We are especially interested in wild foods (and we plant a lot of it), since being wild is the normal, natural state of everything – as opposed to domesticated, a feature of civilization (lat. domesticus, “belonging to the house”).
Wild plants are the healthiest. They contain remarkably more macro- and trace minerals and more phytonutrients than domesticated produce. Phytonutrients are the compounds with the potential to reduce the risk of four 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, and cardiovascular disease, 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 we 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.
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 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.
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 meat craving that is reported among so many hunting-horticultural peoples today.
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. Another insect that we eat regularly is a big maggot called “duang” in Thai.
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 clams and snails that we sometimes find in the pond. One thing we realized after we stopped feeding the fish about two years ago is that they seem to get smarter, or at least stop trusting food that just falls into the pond – it might have a hook in it. Fish in our pond are very hard to catch (even though there is plenty of them) and even developed sophisticated techniques to pull the bait of the hook without hurting themselves. But luckily every now and then one of them gives himself to us so we have more variety in our diet and ensure we get enough omega-3 fatty acids.
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 (except for one last duck that we really love and that lives free around the kitchen in the pond) and eggs are (partly because of their unavailability in Nature) not often on our menu.