Antonia Barreau, M.Sc. (2014)

Thesis Title:  Wild Edible Plant Knowledge and Traditional Food Systems in Mapuche Lands of the Andean Temperate Forests, Chile

Abstract: Despite increases in food production worldwide, we face a global food crisis. Yet, the literature on food vulnerability still tends to emphasize cultivated foods, overlooking the importance of wild edible plants. This work explores the state of ethnobotanical knowledge on wild edibles and changing foodways in a Mapuche community residing in the Andean temperate forests of Chile. This research contributes to an understanding of the influence of historical and contemporary eco-cultural processes on traditional ecological knowledge and food systems. Data were collected using ethnography and complemented with: (a) ethnobotanical techniques; (b) weekly food diaries; (c) local market surveys; and (d) oral histories. The overall interest was to explore human-plant relations, food systems and local perceptions in this community. A total of 47 wild edible plants (28% exotic) belonging to 34 families were registered. While some species were still consumed, many were no longer used. Despite a wealth of knowledge held by adults and elders, new generations were not learning what the elders had once learned. The lack of access to forests and the formal school regime were reported as interrupting the transmission of environmental knowledge and skills. Since the Mapuche pedagogy is oral and in situ, the decreasing importance of wild edibles was mostly associated with a lack of access to gathering sites due to land grabbing, the scarcity of many species, the absence of children to go gathering and the loss of knowledge as a result of temporary migration. Wild edible plants are part of a wider Mapuche food system which, according to participants, has drastically shifted overtime. These shifts and increasing dependence on industrialized foods were related to common chronic health conditions and lower life expectations. The decreased use of wild edibles and the decline of traditional foodways are interlinked and land tenure regimes are a key for understanding current scenarios. While ancestral land claims remain unresolved, surrounding protected areas may play an important role for indigenous communities’ wellbeing by reinforcing knowledge systems and traditional practices related to food procurement and healthcare. Projects aiming to revitalize traditional foods are needed to recover the local food cultures of indigenous peoples for long-term collective health, and the reclamation of food sovereignty as a right.