Ayahuasca, diet and traditions: some cursory reflections on diversity

During the Eleventh International Congress of Ethnobiology: Local Livelihoods and Collective Biocultural Heritage (2008/Cusco, Peru) we put together an ayahuasca ceremony with a group of Kichwa shamans from Napo and a group of shamans from Colombia. It was a ceremony for academics and practitioners attending the conference – for them to get an insight into what ayahuasca is and how shamans work.

One of those present during an initial Q&A said: “I’ve just eaten, can I partake?”, to which a Colombian shaman answered: “Yes, no problem; you drink a cup, you vomit, then your stomach is empty and you’re ready for the dosis”.

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One for the fat people: the surprising conclusion to the fat science debate

Just spent the evening looking over Tena with Fidel Andi after having talked organisation, politics and healing practices. We sat in silence for a while. “The town has grown“, I said. “Phuusf“, he answered, “and it’s still only long city…“, showing me a sausage-like shape with his hands, “…it will grow in other directions in the future“, then pointing across the town below us – with all its lights – towards the Llanganates in the close up horizon.

We were talking again. “So, fat from a pig is no good in the diet after healing work?“, I had wanted to revisit that thing about fat for a while, “…but neither is the fat of the guanta (Cuniculus paca)?” I mentioned about the otherwise desirable bush meat in the Kichwa diet. “No, the fat of the guanta is not good“.

“What is the problem with fat?”

  • “It is toxic, it causes inflammation”.

“Does all fat cause inflammation, is all fat toxic?”, thinking about omega science.

  • “No, there is good fat and there is bad fat”.

“So some fat is good fat?

  • “Yes, the fat of the crocodile is a fine medicine!”.

“Do the animals that have good fat tend to be slimmer beasts?”

  • “Yes, maybe. The problem with fat is contamination, in food and in the environment. Some animals don’t eat well and it goes in their fat and end up in your fat. It can be difficult to digest”.

“Yes, good fat is good”, I cleverly added.

  • “Yes, it helps you when you fast, it gives you energy, sustains you”.

Then we talked about how the chemical industry uses the “third world” to dump an infinite stream of toxic chemicals that unwitting people buy and use every day, because there are are no other options for sale. Salt, refined sugar from poor sources, low quality vegetable oils, cleaning agents, cosmetics, insect repellents and god knows what. So much work to be done for public health, but at least we solved the big question, the hot topic at debate, coming to the shocking conclusion that fat is an ambiguous bunch of triglycerides: There is good fat and there is bad fat. All things have two handles, beware of the wrong one.

Real food, wild food, from the forest

The food at the gathering will be real – no chemicals, no corporations – coming from forest gardens; and it will be wild – collected by locals wandering the woods – straight out of the Amazon: comes in the mornings on certain street corners, small amounts, hand collected and irregularly. To get the good stuff you have to be there early and build relationships over time to know when and what is likely to come in the next few days. It’s no supermarket, but it sure is superfood.

In preparation little salt will be used and it will be from a natural source in the Andes adding precious minerals. No refined sugars, but some nutritious panela (rapadura / dehydrated sugar cane juice) will be used for taste, energy and also to add minerals.

What the season will bring, we shall see. Here are some relatively random examples from the last month: