Joy to the Worm

December 10, 2015

“EDIBLE, adjective:  Good to eat, and wholesome to digest, as a worm to a toad, a toad to a snake, a snake to a pig, a pig to a man, and a man to a worm.”
~ Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary


I should have titled this post “Joy from the Worm” because joy is what I felt when I read that the Styrofoam packing popcorn, cups and other items considered to be environmentally evil can be naturally biodegraded by worms.

Yep, you read correctly. According to research published in the journal, Environmental Science & Technology, and co-authored by a senior research engineer at Stanford University, the mealworm, a tiny worm that is the larvae of the darkling beetle, can survive on a diet of Styrofoam and other forms of polystyrene.  Even better, thanks to microorganisms that live inside their guts, the worms’ digestive processes transform the plastic into waste that is biodegradable, which is then safe to use in soil as a fertilizer for plants and crops.

Every year Americans throw away 2.5 billion plastic foam cups.  Those cups are merely a fraction of the 33 tons of plastic that gets tossed into the garbage every year.  Unfortunately, only 10% of that gets recycled.  Styrofoam and plastic foam products are also used in packaging the endless stuff that we buy and have shipped to us, especially now that so many consumers shop online instead of in their neighborhoods.

How joyfully ironic that the environmentally harmful waste produced by our consumer-driven culture can now be consumed by mealworms and transformed into food for plants and crops, which will eventually become our food.

“At home I serve the kind of food I know the story behind.”
~ Michael Pollan

Once upon a time there was a Styrofoam cup and a little worm….

Thanks to these tiny, squiggly little creatures, we just might live happily ever after, after all.


Homemade Marshmallows might not be as tasty to mealworms as Styrofoam, but for us humans, they are delicious!


Homemade Marshmallows
These marshmallows have no corn syrup and they are incredibly soft and light with a delicate vanilla flavor.  They melt easily and are ideal to top a mug of hot cocoa. Funny thing is, modern marshmallow candies do not actually contain any marshmallow root.  For the ultimate in comfort foods this Holiday season, give some of these homemade marshmallows along with a box of marshmallow root tea, which helps sooth upset tummies and sore throats.

2 tablespoons gelatin (2 Knox envelopes)
8 tablespoons of cold water
2 cups organic granulated sugar
1/2 cup cold water
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Plenty of powdered sugar, for dusting


Dust an 8-inch square pan with powdered sugar.  Set aside.

In a small bowl, add the 8 tablespoons of cold water and sprinkle the gelatin over the water.  Set this aside to “bloom”.

In a large, heavy saucepan, combine the granulated sugar and 1/2 cup of water and cook over medium heat, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved.

Add the bloomed gelatin and bring to a boil, stirring.  Watch constantly and carefully so that it doesn’t boil over.

As soon as the mixture is boiling, remove from heat and pour into a large mixing bowl.  Let stand until it cools a bit (about 10 minutes).

Stir in the salt and vanilla extract.

Using an electric hand mixer, beat until soft and double in volume (begin on low speed until mixture is cool; then increase to medium, then medium-high).  This process will take about 20 minutes.  Note: the mixture will not be a stark white, especially if you are using unrefined sugar – more like a very light caramel/cream color.

Pour mixture into the prepared pan to about 1 inch thick.

Set aside to cool until the mixture no longer sticks to your finger when you touch it lightly  (the surface may still be a little sticky, but will not come off on your finger).  Mine took about 2 hours.

Rub powdered sugar over the surface of the marshmallow.  Cut marshmallow into 16 squares or 24 squares, depending on what size you prefer.

Roll all sides of each marshmallow in powdered sugar, to coat completely.

Variation:  Mix powdered sugar with cocoa powder for chocolate-dusted marshmallows or melt some semi-sweet chocolate chips/pieces and dip half of each marshmallow in chocolate.  Let cool and harden on a lined baking sheet before wrapping.

Makes 16 to 24 marshmallows

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