Food Voices: Medicine for the Body and the Soul

In this installment of the “Food Voices” series, we hear from Juan, a natural doctor using the basic principle of nutrition to heal.

WhyHunger is pleased to be partnering with Andrianna Natsoulas, longtime food sovereignty activist and author of the forthcoming book Food Voices: Stories of the Food Sovereignty Movement. In 2010, Andrianna began a journey across the Americas to capture the stories of people working towards and living a just and sustainable food system. As she continues her journey, spanning from Nova Scotia to Ecuador to Brazil and beyond, we will feature highlights of the stories she gathers. 

Juan is from the province of Morona Santiago, which is deep in the Amazon of Ecuador. Juan is an Uwishin, or natural doctor, of the Shuar people. He has been trained in agronomy, attended veterinary school, and has extensively studied natural medicines. He gathers herbs from the Amazon to treat people with ailments ranging from cancer to paralysis to spiritual possession. Below are his statements.

Decontamination of the body is a part of the basic principle of nutrition. The first nutrition received with natem* is the premiere nutrition, complete nutrition that feeds the body, feeds the soul and gives salts and minerals. In total, it harmonizes. Nourishment is medicine for the body and medicine for the soul. Food has to be balanced, in accordance to the necessity of the organism. Food should not make one fat, nor should it make one skinny. The food source should not cause someone to be addicted. The food should not cause any sicknesses. All of the foods that we use here are varied; foods that carry calories, vitamins, salts, minerals. Every day you have to eat foods that have all of these things. Therefore, we shouldn’t eat vitamin pills because we are taking all of this in food.

Every food has a lot of things that are very important – especially yucca. Yucca is the first food planted in the earth. It is the most important food in our culture. It is the fountain of our culture, fountain of life. The yucca is the fountain of nutrition. It is the food of Nunqui. She is the Mother of the Earth. She delivered yucca and plantain, camote, tujo, pineapple, papaya and all the fruits that exist in the native farms. In the old days they were wild, then Nunqui blessed us and taught us what plants we should have in our farms: how to grow, how to harvest, how to process the yucca. The leaves serve for nutrition. The flowers are medicinal. The bark is for tea. The tuber is a food. It is the first food in the native life. It is also the maternal milk. Instead of cow’s milk, the milk of yucca is what we give to babies. It is very sweet. It protects the intestinal bacteria. The yucca is curative. It cures cancer. It cures gastritis. It cures intoxication. It cures constipation. The yucca is like daily bread.

Every year, the food production is getting smaller. Every year the yucca and plantains are getting less and less. Other fruits – like oranges – are being fumigated. The original people don’t do that. Those who are from the city, when they make farms, they fumigate. The people who are doing the cow pastures are also fumigating near the cows. They brought cows in that killed a lot of the jungle. The corporations, trans-nationals and the foreigners are damaging the land. They are damaging our products and our foods.

We no longer can produce enough food to subsist and there certainly is not enough to sell. The original people’s economy is the poorest and they become poorer every day. We would like to do a tourism program that is controlled. Tourism is everywhere, but tourism doesn’t have to damage the earth. We want organizations of the developed countries that are looking for organic foods come to our land so together we can fight and defend it. They could invest money in the plantations that are the healthiest and the most organic. There are a lot of organizations in Canada, United States, Europe who like everything organic. But here, there is no money to invest in developing organic farms. Therefore, because of lack of money, the original people make small gardens to consume just for their families. 

The environment is changing, therefore the whole world, and particularly the most industrialized countries, instead of investing millions of dollars to develop the atomic bomb, produce arms, airplanes, and rockets, instead of manufacturing cars, should invest millions of dollars in order to return to growing trees of all kinds and raising all kinds of animals. If you destroy a giant tree, you are destroying the medicinal properties that grow in the branches. Orchids, plants, frogs, birds, monkeys, insects, and animals grow and make their homes in those giant, ancient trees. If you kill a branch, the tree dies, as do all of the habitats down on the floor of the Amazon where there are medicinal plants that only grow in the jungle. The biodiversity of the Amazon will become extinct. The Amazon should be a garden, it should be a paradise. We have to save the Amazon.

* Natem is one of the most sacred plants used in traditional Shuar ceremonies. It is better known under its Andean-name Ayahuasca.