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Saturday, June 27, 2020
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Suggestions for your senses,
every Saturday at 9 a.m.
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Good morning.

This week, we keep our idle hands busy with the Quarantine Coloring Book, ease our stress lines with a gua sha facial, learn about edible insects from entomologist Dr. Brian Fisher, hear about musician Amy Helm’s Curbside Pickup Band, and fend off the season’s pests with nature’s best insect repellent, peppermint.

On our At a Distance podcast, we talk with biologist Merlin Sheldrake, architect Michel Rojkind, and integrative nutritionist Daphne Javitch.

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See
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Coloring In
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Illustration: Alan Brown
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States across the U.S. may be entering Phase 2 of post-lockdown reopenings, but short of a vaccine, public health experts hazard that all precautions of social distancing—with masks on—should remain in place. Not surprisingly, puzzles and board games have made a comeback in these Covid-19 times, and you can add to that list another resurgent analog pastime for idle hands: coloring books. In April, as the country was in the thick of lockdown, artists Sara Taylor and Gerard Way called upon their network of friends to create the Quarantine Coloring Book, uploading a new free, downloadable image by a different illustrator each day. The project exploded overnight, with thousands of fans posting their colorful results online with the hashtag #tqcb. And as it turns out, coloring books aren’t just for the kids: According to research, coloring can have a similar effect on our minds as meditation, helping to ease anxiety, fears, and restless thoughts—in short, the sum of non-lethal yet all-too-pervasive side effects of a life in prolonged quarantine.

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Touch
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Face Forward
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Courtesy Lanshin
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Anxiety and stress can take a serious toll on your health—and your skin. This may, in part, explain why the wellness world has finally taken note of gua sha, a traditional Chinese medicinal technique for relaxing and relieving tension to aid in myofascial release. The method is used to relieve tension in muscles throughout the body, and gua sha facials have garnered a particularly fervent following in recent years. You may have noticed, if you pay attention to these kinds of things, a flurry of influencers and beauty retailers hawking the jade roller, something of an entry-level intro to the array of gua sha tools: small, handheld stone instruments that come in a number of shapes and contours, designed to smooth and scrape over the skin’s surface. The Brooklyn-based holistic healing studio Lanshin carries some of the best, carved from materials including rose quartz, jade, and nephrite. Founder Sandra Lanshin Chiu, an accredited acupuncturist and herbalist, also offers online tutorials to get you started on your new favorite facial workout. Think of the small spatula- and spoon-like implements as doing for your face what a foam roller can do for your back, only much more intimately and delicately. While the advertised results for a more youthful, sculpted appearance may vary, the treatment is a totally doable, daily treat-yourself routine that just feels—to this writer, anyway—plain amazing.

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Taste
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Ant Eater
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Photo: Kathryn Whitney. Courtesy California Academy of Sciences
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Dr. Brian Fisher, an entomologist and curator at the California Academy of Sciences, has studied and identified countless species of ants around the world—making for a career that has earned him the singular title of “ant man.” For nearly 30 years, Fisher has been conducting field work in Madagascar, studying Malagasy ant diversity and advocating for an insect-focused approach to nutrition and natural conservation. Here, Fisher tells us why eating insects is a healthy practice for both our bodies and the planet.

In recent years, there’s been a growing interest in edible insects as a sustainable source of food. Could you tell us a bit about some of the environmental and health benefits?

In our Western cultures, we’ve entered into this conversation about insects mostly from the point of view of sustainability. Now, more and more, it’s in terms of health benefits, and we’re learning that if you eat insects, you can actually absorb more micronutrients, and iron, and others than you would if you ate a steak. More than that, you’re getting improved gut microbiomes. That’s really important, and a big advantage [from] eating insects. So this goes beyond sustainability, and that’s really interesting from a Western cultural perspective, where it’s clear we have a huge impact on the planet, and with a rising population, it becomes more evident we need to find alternative and sustainable food sources. 

How did you come to study insects as a source of food?

I was on the ground in Madagascar, and it’s a different world, where people are more concerned about what they’re going to eat tomorrow. As a biologist, I was more concerned about how we were going to preserve the forests, and I was realizing that to preserve forest means also reducing bushmeat consumption. That comes right back to people, who, because of absolute need, are going to have to cut down the forest to grow a crop for one year, even that means it’s only going to grow from one year. So we had to find a new food source. The population’s growing, climate change impacting [things]—we have migrations of people across Madagascar moving to new areas. They don’t have more land to cut down forests and grow food—they don’t have more pasture to raise more cows. They needed an immediate solution. Insects are really the only sustainable option, and on top of it, the country already has had a huge, important history of eating edible insects. Every good housekeeper keeps dried crickets and locust powder on hand, in case of need, and it stores well. 

What are some ways insects are prepared in Malagasy cooking, and how would you describe the taste?

Every insect is different—that’s what’s so cool. There’s one we call the “bacon bug,” because, yes, it tastes like bacon. It’s traditionally cooked with leafy greens and added to rice, but because it tastes like bacon, you can do so much with it: It amends so much to our Western or European palates, because we recognize that taste. Cricket powder is another traditional staple, ground to a fine powder and used as a component that adds a tasty roundness to sauces. They also grill fresh whole crickets and eat them, but the disadvantage of that is that they don’t store very well or take up space, so most people will boil then dry them after gathering them up, and grind them up to store. 

