Reader’s Letter: Chumbo

GRA ChumboFor whom it may concern:

My name is Elki, originally from Mexico but I have been living in London for the last 13 years. I am a professional chef that has taken the route of healthy living, responsible, conscious, and ethical use of ingredients and processes.

This has led me to quit my job as an Executive Chef for a group of restaurants in London, as its ethos was not of my belief to serve hearty and healthy food with responsible sourcing.

Since then I have being travelling and organising workshops, together with supper clubs, in London and Málaga, as well as working in Hjelmeland (a small community in Norway) to make the most of the resources available in the wild, the processing of waste, composting, and energy use in the local hotel and B&B.

In early 2019, I was in Málaga for first time, walking around the outskirts with a friend of mine. While we were walking, I realised that there was Ficus Opuntia Indica around and mentioned to my friend that a cactus plant that we came across was edible and with other possible uses. In the beginning, my friend was a bit skeptical of my words and the plant.

Later on, I decided to go and collect some to bring home and cook. My friend now was only skeptical but starting to worry about getting food poisoning from a cactus. however, after eating and discovering some of its uses, my friend became a cactus fan.

The story starts on positive tones but the reality is that the more we travelled around Andalucia and spoke to people involved in gastronomy, farming and the public in general, my interest was getting wider and deeper. Discovering that the cactus is endangered, has given me a new perspective of the situation.

I left Málaga saddened and disappointed by what I had seen; many dead cacti and some barley alive. I wondered what the solution could be. I decided to return, which I have done several time, and dig deeper. I guess it’s time to stop wandering and start acting.

In these last few months I have been gathering information from newspapers, internet and meeting people who can give me information and clues soon reaching a dead end. But is not all negative; I strongly believe that there are many ways to use cacti and anyone, anywhere could cultivate and use them.

The cactus is one of the foods that form the backbone of Mexican cooking and parts of Latin-America but also unofficially in Spain, due to the importation of the plant by Spanish Conquistadores. In fact, they are in most of the countries around the Mediterranean basin. In Spain, for example, the Nopal is known as Chumbo and in semi-rural and rural areas it is prepared in the same way as in Mexico.

Furthermore, the fruit Tuna, as we know it in Mexico, is harvested in large quantities in countries like Turkey, on an industrial scale for export and processing to other countries.

The nutritional value of cactus is ample and some consider it a superfood, as it contains riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, Iron, fibre, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, calcium, potassium, magnesium, copper, manganese, also it is a source of organic compounds, phytochemical, polysaccharides and antioxidants that can contribute to its health-boosting power.

The health benefits are many, owing to its dietary fibre which is good for the digestion, it reduces the amount of cholesterol, produces weight loss, and is low in saturated fat.

Some more benefits are:
Quicker metabolic function,
Cancer prevention
Elimination of free radicals
Regulates enzyme function throughout the body
Optimisation of organ functioning
Promotes healthy muscle gain, and bone repair
Decreases insomnia and chronic anxiety
Increases the release of cretonne which results in increase of melatonin levels
It has a slightly sedative effect and also contains anti-inflammatory properties
If applied topically, it can reduce inflammation, wound tissue repair and burns
Skin health against premature ageing, leaving skin fresh & health, the list caries on.

Finally, it can be used in gardening, construction, and as a clean fuel as some initiatives already started in Mexico against the odds show.

So, how can we come up with a solution? by informing and educating the population, with talks, workshops, promotion, activities that can promote the use of cactus in everyday lifestyle. We need the involvement of local authorities for initiatives and development of projects on a sustainable way, creating a state of consciousness not only towards a plant in eminent status of extinction in the wild but to other species or animals and plants and subsequently human life.

My time in Málaga is limited as my kids live in London, but I am keen on coming to Málaga or anywhere in the region where like-minded people are also interested and keen on bringing back the cactus into the wild at some point in the future.

I am not a biologist or specific expert on sciences but my sense of logic tells me that the cactus will be extinct soon in the wild due to the ravages of Cochineal parasite, which has spread and finds in cacti of the genus Opuntia nutrients and moisture to survive.

But what has led to Cochineal to spread so quickly? Is it because the controls of the use of insects in industries are not regulated? Is it because population including local authorities have no knowledge of its importance to humans? Is it because it’s in the wild and doesn’t belong to anyone but anyone can benefit from it at no cost? and if the plant becomes extinct, who’s going to get the blame?

Who’s is up for it?

Elki Guillen

(News/Reader’s Letter; Chumbas)

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