Tell Me, What You Eat, And I Will Tell You Who You Are
When Europeans invaded Mesoamerican lands the richness of the environment was destined to over exploitation of its natural resources. They introduced monoagriculture, eliminating ancestral farming wisdom and its practices of crop diversification which had insured food security for native peoples. Convincing farmers of monoagricultural methods caused food scarcity and the loss of important heirloom seeds, including Amaranthus Cruentus or amaranth. Lifestyles for many have been changing due to this imposition of European thought, and today, the result is that, for having adapted to the colonial system imposed upon them, indigenous peoples do not have sufficient economic resources.
Over the years the conventional food production approach presented to us has generated negative attitudes regarding survival. Many believe, “if we don’t have money, we can’t eat” or “if we don’t have a harvest this year, we won’t have an income and so won’t be able to eat”. In the end, these narrow ideas are founded in the reality invasion created for us.
Today, these realities have left a contextual impression on the people who farm the land and on all of humanity. Governments’ interests regarding foodstuffs are to make money and facilitate the free market for countries in the northern hemisphere. And these interests are not at all concerned about the health of their own inhabitants, nor are they worried if their populace is experiencing hunger because of a lack of land to grow food. Nor are governments’ interests concerned about illnesses due to foods grown from seeds manufacturered by companies like Monsanto–seeds which are destroying the lives of many.
Then, with the onset of CoVid-19 and the pandemic, rates of chronic, incurable disease and malnutrition indices have increased among the Guatemalan population. And if that were not enough, Guatemala’s National Institute for Statistics confirmed that, during the last year, there has been a rapid rise in the cost of what is considered the basic food basket needed for survival: In March of 2020 the cost of the minimum necessary for survival was Q. 3,570 (approximately $ 476). A month later in April that figure had increased to Q3,615 (approx. $ 482). In November 2020 it was at Q 3,599 ( approx. $ 480). This situation has, for the most part and as suspected, affected the most vulnerable in the country–rural people and most significantly, the indigenous population who live in poverty or extreme poverty, and for whom every penny matters.
Given this situation, the Mesoamerican Institute for Permaculture (IMAP) is sharing ancient wisdom and knowledge about permacultures based in food production of native, heirloom foodstuffs. One of these is amaranth, which according to IMAP studies done in 2017 in cooperation with an expert nutritionist, showed that amaranth contains nutritive qualities. Its seeds as well as the leaves are high in protein, calcium, and vitamin C. The seed has amino acid components valued at 75 on a scale of 0 to 75. And the leaf contains 33% protein it is dried form. Additionally, digestibility is rated at 80% comparable to beef and eggs, i.e. the majority of what is required by the human body.
It provides 70% of the energy in the required diet and according to the FAO (UN Organization for Foodstuffs and Agriculture) a one to one ratio of rice and amaranth achieves recommended necessary protein. Not only is the seed highly nutritious, the tender leaves can also be eaten as a vegetable. And they contain more iron than spinach which is recommended for people with certain levels of anemia. The amaranth leaf also contains folic acid which is indispensable for babies and mothers during pregnancy and lactation.
If we think about cooking as an art form, we can use our imaginations to produce and consume a variety of food derived from amaranth. The seeds can be eaten like rice. Also, amaranth can be consumed as cereal or ground into flour for preparation of dishes. Additionally, toasted and ground, it can be made into the traditional Guatemalan drink atol. Through IMAP we have trained 10,000 producers in the area of permaculture by addressing food production and good health practices. We’ve focused with them on amaranth as a very nutritious foodstuff which can contribute to lowering rates of chronic malnutrition in the country. We are sure that if we empower local communities with this ancient knowledge it will be possible to improve nutrition and other conditions that are affecting us.