Wild Foods Consumption
People considerably underlook wild food consumption when addressing the poor health epidemic. Lack of biodiversity in modern diets, especially the diets available to those living in poverty, is the main reason people have too few micronutrients and other key nutrients in their diet, which leads to an unnecessary number of preventable diseases and death.

The Maya nut is one of the lesser-known wild forest foods. Found in Ramón trees native to the rainforests of Latin America and the Caribbean, the Maya nut is extremely versatile in its uses and benefits. The Maya nut receives praise for its nutritional value, but people also stigmatize the wild food due to it once having been a staple food in severe times of poverty. Regardless of the association, what is important to note is that the Maya nut is a wild superfood with massive nutritional and health benefits for all people regardless their class status.

Versatility and Sustainability

Some of the micronutrients that one can find in the Maya nut in abundance include calcium, fiber, potassium, iron and zinc; these are all crucial and critically nutrients lacking in most diets across the globe. A nutrient-dense diet is even less accessible to those living in poverty: a propeller of the cycle of poverty when considering that a poor diet is the leading cause of future health issues.

People can consume the Maya nut in a variety of ways, such as fresh, dried or even roasted. The entire plant is useful in that the sap is medicinal, people can eat the seed or pit or they can mill it into flour (similar to the avocado). Individuals can also chop the branches into firewood. Unfortunately, less than 5 percent of the modern diet of local communities includes the Maya nut because communities do not support it.

Wild Foods and Forest Conservation

Research shows that an increase in the consumption of these types of wild forest foods could be a mutually beneficial enterprise with respect to forest conservation and the people that inhabit those communities suffering from deforestation. Satellite evidence shows that communities that are cultivating the threatened plant species are experiencing lower deforestation rates than areas that are not accessing and consuming the versatile Maya nut. The leading cause of deforestation in the world is food production and the practices by which humans manufacture food, so this is a great place to start when analyzing the world’s environmental crisis. Environmental benefits of the consumption of the Maya nut include the planting of trees, as opposed to their removal.

How to classify the Maya nut in terms of its wildness is controversial since it is notably a wild food but growers have since started to grow it intentionally. Wild edible species are technically plant groups that people do not cultivate willfully. While some grow it deliberately (the Maya Nut Institute is responsible for much of this), the Maya nut does continue to grow without human intervention in certain rainforest areas; just not enough to keep it from being on the verge of extinction.

Looking to the Future

One Ramón tree has the ability to produce up to 200 kg of food per year. Living for more than 100 years, this plant has the potential to outturn upwards of 20,000 kg of food in its lifetime. And not only that, but the Maya nut can last up to five years (if dried and stored properly) and will maintain its nutrient properties in full value. In terms of world hunger, wild foods can only help improve current circumstances. Wild food consumption could be a part of the solution to help reduce global poverty, hunger and deforestation all at once.

The protection of wild foods, wild foods consumption and overall accessibility to wild foods in poor communities is a global issue that people must address. Emphasis placed on education, awareness and accessibility could help increase wild food consumption. Others should make the indigenous people in areas where the Ramon trees flourish and provide ample food for the community aware of the plant and its benefits.

– Helen Schwie
Photo: Flickr