Food For Medicine: The Tribal Way

After a week of cheating on our diet and indulging in rice and other carb-rich food, yesterday was supposed to be the day we get back to track but my lunch for today was rice with ghee (clarified butter), tuna cutlets and super-hot habanero chutney. There was a very good reason why I gave salad to my husband and cooked rice for myself. In my home, every kind of illness can be healed by food. Yesterday afternoon, my head was feeling heavy and my body ached and immediately I regretted not having a loaded lunch because then my body would be strong enough to fight off whatever was attacking my body. So, I made up my mind that I must have rich food today. I always look for food in my kitchen before popping a pill.

Back home we have specialized dishes for different kind of illnesses, and though they might not be scientifically approved, it works just fine for us. For example, since I had cold, flu-like symptoms, I needed to have something very spicy as well as fatty and therefore the chutney and the ghee. Whenever we have cold and fever, my Mother makes a soup that is served with rice. The ingredients are tomatoes, hot green chilli (very hot), basil, dried roselle flower or leaves (we also use other optional sour leaves that are indigenous to our land), lots of garlic and salt. This soup is very spicy hot and sour and you sure will need a box of tissues next to you as it clears up the nose and pops up the ears. My mother never gives us fish when we have cold.

Last year, I fell and sprained my ankle badly and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on some pig trotters or cow feet. My Mother, so worried for my ankle, got a breath of relieve only after I told her that I had the trotters, not that it helped. Had I been home, she would have given me all the collagen heavy food like frogs and fishes like eels and lots of trotters. We, hill people, eat a variety of things that are absolutely delicious but may seem disgusting to outsiders. Loved ones would have heard about my accident and would have brought me live poultry and fishes and meat. There are never flowers or fruits, it’s always meat or money to buy my choice of meat. I sure do miss home most when I’m unwell.

My Mother and Father live alone and just last week my Mother told me that she had been watching their food very strictly because my Father BP is showing some irregularities. She told me that they are eating a lot of garlic and green leaves and every evening (their dinner is done by 6:30 pm) they sip on lemon tea or basil tea before sleeping. They are both in their early 70s and it’s encouraging to see them take care of their bodies. My Mother swears that eating chicken gives her body ache and so she tries to limit her chicken consumption to only the head, wings and the feet. She also says that after eating eggplant and pumpkin, her backache gets worse. Knowing how our bodies react to different food is itself a treatment for sure.

We believe that a pregnant woman shouldn’t eat crab or papaya, so when my pregnant friend invited me for a crab lunch at her place, I googled on my way if crab was indeed harmful to an expecting mother. I realised that there might be some validity to our judgement because the crabs we eat back home are very very tiny and it’s impossible to remove its shells so we just crush the whole thing and eat it. These shells could do harm but my friend was safe.

I take after my mother in my trust for honey. Back home, our honey are the real deal, straight from the forest and we have different kinds depending on the bees, my favourite being an extremely sour one. Once my brother-in-law got stung by a bee (he is very allergic to insects) and he came to my mother for help and she calmly advised him to apply honey on the wound.

I’m happy people don’t go for hunting as much these days but when I was young, I got to eat plenty of game meats. Forget about others, I remember eating porcupine meat (I wonder how my Grandmother prepared it for cooking). These animals are the richest and ‘most nutritious’ food with healing properties and only a fool would pass the privilege of eating them. This is how we ‘Tribes’ treat out food.

I remember a long slab of fat that used to hang in our neighbour’s kitchen. This fat was supposedly bear fat and covered by fungi. They said that it was medicinal but in my more than 15 years of living next door, I never noticed them doing anything with it. They must have eventually thrown it away. Today it is almost impossible to get these rare meats that we honour so much but I think that even if we manage to lay our hands on some of them, the effects won’t be as powerful as it used to be. It is not because the animals have become unhealthy but it’s because our bodies are too corrupted with ‘wholesome’ food. Our ancestors had far simpler diet, they ate poorer and worked harder whereas we overdose on nutrition and rest.

Some 7 years back, I had been coughing for more than two months and no doctors or medicines worked on me. My voice was gone and my muscles on my ribs and stomach hurt every time I coughed, then somebody said that the soup of white mice is the best medicine for cough so my mother sent somebody to get two of them because my sister-in-law also had the same cough. We found somebody who wasn’t afraid of handling these tiny animals and requested her to prepare for us. I just gulped down a small cup of its soup being so tired of coughing day and night. Honestly, I would have had anything at that moment. My Sister-in-law chickened out. I am not sure if it was the soup or some other thing but both of us were fine very soon after that day.


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