book as a joint project. I think the most important thing is that each of us was willing to put our ego aside and focus on creating the best work we could. It helps that both of us are familiar with collaboration, me as a biologist and Chris as an environmental lawyer.
Chris: When you think about writing with a colleague, at least before covid-19, there’s a good chance you imagine meetings at the local café. Since we live 345 miles apart, we used email and phone. We scheduled regular conversations to go over plans, set goals and deadlines, and keep the lines of communication clear.
Sue: We made lists and divvied up tasks. We wrote alternating chapters, and then shared first drafts of chapter sections via email. Then each of us revised what the other wrote. This helped us develop a consistent voice for the entire book. I remember thinking that by collaborating we could each do half the work.
Chris: Ha! I figure that doing it together required twice the work that writing solo would have required. But we feel our book is all the better for it.
Sue: All those phone calls played another important role, too. They gave us a chance to get to know each other on a more personal level. Drinking coffee and talking about the dog, the dishes, the kids… and then the BOOK. We did some of our best brainstorming over phone lines.
MKC: Why do you choose to write STEM books?
Sue: I write about STEM for kids and their families to encourage them to go outside and explore the world. To solve a problem, to try something and, if it doesn’t work, figure out what happened and how to fix it. STEM, for me, is just an excuse to play. I was lucky to have parents who supported my curiosity. They sent me to science camp, took us to national parks, rock hunting, star-gazing … and tolerated the skeleton collection I had in the garage. In fourth grade I begged for a microscope for Christmas – and got one!
Chris: I have always loved nature. One reason I write STEM is to share that love with kids. My background is in environmental science and policy – I tend to want to jump to that next step, taking action to help the earth. That’s what Sue and I did with this book—exploring concrete ways that kids who care about the environment can act on their concern.
Win a FREE copy of DIET FOR A CHANGING CLIMATE
Enter the giveaway by leaving a comment below. The randomly-chosen winner will be contacted via email and asked to provide a mailing address (within the U.S. only) to receive the book.
Your host is Mary Kay Carson, author of Wildlife Ranger Action Guide, The Tornado Scientist, Alexander Graham Bell for Kids, Mission to Pluto, and other nonfiction books for kids. @marykaycarson
I’ve always wondered how collaborations were completed. This book sounds like a great read–I’m big on environmental issues and will enjoy learning from this book and getting new ideas.
You’re our winner, Danielle! Congrats!