January 5, 2011

Brazil’s Cuisine Ant Population Hurt by Pesticides

Originally written by Shannon McCoy and published at New Era News!

Queen leaf-cutter ants remain one of the delicacies of Brazilian cuisine, but probably not for long. Unlike other delicacies, the Brazilians are largely uninterested in exporting their “hormingas culonas”.

The tradition of eating the little gals has remained largely within Brazil’s borders—they leave it to other countries like Colombia to send the ants to France to have them dipped in gourmet chocolate. Brazilians will just pluck them off the ground.

The ant population in Brazil is dwindling, even as one of their major food sources continues to flourish. In places like Silveiras, the eucalyptus tree has become a major cash crop in rural areas that were once used for raising cattle and coffee; those two have been pushed out and commercialized and the eucalyptus remains an important source of income for smaller farms. To promote the growth of eucalyptus plants, many farmers have turned to intense pesticides – hurting the ants.

The New York Times reports,

“With urbanization and the poison that they are putting into the soil, we do not have much time left,” said Vera Toledo, 67, a writer and anthropologist whose husband is a native of Silveiras.

Generations of indigenous people treated the ants as a protein substitute for fish and monkeys, residents said. Today, Silveiras residents — and the people who drive hundreds of miles every year to buy the ants — value them not only for their protein, but also as an aphrodisiac and source of natural antibiotics.

The regional appreciation for the ants has created tension among residents. Sure, many enjoy them—fried, fresh, lightly salted—but there is growing support for the expansion of the eucalyptus trade. The balance between local tradition and economic growth will play out here, and in many other (less crunchy) scenarios worldwide.

Originally written by Shannon McCoy and published at New Era News!

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