Today was a lighter day. The group got up at 8 per usual, and we traveled to Kaua’i Community College (KCC) where our instructor Brian Yamamoto teaches as a professor of ethnobotany.
(This is some ultra rare plant that only has 25 left in the wild and was found on the KCC campus. Despite that, we were all able to go up and touch it and look at it, which was very cool)
It was not a terribly exciting day, but there were some highlights. Outside of KCC was the Kauai Community Market, the biggest farmer’s market on the island. That was the best part of the day. There were all sorts of vegetables and fruits, notably the star fruit which I really wanted to try (I sadly forgot my wallet in the locked classroom at KCC).
I would have liked to talk to the people in the market, but my mind was somewhere else and I didn’t feel much like talking. There are just chickens everywhere though, even in these super-populated areas like the market. There actually seem to be even more in the populated areas, probably because humans feed them.
Besides the market, there was one other interesting part of the day. Brian gave us a lecture on the most fundamental purpose and usage of plant-derived spices in foods in different cultures. As I have gotten much more interested in ethnobotany since I’ve been here, this part peaked my interest and I took a lot of notes. He started by saying that food is one of the most important — if not the most important — studies within ethnobotany (something that is rather unfortunate considering I can’t cook to save my life, unless of course future me wants eggs, cooked rice, and canned beans for every meal). He continued to talk about the role of plants in foods, specifically in spices. “My research is on the small island of Okinawa off the coast of Japan,” Brian told the group. “And there they have a saying: ‘Nuchi gusui.’ That most technically translates to ‘Food is medicine,’ however for Okinawans, it has a different meaning closer to ‘Food is life.'” I understand this phrase as food is a way of maintaining health and it is essential that we pay attention to what we are eating, but it is also more than that. The preparation of food determines how we live. Are you eating lots of blueberries? They are full of anti-oxidants that help to prevent cancer. What about cinammon products? Among many, many other very important things, it treats erectile dysfunction! But there’s a catch! The beneficial medicinal compounds in cinammon are only present in the bark/stick-form of cinammon, NOT the ground-up form that you see in stores. Once it’s ground up, it loses its beneficial compounds to the air within a month. After you’ve been drinking all night at the pub or at a party, do you drink a glass of turmeric-infused tea? If you did, you wouldn’t have to worry about hangovers, because tumeric — a rhizome related to and resembling ginger rhizomes — detoxifies alcohol and thus prevents the liver from damage as well as prevents hangovers. It’s what bars in Okinawa (and possibly Japan) serve complimentary to people who stayed in the bar all night drinking. How people live their lives is their business, but I believe that there is a right way and a wrong way to live. For people that want to live right and are privileged enough to have the resources to live right, it is important to strive to eat right, a process that involves learning what foods are healthy for our bodies.
(Speaking of eating right, this is the fruit of the cocoa plant, the one that makes chocolate. In order to get chocolate, the seeds of this fruit need to rot, a process that can be expedited by spitting on the seeds and getting them covered with bacteria. Remember that next time you eat chocolate: you’re probably eating some of someone’s spit…Now where’s that Hershey’s bar that I just bought)
The rest of the lecture was fascinating to me, but for sake of trying to cut these posts off sooner as well as saving longer posts for more daily content, I think I’ll stop here. Tune in tomorrow for more! It should be exciting. We’re going on a hike over Mt. Kokee and we’re supposed to see lots of cool plants. So peace!