Wednesday, April 07, 2010

One More Note About the Ayahuasca Dieta

On a discussion board on which I occasionally post the question of the Dieta, diet, one should follow before and during a time of doing ayahuasca, the visionary healing medicine of the Amazon, frequently comes up. I know I've written about it here before but I thought I'd do it one more time and hope this finishes my foray into that question.
I've got two responses here. The first related to the strictures of the diet: No salt, no oil, no pork, no hot pepper condiments.
The second relates to responses from some astute members of the forum who discussed the issue of dropping external stimuli--like awakening your real tastebuds by refraining from salt for a period of time.
Here are my first comments:

I've written this before so if it bores people, forgive me. I've never met an ayahusquero who knew about dieta except through gringos. They may exist, but of the dozens I've know, none knew of it.
I'm guessing the whole dieta thing is invented by gringos trying to imitate Peruvians. And if so, here is the thing: The most comfort food in the Amazon is boiled river fish and plantains. Rice if no plantains are available. Yuca if no rice or plantains are available. That is not difficult, it's the diet of choice of a million people in Iquitos, Pucallpa and everywhere in between. It's the diet of choice of my wife and kids. It's just the favorite food of almost everyone in that part of the world.
When I'm out in the jungle, my team eats maybe 3-4 kilos of fish, if available, and 10-15 plantains daily, per person. That's large for kids under 10, but normal for the adult males.
Do they eat it with salt? No. Salt is for preserving food, not for fresh food.
Do they eat it with peppers? No, except for certain soups. Peppers are for selling (30 soles per kilo of hot peppers; nobody eats them if they can sell them).
Do they eat them with oil? No. Oil is expensive and generally at least a full day canoeing to get to a town that has oil.
Do they eat meat? No, except for wild meat they hunt. In that context, all meat is good. But pork is a store bought meat that no one in the jungle can afford, therefore it's considered bad for the dieta...
So gringos appear and suddenly the: No salt, no condiment, no oil, no pork become the "dieta". But really, that's hogwash--and if I'm stepping on toes, kick me back. But the whole concept of dieta only appeared about 10 years ago, as far as I can find, and it appears with gringos. Those gringos ask their curandreros, who naturally answer in the affirmative to please the people asking. Traditional problem with anthropology.
So certainly, there are some foods to be avoided: fermented wines, cheeses, some nuts....but those are things no one in the Amazon ever had so they never had to consider. Aguar Diente is drunk by nearly everybody in the Amazon every moment they can get their hands on it and by chance it isn't agains't any dieta rules--even on the day of drinking ayahuasca--though I would not recommend it. Aguaje, mamay, papaya and sweet banana are all found in the jungle and by chance they're not on the anti-dieta rules. Purple jungle potatoes are not on the diet either, nor is achiote, a wonderful condiment found all over the jungle--and which contains quite a bit of flavor.
Each of you needs to find what cleans you best so that you are fresh when you meet the spirit. If some things clutter you, by all means avoid them. If you're catholic--and I was raised catholic--and you think you need a fast that punishes you, by all means create one. But don't think for a second that any of that nonsense comes from the jungle. That's all white boy/girl imposition on tradition. You must remember that the real comfort food of the jungle is precisely the dish you're told to have during dieta: boiled fish and plantain or yuca or rice. That's not suffering. That's a feast for them. Same as saying Gorman is going to be stuck on a diet of corned beef, cabbage and boiled potatoes....HA! That's a feast for me but might cause suffering for a lot of you.
We know, as gringos, the problems with MAOIs mixed with ayahuasca--and I think corned beef would fall into that category, though I'm not completely sure. And there are a million foods to avoid to avoid those problems. But beyond that, I think it's all just made up junk to make people feel they're participating in some group collective. Which is fine if it works for you, but silly if it doesn't.

Here are my comments to the responses the initial comments brought:
X and Y: Could not agree more with the concept that the more quiet one is, the less internal noise one has, the better able one will be to pick up the energy around you and the energy of the medicine. I also find that a lot of the spirits just whisper, so that to hear them you need internal quietude. Of course some flat-out shout, but many just whisper.
My quibble isn't with cutting down, slowing down, getting quiet, eliminating the various "noises" in our lives. My only quibble is that I hear, repeatedly, how difficult the dieta--boiled fish and plantains--is for some people, and I just want to constantly remind them that it's not a difficult thing for people living out on the rivers in the jungle. It's the break in the day that makes things feel good. So I think people should not think that the dieta is something that comes from the vast almighty, whatever/whomever that might be. It's just eating simply, cleanly, wonderfully, skipping intimacy, spending time with the jungle and her forces, rather than staying busy with normal affairs.
That concept allows people to understand, gently, that they should by all means be slowing down, quieting down....but not feeling like they are breaking something written in stone if they squeeze a lime into their food. I've never known a curandero--though I'm sure there are some--who wouldn't squeeze a lime into fish broth if he/she had it. Or have a nice cup of lemongrass tea if it was a chilly night...and put a bit of milk into it if that was available.
I think, and it's just my opinion, is that to survive in the jungle and on the rivers, takes a very acute set of senses. Cluttered senses mean mistakes and as some of you know, a mistake when you're 10 hours from the nearest help can turn to catastrophe quite quickly. So anything that will distract from acute senses has the potential to cause you harm, or lessen your natural abilities.
In that sense, the dieta is fantastic.
In the sense that people believe they should be suffering, and then clutter their senses with that idea, well....that's just as cluttering as the fancy cake someone mentioned a few posts back.
In the end, however, even the finest curandero must be able to integrate ayahuasca into his/her life: That includes the occasional argument with the spouse, kids who won't do homework, neighbors who keep you up all night because they got batteries for the radio, going to work daily, dealing with traffic on the water or in the city, worrying about money, getting the kids to and from school, putting food on the table, rebuilding homes, taxes and all the rest. And you can't do that stuff while on a reclusive dieta. And if you can't do that, and do it all, straddle several worlds at once, well, then you're out of luck, finally.
The medicine has to fit into a full life. And I think the best curanderos/curanderas have very very full lives.


Johan said...

Ah, this has been a lot on my mind lately. I tried to figure out where this idea came from, and when. It definitely has always felt like more of a gringo idea to me. And I just thought that it mainly had to do with people somehow confusing proper plant dietas when you are doing apprenticeship with regular drinking. Your text makes a lot of sense.

I am stuck down here, waiting for the airspace to open up again but will get the finsihing touches on the book as soon as I get back.

Anonymous said...

I love how you explained this! Thank you! However, Im living in Peru and have observed several modern Peruvians take time out to cleanse and follow what you call the "gringo diet" from time to time, so I wouldn't say it's just a gringo concept. It's a way that Peruvians, too, go back to eating simply and cleansing. Wonderful blog.

Life's Art Photography said...

Thanks for sharing. I will just do the best I can with what I have. Aho!

Unknown said...

Many people who take Ayahuasca take it because they want to overcome fears, depression, addiction or any other negative pattern of behaviour. Some take it simply because they want a spiritual journey.