Various Vegetables and Foods in the Mountains of Tabasco

Plants such as the yerba mora, the chaya pica leaf, and the chafaya tuber, among the lesser-known, and others such as the guaya fruit, the fama root, the vama cumiicial, the macal root, the jujo fruit, the camuto fruit, the flying potato, and the guástmo fruit, which are better known.

Various Vegetables and Foods in the Mountains of Tabasco
Tomato is a popular vegetable product consumed internationally. Photo by Louis Hansel / Unsplash

A society is healthy not only when a large proportion of its components are free of diseases, but also when its inhabitants have a diet that satisfies their organic requirements and are therefore able to manifest their genetic potential to the maximum. This situation translates into better expectations for individuals and the growth of society in cultural, scientific, technological, economic, etc. aspects; in other words, into a satisfied society.

It is generally characteristic of industrialized countries to have a strong development of primary activities (agriculture, livestock, etc.), which are highly technological and a minimum proportion of the population dedicated to them. On the contrary, developing countries maintain a high proportion of their population in primary activities, their technological level is very low and there is a strong socioeconomic problem that prevents their full development.

The State of Tabasco maintains a large proportion of its population in rural areas and, in stark contradiction to the exuberance of the environment, the rural population has a high rate of malnutrition. Although the literature reports abundant vegetation and a great biodiversity of fauna in our humid tropics, the populations of different species, both plant and animal, are increasingly diminishing. Surely some of them will be unknown to future descendants.

The awakening of ecological awareness has started with a delay in our environment. Some take into consideration this kind of concern, but others do not pay attention to the environment that surrounds us, which is attacked day by day in many different ways. Nowadays, when we read documents from the beginning of the century in which the exuberance of Tabasco's lands is told, it is necessary to have a good imagination to recreate that environment.

Because today there are few areas of the state with a great abundance of vegetation and fauna. The jungle is retreating and the swampy areas of the coastal plains such as Centla, Macuspana, and Jonuta are being polluted by industrial oil activities. The rest of what used to be the plains are now peatlands and pastures that dominate agriculture, which represents less than 10 percent of the state's area.

The little that survives of the jungle in Tabasco is the one found in the Sierra region, but it is in great danger, as the locals cut down trees in the mountains to grow corn, following the Olmec pattern of slash and burn. Although the need for food in these population centers justifies this activity, the ecological balance is greatly affected, which causes an increase in eroded areas.

Few areas of the state have been able to conserve some of the jungle and with it the diversity of flora and wildlife. The areas of the Sierra region in the municipalities of Tacotalpa, Teapa, and Tenosique; the three "T's", together with Huimanguillo, are the remnants of the tropical rainforest treasures that remain in the state. Many people still live in this area, descendants of the former indigenous inhabitants.

Some of the nuclei of settlers have always lived in the highlands while others were migrants from the plains. During the Spanish conquest of the Tabasco Lowlands, a new distribution of the land was made, leaving the best in the plain area for the conquerors, while the tips of the hills and the more swampy areas became the refuge of the conquered. These last ones are, even today, the marginalized zones of the development of the Tabasco society.

Because of this, many "serrano" indigenous people maintain some traditions that are not common to the current inhabitants of the plains. Although these ethnic groups have been absorbed by many "western" customs, they still maintain some food habits specific to the region. There is the custom of consuming various plants, which they call "vegetables", which are not the same as those consumed by the inhabitants of multi-urban areas.

When the inhabitants of the Sierra talk about "their vegetables", they are referring to plants such as yerba mora, chaya pica leaf, and chafaya tuber, among the least known, and some others such as guaya fruit, fame root, cumiicial vama, macal root, jujo fruit, camuto fruit, flying potato and guástmo fruit, which are better known.

Some other vegetable products are widely spread throughout the world, for example, the chupilin leaf, the yucca root, and cocoa, whose seed is used to produce chocolate, which became internationalized after the Conquest and is undoubtedly a great contribution of Tabasco to the world's culinary culture. Another well-known product is the tomato, also consumed internationally.

Concerning fauna, it should be remembered that Tabasco has lost many species due to immoderate hunting. Such is the case of the white-tailed deer and also of the diverse population of turtles, which are becoming increasingly scarce, even in the markets where they were once abundant.

In Tabasco, a fine culinary culture was developed, but systems were never implemented to reproduce the species, terrestrial or aquatic, used in the kitchen. A sad example is a manatee, which is currently in danger of extinction.

Undoubtedly, measures must be taken to conserve the species, for which they must be studied, seeking, if possible, domestication systems for both plants and animals so that they can be used by the inhabitants of the area while maintaining a balance with the environment to avoid their deterioration.

The rescue of "vegetables", vegetables that constitute strong support in the diet of the mountain inhabitants of Tabasco, is a felt need because otherwise, they could become extinct. We must think that the inhabitants of this region have consumed them until now, surely because they have found good qualities in them. Thus, some are an adequate source of energy, while others seem to provide good levels of vegetable protein, as well as vitamins and minerals.

As with some agricultural by-products, such as those generated in the milling of sugarcane, which is used to feed various species of shrimp animals, there could be great possibilities, not yet evaluated, for highland vegetables, since nowadays so much importance has been given to self-sustainable systems, professionals and researchers in the different branches of human and domestic animal nutrition must think about these possibilities. Another interesting point for research is the application and dissemination of knowledge of plants with pharmacological utility.

By Oscar Omar de Dios Vallejo