We are especially interested in wild foods (and we plant a lot of them), since being wild is the normal, natural state of everything – as opposed to domesticated, a feature of civilization (lat. domesticus, “belonging to the house”).
All things are happiest in their natural, wild state. This is true for humans, for every other animal, for plants, and also for larger entities like rivers and mountains. Wild foods are what every other undomesticated animal (and plant, and fungi) eats, so we humans should include it in our diet if we want to be healthy and strong.
Wild plants are the healthiest. They contain remarkably more vitamins, macro- and micronutrients, trace minerals, and more phytonutrients than domesticated produce. Phytonutrients are the compounds with the potential to reduce the risk of four (and possibly a lot more) of our modern scourges: cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and dementia – whose levels constantly declined ever since we started farming 10,000 years ago.
Wild dandelions, once a springtime treat for Native Americans, have seven times more phytonutrients than our “superfood” spinach. A purple potato native to Peru has 28 times more cancer-fighting anthocyanins than common potatoes. One species of apple has a staggering 100 times more phytonutrients than the Golden Delicious you find in the supermarket.
Throughout the ages, our farming ancestors have always selected the least bitter plants for cultivation. Many of the most beneficial phytonutrients have a bitter, sour or astringent taste. Second, early farmers favored plants that were relatively low in fiber and high in sugar, starch and oil. These energy-dense plants were pleasurable to eat and provided the calories needed to fuel a strenuous lifestyle. The more palatable our fruits and vegetables became, however, the less advantageous they were for our health.
In domesticating plants we have caused the disappearance of many wild vegetables and through selective breeding of plants we increased their size and changed their flavor to suit our modern taste. (It is important to note here that with the emergence of a sedentary, agricultural lifestyle, certain foods became available in larger quantities than anywhere found in wild Nature; we preferably planted our ‘favorite foods’, which is why we ended up with the Standart American Diet – a diet that consists of loads of processed and artificially sweetened foods, red meat, refined grains, white potatoes, high-fat dairy products, eggs, salt and high-sugar drinks and has been directly connected to various diseases ranging from obesity, over diabetes, depression, cardiovascular disease, chronic inflammation, to cancer.
With modern technology, we modify our food so that it becomes addictive in the most literal sense; genetically modified, domesticated and processed foods contain exactly those substances that we are evolutionary inclined to like (mostly carbohydrates, sugar, salt and fat) – with the difference that they are found in much smaller quantities in Nature – and they add a multitude of chemicals to enhance addictiveness, appearance, flavor, color and durability.
Today only 15 kinds of plants and 8 kinds of animals make up 90% of our food. Through selective breeding and genetic manipulation we destroy the huge variety even of domesticated produce, which can create a possibly fatal dependence on annually bought commercial seeds, chemical fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides. Throughout the course of our civilization we have followed an ever increasing tendency to reduce the variety of plant species we eat, to the point that many species simply disappeared – and this trend continues here in Thailand, where the variety of mango species gets reduced by more and more farmers switching to the more popular “Nam Dok Mai” (มะม่วงน้ำดอกไม้) variety (the same happens to Durian) and simply cutting down the old trees.
But the best example are perhaps Bananas (read more here).
This is why we try to preserve the big variety of banana trees and grow as many ‘forgotten’ wild herbs as possible.
We prefer not only wild vegetables and fruit, but also wild meat.
Wild animals can choose what they eat, their instinct tells them exactly what they need and their diet is well-balanced, organic, raw and often includes a wide range of different foods. We occasionally hunt or trade wild meat or it is given to us as a present.
The animals vary, with the most common being wild pig, frog and python; the most exotic animal we ever got was a colugo.
We hunt only small game like birds and squirrels (and the occasional frog or crab) , since larger animals were severy overhunted in the past and their populations haven’t yet recovered.
Excessive consumption of meat from domestic animals is a big problem in our world, rainforest is being cut down to make more space for massive industrial scale cow ranches in South America and more and more germs become resistant to antibiotics because of their heavy use in factory farming, which will soon lead to widespread failure of antibiotics, catapulting us back into the pre-antibiotic era where surgery was almost impossible and people died of lung infections.
The consumption of some kinds of domesticated meat (which is fed domesticated and genetically modified corn or other grains) has been directly linked to some of the leading causes of death (heart disease, cancer, etc.).