They also prepare the cocoons of the silk moth, which are native species in Madagascar and are so tasty, and also part of a zero-waste model. They take the silk for their traditional local silk industry, and then these pupa, the stuff inside this cocoon, the baby larvae, is edible, and when you open it up, it looks like curdled milk. Traditionally, you can just fry them up and eat them. It tastes like veal brains.

What would it take to implement insect farming on a larger scale around the world, and what challenges lie ahead?

We’ve had hundreds of years of developing how to raise a cow, and eighty years’ worth of research on a chicken. But we’re just beginning to do this research on insects, so there are a lot of efficiencies to be gained in learning how to grow them faster, with less inputs, to yield a better product, and so forth. With Covid exacerbating so many issues related to hunger and our lifestyles, I think there’s a window for people to actually rethink what is required to keep our society functioning—that we’re not simply an entity away from Mother Nature, but a part of it. We’re connected. And that means we have to rethink our relationships in terms of sustainability and our food and agricultural systems.

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Hear
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On the Road
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Photo: Dino Davaros
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Live music is the lifeblood for the Woodstock, New York–based musician Amy Helm, who grew up with two musical parents, The Band’s drummer Levon Helm and singer Libby Titus. When the Covid-19 pandemic forced music venues to shutter for the unforeseeable future, Helm teamed up with Steely Dan guitarist Connor Kennedy to take their show on the road, and to doorsteps around the Hudson Valley. We caught up with Helm just as New York was approaching Phase 2 of reopening—and a few days short of her and Kennedy’s 100th show as the Curbside Pickup Band.

“As musicians, we’re out of work now, sort of indefinitely. That’s been a real shift, to be unemployed for this long and not really have a clear sense of what’s coming around the bend and how it will come back, and in what capacity. To tell you the truth, it really creates a lot of anxiety and fear in me, and certainly [in] my friends that I’ve talked to, because for most of us, this is what we’ve gotten good at. It’s what we do. I’m hoping that next summer we’ll be able to work again. It’s just an unprecedented time in the world.

My dad was a musician as well, and he always said to me, ‘You know, if you’re not working—if a musician isn’t working, your head doesn’t work right, you can’t think straight.’ And I know what he means. For players, there’s a kind of centering force when you do a gig, and you interact with people in an audience. You take that leap, and even if it’s a bad gig, and you have a fight with the guitar player, you get home, and somehow, on that drive home, all the noise in your head has shifted, and you think about things differently. I think every human being has that experience with different things that act as that lightning rod for the way you process and understand the world.

Some time ago, I started volunteering for an organization called Musicians On Call, which brings musicians room-to-room to hospitals in New York City and other cities across the country. It had a huge impact on my heart and my head, and on my perspective of why we even started doing any of this in the first place. If you can sing something for somebody and it uplifts them, or brings them out of their head for a minute—that’s the job of a musician.

One day recently, I was standing on my lawn and a car slowed down—I live way out in the country, in Woodstock—and this woman, who turned out to be an acquaintance, had a beautiful bouquet of ranunculus and anemones and was handing out flowers to anybody standing outside her door. Witnessing those tiny moments of warmth and interaction were so profound during the very heart of all that isolation. So I thought, What if I could pull up to someone’s porch and sing a song, far enough away to be at a safe distance, and offer a little pinprick of light? The isolation of these past few months has felt so thick, so dense. 

I ran the idea by a dear friend of mine, Connor Kennedy, who’s a guitar player and singer, and [he] was down to do it with me. We just started doing it, and it’s been very, very powerful. There’s nothing more satisfying than connecting with people, you know, even if it’s from thirty feet away, and it sure has kept my head sane and helped me practice a little bit—keeping my voice in some kind of shape and keeping some joy in my own heart about it. I think it’s brightened up a few people’s days, too. 

Live music is so important. It’s so visceral and brings such an instant connection. For me, the rare times that I get to go out and see a band or singer that I love feel like such a change on a cellular, molecular level. Live music can change us, and then change the direction of our lives, whether we’re playing it or hearing it as fans.”

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Smell
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Plant Protection
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Photo: Wikimedia Commons
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With the summer season come longer days, more time spent outdoors under the sun—and, unfortunately, all of the attendant pesky bites that can follow from wasps, bees, and mosquitos. In 2020, we also have the arrival of murder hornets to fear, of course (as if this year hadn’t offered enough unwelcome surprises), and store-bought repellants are often loaded with hazardous chemicals, potentially introducing more harm than help. Luckily, nature provides a salve to its own stings, at least in this respect: While insects can be attracted to a range of scents and perfumes, peppermint acts as a natural pesticide, due to its primary active ingredient, menthol. Grow fresh peppermint in your herb garden, roll some essential oils onto your skin, or dilute it with a bit of water to spray a simple solution that will fend off the winged aggressors. The lingering minty fresh scent, of course, is a pleasant side effect—and the natural menthol leaves behind a slight tingling sensation that’s much cooler than the skin-stinging alternative.

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Until next week...

Today’s email was written by Aileen Kwun.

Editor: Spencer Bailey
Creative Director: Andrew Zuckerman
Producer: Mike Lala
Copy Editor: Mimi Hannon

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