This is their story

1. Summarize your project/business in one sentence.

MealFlour is an environmentally sustainable social enterprise that provides training to build mealworm farms, raise mealworms, and turn them into protein-rich flour that can be incorporated in local staple foods or sold to bakeries and markets.

2. How long have you been in business/running your project?

We (Elizabeth Frank, Gabrielle Wimer, and Joyce Lu) have been working on the idea of MealFlour since December of 2015. In the summer of 2016, we began our pilot in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala (also known as Xela). We are based in Xela, but we work with the communities on the outskirts of the city; our first community is Candelaria.

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3. Why did you decide to start the company/project?

MealFlour started out as a thought experiment. We had all worked in community and global health and wished that more programs and social enterprises would take a holistic approach to improving health. We hoped MealFlour, with its emphasis on not only improving nutrition, but also on raising income and reducing waste, would be a more well-rounded approach to improving well-being. After we entered a few social enterprise competitions, earned enough seed funding, and confirmed local interest at our pilot site community, we realized that this thought experiment could actually become a reality, so we went for it.

4. What has been your biggest achievement so far?

One of our biggest concerns was finding out where to start.  Insects are eaten in 80% of countries around the world, including parts of Guatemala, but raising mealworms in this way is something new. When we pitched the concept to the group of women from a community in Candelaria and gave them samples of the mealworm products, they were excited to learn more and wanted to try out farming themselves.

5. How do you measure success?

Each week we discuss MealFlour’s progress with the farmers to receive their continuous feedback. In order to improve the program as it evolves, we track how many families are farming mealworms, how often they are eating mealworm flour, who in the family eats mealworm flour, open ended questions about attitudes towards mealworm farming and mealworm flour, and ease of uptake of the program. Success means that the women are still farming mealworms long after we have left, so it is important that we are constantly collaborating with farmers to build a business model that works for them.

It is also important to us that the flour they are producing is both improving nutrition in communities and creating new sources of income for the farmers (mostly women with young children). To measure this, we will be analyzing anthropometric data, conducting regular focus groups and surveys, and monitoring flour production and income.

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6. What have you learned in the process?

Don’t be afraid to ‘make the ask’. This is advice we have gotten from a few different people along the way and (most of the time) it has really paid off – you’d be surprised how many people agree and want to help you.

7. What advice would you give to someone trying to break into the (nutrition) industry/get involved in (global public health) work/start a (social enterprise)?

Global health is about getting an intimate understanding of the local context, integrating insights and developments from around the world, and continuing to learn from communities. We chose Guatemala because Joyce worked there for three months in 2015 and got to know the community well. It was important to us that we didn’t integrate into the community without having a close relationship with them first. We also think carefully about each step moving forward with MealFlour. We have a plan and timeline for what we hope to achieve each month, but we are also really flexible to the changes that inevitably come with listening to what the community wants and determining what actually works in practice.

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8. What’s next?

Next is where the real work begins! We spent almost a year laying groundwork, doing research, optimizing the farming technology, raising money, and developing partnerships. Now, starting October 2016, we will begin our first official classes on farming and begin to put everything we’ve been planning into practice.

9. Anything else you want to add?

Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and check out our website and sign up for newsletter for more information!

Also, while MealFlour is working in the western highlands of Guatemala, we are really part of a larger, global movement towards sustainable agriculture  and edible insects. If you want to build your own farm at home and make delicious protein packed treats, find out how on our ‘DIY‘ page.

10. Fun question: what was the best meal you ate this week?

Homemade chapati bread and macaroons, both made with mealworm flour from mealworms taken straight from our farm and grown by co-founder Gabrielle Wimer!

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The truth about Low Fat produce.

 With the growth of the amount of obese people in America and across the world food producers started to look for solutions. The low fat produce revolution started in the mid 80‘ offering the consumers more and more varieties, 30% less fat, 35% less fat. Today you can find in grocery stores a turkey breast ham with 97% less fat. How is that even possible? I would like to present you what are the actual results of following such a diet.

Besides ham, nowadays in american supermarkets you can find any kind of products that have less fat: butter, chips, ham, cheese, hummus, soda, turkey, orange juice or any other product you can think of. Most of us think that what makes us fat is actually fat. Even the word is the same, however from a nutritional point of view it is quite different. People tend to forget that fat is one of the three essential macronutrients. Moreover we have to remember that there are different kinds of fat, some are healthy others are less. Annemarie Colbin, founder and CEO of the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts said:

“Together with protein and carbohydrate, fat is an important source of calories. We need essential fatty acids, linoleic and linolenic acid, or Omega 6 and Omega 3 for many important functions, namely:

1. To keep us warm, especially in the winter, as the breakdown of fats creates heat. The diet of the Eskimos gets about 60% of its calories from fat, and on their native diets they don’t have heart disease.

2. For proper hormone function, especially for women.

3. To keep our cell walls strong.

4. To absorb and store the fat-soluble vitamins, especially Vitamin D, needed to help absorb calcium from the intestines. Women who don’t get enough good quality fatty acids may end up with low Vitamin D stores and therefore bone thinning.”

Eating products with less fat, creates a danger that we will end up consuming much more products because the lack of fat oils makes us feel less full. It is much healthier to eat a spoon of real peanut butter than a fake one. I mentioned before that some fats are unhealthy, but are there any good ones? Annemarie Colbin has a response:

“Among the best are extra virgin olive oil, unrefined sesame and sunflower oil, unrefined flax seed oil, walnut oil, organic butter and clarified butter or ghee. Omega 3 fatty acids are in fresh dark cold water fish like salmon and mackerel, as well as in flax seed oil. Omega 6’s are in the sesame and sunflower oil. Fresh organic butter from healthy cows fed green grass can be an excellent source of natural Vitamin A.”

Moreover, a lot of scientists believe that low fat produce may increase the risk of heart disease. Nutritionist Natasha Campbell-McBride, who runs the Cambridge Nutrition Clinic, believes that “The whole notion of saturated fat as some kind of bete noire is simply wrong, as is the existence of so-called ‘bad’ cholesterol. Fats and cholesterol help create and protect the white blood cells and millions of other cells that repair the wall linings when damaged.”

When you remove fat from food you need to replace it with other substances. Often producers of such food add sugars or salt. They don’t contain fat, but it doesn’t mean they don’t have calories and that they don’t make us fat. Moreover some of the sugars that are added might be a little bit addictive. For example diet soda contains NutraSweet “which is often found in different types of diet sodas, is known to cause excessive hunger or thirst. Another reason that you will probably find yourself feeling thirsty after you have drank diet soda is because it contains so much sodium, which is known to cause constant thirst.”

I believe that we need to come back to what our grandparents called food (which now is called bio or eco food), when all the produce contained real fat, sugar and proteins. In some cases low fat food can actually lead to obesity, which is a kind of a paradox. Unfortunately it is one of thousands of paradoxes we are surrounded with.

References:

1. http://thechart.blogs.cnn.com/2012/04/27/are-sugar-substitutes-worse-than-the-real-thing/

2. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1375687/Low-fat-foods-INCREASE-risk-heart-disease-nutritionist-says.html

3. http://voices.yahoo.com/is-diet-soda-worse-than-regular-soda-281525.html?cat=5

Posted by Piotr Wielezynski