Food is Life. It is – quite literally – what we’re made of. It is the direct link between us and our environment. It is the fire of life, energy, being passed on, from plants and other animals, to us, and back. It is the same elements and minerals, constantly being recycled since the beginning of time. Food is everything, and everything is food.
We try to eat as much food from our garden as possible – yet for now we still have to buy certain things we can’t (yet) plant/produce ourselves, like garlic, shallots, palm sugar, soy sauce, oyster sauce, and “pla raa” – fermented fish sauce.
We trade for rice with Karn’s family, and eat cassava when we don’t feel like eating (or don’t have any) rice. We eat as many wild foods as possible, not too many carbohydrates (which will get a lot easier once we start having as many bananas as we had at our last project), and plenty of raw fruit and vegetables. With every meal we eat a variety of leafy greens – mostly wild – as a health boost and salad substitute.
On most days we eat vegetarian food, and only sometimes, like when we feel like fishing or hunting, on special occasions, and during various insect seasons do we eat meat.
We barely ever use salt, since its harmful effects (e.g. causing hypertension, obesity, cardiovascular and kidney diseases) are severely underestimated. If you order a regular dinner in an average restaurant in Los Angeles, you will consume – with one single meal – as much salt as the average jungle-dwelling Yanomami eats in a whole year. This clearly shows that humans don’t need large amounts of salt, and that the little salt we do require can be easily obtained from a wild diet. We do experiment with vegetable salts – burning plant matter and using the ashes as salt substitute – because salt in this form is beneficial, not detrimental, to your health. Vegetable salts are potassium-based (mostly KCl), not sodium-based (NaCl) as is industrial salt. They also contain minor elements which play important roles in our metabolism.
This is the natural way to obtain salt if you don’t live close to the ocean. Jungle people all over the world use ashes of certain plants (kapok, papaya, maize, etc.) as a salt substitute to add to food or use as a dip.
There should be no need to explain why we don’t use refined sugar – by now it is common sense that sugar is perhaps the most widespread, underestimated and harmful (in terms of sheer scale of the complications it causes worldwide) drug in the world. When we use sugar, as for making fruit jam and wine, we use palm sugar (boiled-down juice extracted from the flowers of several species of palms), and always in moderate quantities.
Apart from that we use stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) from our garden to sweeten drinks like coffee and tea, since it has no negative effect on teeth, weight, immune system, or blood sugar levels.
We make sure our food has the lowest environmental impact possible, which means avoiding ingredients that are not locally sourced, “mindful foraging” and “-harvesting”, and eating whatever is in season.
A few examples of dishes we love to eat:
PHOTOS FOLLOW SOON!!
Soop nor mai
One of the most sustainable things to eat in the tropics are bamboo shoots. We have plenty of bamboo, so in season we eat this dish every other day – without ever getting bored.
Gaeng om plaa laai
This amazing dish is what we often do when we catch an Asian swamp eel in our pond. Dave considers it the most delicious fish in the world, and it’s extremely easy to eat since it has no bones, just a spine.
Gaeng om nok
Whenever we shoot a small bird, this is one of our favorite methods of preparation.
Another traditional Northeastern dish, this delicious meal caused us to overeat time and again. Made from unripe jackfruit – boiled and mashed – mixed with various raw herbs and spices, it is best enjoyed together with sticky rice and leafy greens.
Gaeng het paa
In mushroom season, this dish is “heaven on earth” in a pot.
Gaeng som paa
Sour curry is a common Thai dish, and our variation carries the suffix “paa” (meaning “jungle”) because we use wild ingredients.
Nam Prik Maeng Khaam
In Rhino Beetle season, we often make this spicy sauce to eat with fresh leafy greens from our garden.
Gaeng Khee Lek
This dish is, for Western standards, extremely bitter, yet amazingly tasty. The leaves of the Siamese Cassia are boiled twice (to reduce the bitter taste) – and the water from the first boil can be drunk as super-bitter, tonic tea.
This is a recipe we adapted from the Yanomami people of the Amazon Rainforest.
Mashed Jackfruit/Cempedak seeds
Jackfruit and Cempedak feed you twice: first the flesh, then the seeds. After boiling, the starchy seeds can be mashed in a mortar together with chili, garlic, shallots, basil, pepper, shrimp paste, wild eggplant – or whatever else you have around – to make a delicious dip to eat with wild leafy greens and other vegetables. This seasonal dish makes you full quite fast, and due to the large amount of vegetables consumed with it, it is a boost for your health.
Elemental Composition of Vegetable Salts from Ash of Four Common Plant Species from Chad; Tarkodjiel Mianpeurem, et al.; International Journal of Pharmacology 8 (6); 582-585; 2012