Dale Chamba: Conservation from the Kitchen

WWF Mexico, Dale Chamba campaign

The men also ate many types of casseroles; a type of chicken casserole made in its own way, with vermilion pepper and tomatoes, and ground pumpkin seeds, and this delicacy is now called “pipian”; another type of chicken casserole they ate was made with yellow chili. 

This is how Fray Bernardino de Sahagún described some of the amazing dishes the Mexica ate during the mid-16th century. The ethnographer spared no praise to recognize how refined and elaborate the cuisine was, as well as the quality of the dining halls and how impressive the markets were. Another Spanish writer let it be known that it was possible to find “all things the world has to offer” inside these markets.

The Europeans did not know it, but the land they reached –now known as Mexico– is the place of origin and domestication for more than 100 species of edible plants. A great number of them were spread throughout the world and are now a staple in the diet of millions of people.

However, we have lost a concerning amount of pepper, bean, tomato, and squash varieties over the last 50 years. These ingredients have become an essential part of the human diet throughout history, and key components of the country’s most emblematic dishes, including our moles, pipianes and stuffed peppers. This loss has been caused by factors such as climate change, pests, artificial substitutes, rural migration, unsustainable consumption, a lack of consumption and a loss in genetic variety. 

This inevitably leads one to wonder what can be done to reverse this trend and how to include the general population in creating solutions to this problem. WWF conducted a survey in various mega-diverse countries around the world, such as Mexico, and found that only 2% of the participants understood the meaning of ‘biodiversity’ as the variety of living organisms and their habitats. Further, only 1 in 5 people made a link between the benefits of biodiversity and our basic needs like food, health, clean air, and water.

Needless to say, we are from reaching Aichi Biodiversity Target #1, adopted by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which establishes that by 2020, at the latest, people are aware of the values of biodiversity and the steps they can take to conserve and use it sustainably. 

The Dale Chamba (Give It Work) campaign launched by WWF seeks to support international efforts to reach that target and reverse biodiversity loss. One topic that is not emphasized enough nowadays, but has the scientific community concerned is the fact that 1 out of every 5 plants on this planet is at risk of being lost, including those that serve as food.

Preserving the genetic varieties in Mexican cuisine will also support the conservation of local and regional knowledge that has allowed it to flourish. For example, it is estimated that between 1,000 and 1,500 species and their variants are a part of indigenous peoples’ current food systems. A figure that contrasts with our poor daily diet that is largely composed of 15 species.

We still have many endangered species that are not commonly known and severley underutilized, such as the pasilla mixe chile, the vaquita bean, the ayocote or the “kidney tomato”. These ingredients have been reclaimed by traditional cooks, chefs and culinary schools that promote them in their dishes. The Dale Chamba campaign brings their voices together to call on Mexicans to preserve rich biodiversity that many are unaware of or have forgotten about.

Cua in Nahuatl means to eat and cualli refers to the beautiful and good. In gastronomic terms, it refers to something that is edible and does your body well. What the Mexicas considered to be good was that which gave food to man, explained the writer Salvador Novo. Let’s recover our tradition of having good dining halls and conserve Mexico’s tremendous biodiversity. Responsible consumption will boost its production and recovery. Give chamba to Mexican producers and products!

For more information, visit the Dale Chamba homepage.

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