The fat in beef and pork is notoriously bad for health because the intra-muscular saturated fat (marbling in steaks), characteristic of grain-fed cattle, is an artificial product of domestication that is lacking in wild animals. Seal, whale, and walrus fat, widely eaten by foragers in the Arctic, is unsaturated. Polyunsaturated fat, linoleic acid, is not synthesized by the body and is essential to good health. It is found in vegetable fats, nuts, seeds, insects, amphibians, birds, snakes, and other reptiles. It is low in ruminants such as domestic beef. Long-chain fatty acids, found in greater abundance in wild meat, are necessary for brain development.
You can get them in meat from the butcher, but domestic cattle often lack access to an adequate variety of seeds and leaves to make an optimum proportion of structural fats.
The simple act of keeping livestock has brought a lot of problems since people adapted this lifestyle in a sedentary form.
Domestic animals are reservoir for many human parasites, especially viruses. During the past few thousand years, they have endlessly generated mutant or recombinant forms that attack people with strains of encephalitis, measles, diphtheria; epidemics of highly infectious diseases known as plagues; and numerous multicellular parasites. Because of agricultural land use, malaria has become a major cause of human death, writes Paul Shepard in his book “Coming Home to the Pleistocene”.
Archaelogical records show that the Neolithic was marked by a decline in dietary quality due to a lack of availability of quality protein and an increase in the consumption of starchy plant foods. Lowering of the protein-to-carbohydrate ratio increases serotonin levels and induces a
‘craving’ for protein. This explains the ubiquitous “meat craving” that is reported among all hunter-gatherer/horticultural people today, and that even vegetarians and vegans struggle with.
We love eating insects, raw, cooked or fried! Insects are a good source of protein, easy to find and delicious to eat, so when the vegetation becomes sparse in dry season we go catching crickets in our garden. Most insect species are not only edible but quite delicious, the most common cricket for example is sweet and has a very unique flavor. Insects make up a part of our diet depending on the season – some months the Thai Maybug is easily found eating leaves of our fruit trees, another month is Rhino Beetle mating season, and they fall off trees in great numbers when you shake them. When the red ants have a lot of eggs in their houses made from leaves, we harvest those too (and get bitten hundreds of times – guess that’s what we deserve for destroying their home!). Whenever we harvest wild honey, we of course eat the bee larvae, too, just like indigenous people do. Another insect that we eat occasionally is a big maggot called “duang” in Thai, and sometimes we even eat tarantulas!
If we happen to find more than one wild beehive in one of our trees, we harvest the honey of one of them. Bees are the gardener’s best friend and a crucial part of the ecosystem, since they pollinate most flowers – this is why it is good not to be too greedy.
We light a small fire to produce smoke that distracts the bees and use a knife on a stick to cut the bottom half of the hive, which we catch in a bowl. Doing this at night is easier because the bees can’t see well in the darkness and are less likely to coordinate an attack.
There is a kind of tiny stingless bee (called ชันโรง; ‘Channarong’ , or short ‘Jan Lohm’) commonly found throughout the area, which produces delicious but rather small quantities of honey. Harvesting their honey is easier, since, as the name implies, they can’t sting.
With all bee species, we eat the whole honeycomb, with pollen (very healthy) and larvae (good protein). If you bite into the honeycomb like it is a slice of bread, you get the full flavor of honey, pollen and larvae combined – heaven on earth!!
We save the wax to make candles (from regular bee species), or to make torches and fire starters (from stingless species). Stingless bees’ wax is dark brown in color and is made of tree resin, which makes it flammable – and it smells like imcense when burned!
The fish in or pond can also be considered wild, since we don’t feed
them industrial fish food and they live in a big, stable ecosystem eating whatever they want. We also eat eel, shrimp, clams and snails that we sometimes find in the pond.
Milk products and eggs
Usually we avoid drinking cow milk, and instead use soy milk when we prepare special little treats like our famous banana ice cream.
Milk from hoofed animals is not a “natural” food in an evolutionary or physiological sense (and neither are domesticated grains). The human difficulty digesting cow’s milk is mainly because of the adult insufficiency of lactase, the digestive enzyme for milk. We are subject to epidemics of immune reaction, cholesterol susceptibility, and the dietary complications that arise from too much or too little milling of grains.
In the past we kept some chickens and ducks so we ate eggs regularly, but now we gave up livestock farming because we have some issues with domestication, and eggs are (partly because of their unavailability in Nature) not often on our menu.