BootsnAll Travel Network

Comida Naturaleza-I Become A Gatherer

 Preface: I spent the past weekend living with my friend Orsinia´s family, as part of a new program to train local families to live with volunteers. While staying at her home in Soloy, I discovered she had another home nearby in her finca(farm), where we spent the next two days…

Spending a few days with my friend Orsonia was such a positive learning experience in learning to eat ¨comida naturaleza¨. This is another way of saying, to eat from the land.

Eating from the land means not relying on foodstuffs from the outside as your mainstay food. There is a tremendous problem here-and in other places I have visited as well-that the people have come to see certain foods as having status. This is kind of hard to explain, so I will illustrate with an example.

Here in the Comarca, rice is the mainstay food for the people. Everyone eats rice, several times a day-and lots of it. The rice they eat is highly processed white rice that they buy in David. They do grow rice-but, because of their methods of agriculture, they can´t grow much-usually, a person that has land can only grow enough for a few months of the year. It is not a year-around crop, it is a seasonal crop. Instead of just eating rice when they have it, they have come to rely on rice grown and processed mechanically from the outside.

Rice, however, is not a native crop here in Panama. Native crops are things like yucca, maiz, and beans. Rice was brought here by the Spaniards a long time ago-and what has happened since is that the latino culture of Panama has fully embraced this food source.

Unfortunately, many Ngobe believe that the natural foods here are not as good as the introduced foods-so rice has replaced other crops which were previously a staple. My friend Orsonia pointed out to me many times during my visit to her finca, that her neighbors look down on her for ¨living off the land¨, for not eating much rice. and relying of yucca instead.

However, my time with Orsonia was well spent, as I have struggled in the past months here with attempting to sustain myself on a diet of mostly white rice. Eating bleached, processed, white rice everyday made me feel sluggish and ill. But when I visited Orsonia for a few days, I ate a completely different diet-I ate comida naturaleza.

I felt so much better and energetic after a single weekend with her, that I asked her to give me a course in eating off the land. We spent an afternoon together, walking from finca to finca, where she introduced me to the Ngobe framers who will be supplying me with all my food for the coming weeks.

Additionally, living off the land requires gathering. In the past, the Ngobe were hunters and gatherers-and although these traditions have somewhat died out, many people are still gatherers.

Gathering requires alot of walking in the bosque and observing the surroundings-and carrying a bag to collect whatever you find that day. Orsonia showed me many plants, nuts, and fruits that she and her family eats-and the Comarca is extremely well stocked with these foods. I learned alot about how to delicately pull up a single plant without disturbing the others; how to peel back the bark of a tree to find the tree´s sweet sap; how to crack open a seed pod and add it´s powdery sweet contents to water as a refreshing drink; what parts of wild fruits have medicinal value; and so much more.

Many Ngobe look down on these kinds of foods-they think they are something people eat only when they have to eat them. This may be true, but it is also true that in a community where there is much poverty, it is truly a shame that the Ngobe people have come to idealize the foods of the latino culture(rice , pork, and beef), over the incredible wealth of foodstuffs that are growing rampantly in their environment.

After spending the day hiking around from finca to finca and getting to know the wild plants that can be eaten, I decided to make a drastic change in my diet while here. I decided to change over to living off the land.

Part of my reasoning for doing this is that I have felt absolutely awful eating rice day in and day out-as I said before, very sluggish and low energy. My second reason is that I want to prove that a person can comfortably eat very well here without relying on food from the outside(except every once in awhile!). My third reason is that the glaring poverty here makes me want to spend my money inside the Comarca-not outside. By buying all my bananas, fruits, yucca, and greens from nearby fincas, I can support people who otherwise have very little cash income.

However, living off the land takes time-and alot of it. I have adjusted my schedule so that every other day I walk thru the bosque, up a mountain, to visit miscellaneous fincas and spend a dollar on my food for the next two days. As there is no refrigeration, what I buy only lasts two days, and then I´ve got to walk up the mountain again to replenish my food supply.

