Monday, May 2, 2011

Mango May-Day

Welcome to the month of May. While spring is well on its way and greens are abounding, I'm finding myself facing a new dilemma. All of you are probably well aware that I have an unhealthy obsession with the tropical crop Theobroma cacao. Well, I haven't eaten any chocolate in a week (gasp!) as part of my chocoholics anonymous program (I CAN beat down the nightly cravings), but I have replaced one tropical indulgence with another: frozen mango from Trader Joe's (source: Peru). Now I have to say, it is definitely healthier for my bank account ($2.29 for 3-5 servings vs. 2 servings), and probably better for my overall health, but I still run into the issue inherent in consuming tropical fruits - it comes from so dang far away!

The mango is a tree crop indigenous to the Indian sub-continent, but presently grown world-wide in the tropics. While many local species exist, all commercially distributed mango cultivars fall under the species Magnifera indica. It is estimated that this fleshy fruit was domesticated around 4000 years ago, and as such you can imagine that mangoes are not only economically, but culturally significant through Southeast Asia and the Pacific Isles. Though the fruit is a relatively recent arrival in the Americas, hitching a ride during the 'Age of Discovery' in the 15th and 16th centuries, it now supplies the bulk of exports to North America and Europe (see above map).

Mangoes are suited admirably to weathered, nutrient-deficient tropical soils, thriving in the less-fertile substrate. While it's hard to get info on the sustainability of specific countries' mango production, after surfing the interwebs it is apparent that mangoes follow a similar trend of other tropical commodity crops. Originally understory plants, they are now largely grown in plantations/orchards. Honestly, I couldn't really uncover much about typical practices, so I don't have a good handle on the impacts of mango production ... would welcome any insight! You can find mangoes in fair trade and organic varieties, so perhaps that would be the most environmentally-sound choice available.

But why am I even contemplating mangoes? While at a recent meeting of the agriculture/ development variety, it dawned on me (not for the first time) that the local food "movement" is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it is a lovely idea for a society to grow, sell, and consume comestibles within a reasonable geographic region. However, the livelihoods of millions of people primarily in developing countries (not to mention entire countries' economies) rely on agricultural commodity exports. Yes, fair trade and organic options probably yield some additional benefits to these people, but it's hard to tell. This is where I struggle. I don't have answers for this dilemma, and vacillate between pro- and anti- tropical produce purchases. What do you think? Does local and seasonal win out over these tropical imports? Is there a balance you try to reach?
One of the reasons mango has been on my mind, is because I increased my consumption of the fruit during my quasi-raw diet week. While I mainly just eat chunks of frozen mango, I tried to branch out for a bit of creativity, with smoothies and this quinoa dish:

Raw Mango Sticky "Rice" (serves 2)
1/2 cup sprouted quinoa
1/4 cup coconut
5-10 drops stevia
1-2 tbs agave nectar
1 tbs ground flax seed
2 tbs coconut milk
1/2 large mango, diced

1. Sprout quinoa (directions are in Ani's Raw Food Essentials). You can also use 1/2 cup coconut milk and 1/2 cup water or unsweetened almond milk to cook quinoa as normal (maybe until slightly softer than usual).
2. If you are going for the cooked variety, you can really just add the rest of the ingredients after the quinoa is done and eat up! For the raw version, I combined all the ingredients, except for the diced mango, in a food processor and whizzed together. Start low with the sweetener, and adjust as necessary. The mango will add a kick of sugar, so err on the side of not sweet.
3. Add mango. Eat immediately or refrigerate for up to a day ... otherwise the quinoa starts sprouting big time and it gets a little awkward to eat.

Happy eating; please consume consciously!

Further Reading:
Recent New York Times Mango Recipes -
Litz, R.E. ed. 2009. The Mango, 2nd Edition: Botany, Production, and Uses. CAB International: Oxfordshire, UK.

Also, check out some other Slightly Indulgent recipes at Simply Sugar and Gluten Free.

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