Traditional Ecuadorian Cuisine and the Repercussions of Consumerism – by Megan Gonrowski. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports
Our second trip for the HECUA program was to visit the province of Manabí in the small coastal town of San Jacinto where the local economy relies on the collection of mussels. When we first arrived, we had a cooking lesson for a woman who owned the hotel where we would be spending the next couple of days. She is also a member of the local organization that works to reforest and protect the manglares (mangrove swamp) from deforestation due to the seafood industry. It is important to know that the cuisine of coastal Ecuador is very well known, and the amazing food is often peoples first talking point when you mention you have spent time on the coast. The famous coastal dishes all include some type of seafood. A very famous dish is called ceviche which is a cold soup that contains shrimp, cilantro, lime/ lemon juice, tomato, and onion. However, the vegan version contains palmito, which is the “heart” or inner core of a palm tree bud. Ceviche is often eaten with chifles, which are chips made out of plátano verde (green plantain) that is savory and not sweet. The plátano verde is another staple of many Ecuadorian dishes. It can be stuffed with cheese and put in soup, made into dough, pressed into tortillas, etc. The possibilities are truly endless. In San Jacinto we shredded plátanos verdes to make a dough that we stuffed with veggies, and then fried into a dish called corviche. A similar process is done for another coastal dish called bolon, but they are stuffed with cheese.
It is apparent that the coast of Ecuador is famous for rich and delicious food that include many different types of seafood. However, the underlying problem with people’s love for seafood in Ecuador and around the world is the skyrocketing demand it creates on small coastal towns to capture, produce, and sell their seafood products globally. One of the main reasons we went to the coast of Ecuador was to better understand the biodiversity of the manglares and the environmental damage that is occurring due to the creation of aquaculture pools to more quickly produce seafood such as shrimp and crab. The global demand of seafood is overwhelming the environmental balance of many coastal towns in Ecuador and in other countries. The classic story is that companies come to small coastal towns, buy up the land, cut down the biodiverse manglares in order to dig pools to produce seafood for the ever-increasing demand. However, as humanity clearly knows, there are always repercussions to the actions we take against nature. The manglares are vital to the maintain the biodiversity, culture, and livelihood of many people living on the coast. When the manglar is healthy and thriving, it is home to many birds looking to reproduce and to many different types of marine life such as fish, shrimp, crabs, and mussels.
Therefore, during our time on the coast we were given the opportunity to help plant manglar seeds in areas that had been destroyed by natural disaster and industrial aquaculture production. The organization was supported by the community of San Jacinto and managed by a group of young people. It was a difficult and wonderful experience to help reforest a small area of the manglar. There is a fine line between service work and a learning experience, but the organization is long standing and very capable, we were only there to provide our labor for a day. The work we did that day under the burning sun was extremely dirty. The mud of the manglar is thick and can pull you in like quick sand. Therefore, we crawled barefooted out of the boat and into the mud where we then continued to crawl and dig holes to plant the seed. The variety of manglar seeds that we were planting fall from the trees and can float down the river for roughly 45 days looking for some mud to attach to and sprout roots in. We spent a few hours planting hundreds of seeds in a small area. The work was bitter sweet because unfortunately we were told that the industries can cut down miles of the manglar in a day to create aquaculture pools, but it would take weeks to replant the same area.
The take away that the organization and the people of San Jacinto wanted us to learn was the importance of the manglar to the fragile environment, culture, and local economy. The manglares environment in an estuary, which is an area where the freshwater rivers meet the salt water ocean. Therefore, the balance of the water is very fragile and heavy rain can completely change the water balance and flood the rivers. Also, another learning opportunity was that as consumers, our buying power can have major effects on small towns all over the world just like San Jacinto. They urged us to be smarter and more educated consumers and to realize that all the foods from supermarkets have an origin in some town, in some country, and that global demand could or could not be negatively affecting the environment or livelihoods of places and people across the globe.
Megan serves as an assistant editor for The North Star Reports
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