Friday, October 27, 2006

Manioc and Malaria

I became addicted to "farofa", during my stay in Amazonas. It is derived from manioc (man-YOCK), or the cassava, a tuber root which is a plentiful crop in the Amazon jungle. This gentleman is a manioc farmer, a purveyor of farofa.

It is said that the cassava/manioc root gives the highest yield of food energy per cultivated area per day among crop plants, with the exception, perhaps, of sugarcane. A gift of the tropics.

Whether eating at a fine restaurant in Manaus, or at the humble table of a rural family, miles-deep into the jungle, a bowl of farofa sat on our table. It had the consistency of a coarsely grated, yet crunchy, parmesan cheese.

But it clearly was nothing of the sort; cheese would have congealed into a greasy, lumpy mass in that climate. Our farofa was always crunchy and firm. We sprinkled it freely upon our rice and beans, stews or soups or whatever else on our plates that called its name. It provided a distinct firm contrast to its food host.

But as this gentleman farmer advised us, you cannot consume manioc raw, as it contains a poisonous element easily converted to cyanide as it ripens. Our farmer friend showed us how he, working deep in the bush, carefully processed his manioc to remove these toxins.

First, he would peel away the outer skin of the the roots, grind the remaining tuber into a flour and then repeatedly soak the flour in water, using long, hand-carved wooden troughs filled with fresh water. He and his helpers then removed the flour from the troughs and squeezed it dry, soaked it again, squeezed it, soaked it, over and over again until all of the cyanide was, presumably, drained from the flour.

The certainty of this process gave me pause. Just how many times do you soak and squeeze? Shrug of shoulders. As many times as it takes.


Then he finally toasted the flour to a light, crunchy texture. By the time I left Brazil, I was sprinkling farofa on EVERYTHING. And brought bags of it home to New York.

This gentleman farmer lives amidst the plenty of the jungle, yet he is ashen and gaunt. Despite the abundance of his crop, which is a rich source of energy, he appears haggard and drawn. And much older than his years.

He confessed to us that he has been suffering from Malaria for quite some time, and because he lives so far away from the city, he is unable to obtain any treatment. Malaria is another plentiful by-product of life in the Amazon jungle.

Nature giveth, and nature taketh away..........

Manioc and Malaria
Ink and watercolor on paper.
Purchase a print of this painting here.


Karen Sempsrott said...

I love the intensity in the man's eyes. It is a beautiful painting. He looks like a gentle soul.

Nicole said...

Lovely color! I like the subtle warm skin tone and hat against the vibrant green background. :)