I also walk thru the bosque on my way up to the fincas and collect-gather-miscellaneuos seed pods, fruits, and leaves. I only collect just a few-just what I need for a day or two.

Walking up a mountain every few days is exhausting, I must say-as well as taking the time to cook and prepare each kind of food. It´s not fast or easy-in fact, it takes considerable time every day.

It´s an interesting way to live-kind of a day to day way to eat. It makes me think about the gluttony and greed of people in my own country. We have to buy simply enormous quantities of food in one shopping trip-and we have to have so many choices of what to eat. Myself included, of course.

It is perhaps true that we validate these enormous quantities of food by saying we don´t have the time to shop often, that things are cheaper in large quantities, that gasoline prices are high, and so on…

But we could still practice living alot more simply, I think. Certainly, we don´t have the time to walk around gathering nuts and berries, or farming a acre of produce to live off for the coming year…but we could really examine what we think we actually really need-and downsize accordingly. We do not make choices so that we can live simple lives-as a matter of fact, it seems to me from where I stand at the moment that we actually make choices so that our lives are as far from living simply as we can get!

One thing I did not realize, before I started this journey, is how much of the world idealizes America, and that what we do has a domino effect for the rest of the world. Every time we insist on more choices, on more stuff, and so on-we actually are affecting alot of people. It´s hard to understand this, until you are in another country-and you see the culture of a people being slowly replaced with American culture. It´s very sad.

I´m really enjoying this simpler, healthier life-and I´m hoping that when I finally return I can somehow translate this into my lifestyle at home.



9 responses to “Comida Naturaleza-I Become A Gatherer”

  1. michele whitnack says:

    Amazing and inspiring Gigi! How cool to have someone teach you about the native plants and all there uses. I’ve been planning to plant a simple garden to eat out of…there is nothing better. Now I’m determined to in your honor. Thanks for sharing all your adventures.
    Take care,

  2. Amy Reaney says:

    I just stumbled across your blog through, what a great adventure you are having. I am planning a long trip myself and am very inspired by your posts.
    I hope you have a chance to read “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver. It is about Kingsolver and her family resolving to eat only what they can grow themselves or purchase from people they know for one year. It is excellent.
    I would be *thrilled* to send you a copy if you have an address where you could receive it.
    Vaya con dios,
    Amy Reaney
    Portland, Oregon

  3. Girl Scout in Alabama says:

    Our troop is in the process of planting a garden. For one of our service projects, we are growing vegetables for the local food pantry. Often times, they never get fresh produce because of the cost. They are very excited about the venture. They are alos going to set up a vegetable stand to raise money for a fun trip for them. My grandfather was a huge farmer and my dad owns about 100 acres that he farms, mostly for fun and family. This year as part of our troop, I am getting my dad to show the girls how to farm. We even have chickens that they are having to take care of. On Monday, they will plant cucumber and cantalopes. It was great to read your article. I think it is so important for people to eat locally and with the cost of food and gas sky rocketing…. I think more and more people are embracing the lifestyle. Our girls are excited because my mom is going to teach them how to make jelly with the blackberries we pick in a few more weeks and also how to can vegetables. That is a dying art in America just as farming and eating off of the land is in your area. I copied this article for the girls because it is so revelant to our service project we are working on.. Take care and have a blessed Easter. Becky T.

  4. Jim P says:

    This reminds me of a t-shirt i saw recently. It said “LIVE SIMPLY” and had a drawing of a guitar with only one string. I liked the message, as it is something I have been thinking more and more about, and the imagery. The Idea that the most beautiful things in this world are also the most simple, if you just open yourself up to them. The irony here, there just had to be some right?, is that I saw it in a catalog, essentially the mass marketing of the idea. Can’t win ’em all eh? Some ideas do need mass marketing though yes?
    This entry has given me more thought though, and I’d like to try to flesh it out a bit before presenting it to you. It is an idea of action. I will do some research.

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