What weighs 80 pounds, is cultivated in numerous countries and has a 500-year history with Western civilization?
Answer: jackfruit, the monstrous plant that grows across the world’s tropical regions: places like Bangladesh, where it’s the national fruit; Indonesia, where it’s called nangka and is sliced and mixed with shaved ice as a dessert; the Philippines, where it’s cooked in coconut milk and eaten with rice; and Thailand, where it’s canned in a sugary syrup and exported to Europe and North America.
Notice any similarities with those countries? They’re all located in tropical areas, because that’s where the jackfruit tree grows. For local-farming-only, food-miles-matter activists, that’s strike one. Jackfruit isn’t native to any area where anyone lives in Europe or North America. Instead, it has to be transported thousands of miles to reach American dinner tables, and according to the gospel of vegetarian activists, that’s not sustainable.
Here’s strike two: Even diehard veggies won’t be making jackfruit the centerpiece of their diets — not if we’re talking about “whole, natural, unprocessed” jackfruit, that is.
Why? Consider the basic instructions for preparing fresh jackfruit:
· Lay down newspaper over a wide working surface. Jackfruit contains natural latex, so if you have a latex allergy, wear gloves. If working bare-handed, slather oil over your hands so they don’t get too sticky, and do the same with a sharp serrated knife.
· Slice the jackfruit into two halves. Now keep on slicing until you have large chunks of fruit (leaving the skin on), which can be boiled or put in a pressure cooker.
· Boil the chunks for 45 minutes, or until inner flesh is soft and a bit stringy, like chicken. If using a pressure cooker, 10 minutes is enough. Any seeds that fall out can be discarded or composted.
· After the jackfruit is cooked, peel off the skin. You will see seeds and pods surrounding the seeds. The seed pods can be eaten, as well as the stringy fleshy sections between pods and skin. Dig all this out and cook with it, or bag it and freeze for future use.
You lost me at “lay down newspaper.”
Anytime you encounter that phrase, it’s guaranteed to be the start of a task that’s going to be long and laborious.
Worse Than Initially Considered
And the whole process of “preparing” jackfruit has to take place prior to actually doing anything with it in terms of an edible meal ingredient. Sure, jackfruit can be used to make vegetarian curry or spicy Thai salads where chicken would normally be used.
But unless it’s subjected to more prep time than most Americans are willing to invest in their meals, or unless it’s processed and prepared, then canned or frozen — which doesn’t conform to the “whole, natural, unprocessed food choices” that enlightened veggies constantly preach to the rest of us — jackfruit doesn’t figure into an “alternative” diet that’s supposedly better than one with animal foods.
And here’s strike three: Although the five leading producers of commercial jackfruit — India, Bangladesh, Thailand, Indonesia and The Philippines — produce more than three million tons of the fruit annually, those countries contain nearly two billion people!
Is it really plausible to postulate that jackfruit production could somehow be increased to the point that it would be a viable alternative for Americans who’ve been convinced that eating beef or pork is destroying the environment? Seriously?
Can jackfruit feed two billion people in Asia and serve as a staple for hundreds of millions of Westerners?
Do I really need to answer that?
One last thought on this so-called vegetarian staple.
One of the countries listed as a major producer is Brazil. However, not only are there serious environmental concerns about that nation’s ongoing destruction of its rainforests to support agricultural production for export, but in many areas of Brazil, the jackfruit is treated as an invasive species.
For example, in Brazil’s Tijuca Forest National Park near Rio de Janeiro, stands of jackfruit trees (which were imported from India during the 19th century), are expanding significantly. The fruit is then eaten by small mammals, such as the marmoset and coati, which widely disperse the seeds. That allows the jackfruit trees to aggressively compete with native species. Additionally, as a lengthy Brazilian article titled, “The War on Jackfruit” noted, the marmoset and coati prey on birds’ eggs and nestlings, and since the supply of jackfruit provides a convenient source of food, the mammals’ population growth has decimated local flocks of native birds.
Forest managers have had to destroy tens of thousands of jackfruit saplings in the Tijuca Forest area in a deliberate effort to try to save the tropical bird populations.
Any enlightened veggies want to make the argument that eating meat is so horrible that rainforests and tropical birds need to be wiped out so we can start serving this vegetarian alternative?
Jackfruit. It’s what’s not for dinner.
The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.