For Acai, Against the State

Like any other Para-born person, I like acai (pronounced “assa-IH,” people) a lot. Every Paraense, regardless of socio-economic status, eats it. It is an undeniablefact of life in Para. If you live in the capital, Belem, that is a constant reminder that we live in the Amazon, just like the herons downtown.

Acai, as it is traditionally made, is so beloved in Para that there is a song with the following verses: “Anyone who went to Para stopped. They ate acai, stayed.”

The acai sold in Para is not the same one that is sold all over Brazil. Its real flavor is found in the pure one prepared here, not in the diluted and mixed recipe sold elsewhere.

Who could threaten the traditional acai, if there is such a demand for it? The state, obviously.

In 2010, a bill was presented about the “Mandatory pasteurization of the acai pulp.”

Its first paragraph laid it out:

“§1 The pulp derived from the fruit of the a aizeiro (Euterpe oleracea) should undergo pasteurization, according to specific regulation, with the objective of preventing the communication of diseases to human beings.”

The commerce of unpasteurized (traditional) acai would be punishable by fines of about $1,000 in the first occurrence, $2,500 and community service in the second and closing of the store in the third.

Chagas disease was the justification for the project. The author defended it on the grounds that eating unpasteurized acai, something that goes on especially in the Amazon, “could become a public health issue of great proportions, [thus] we find it important to mandate the immediate pasteurization of the acaizeiro fruit pulp.” As Lucio Flavio Pinto noted, “it has been so long since acai was adopted by the Paraense,” that the law does not make any sense. Moreover, hygiene measures and quality standards were “already adopted by the sellers anyway.”

The bill was so absurd that its approval would make illegal the “traditional selling points of acai all over Para.” The little joints, “recognizable by their purple sign, add up to over 4,000 only in the Metropolitan Region of Belem.” According to the Fruit and Derivates Industries Union in Para (Sindfrutas), “the activity involves over 100,000 families, only in the region.”

Sindfrutas’s president at the time, Solange Motas, highlighted the unemployment that would result: “Senator Tiao Viana has no idea how many people are going to be left jobless in this region. In Belem’s surroundings only, there are over 4,000 acai joints that we know of, and in the state the number should be over 10,000. They are people who are going to be helpless by this bill. It is a very flawed law, and it shows even in its writing.”

From every angle, it was a stupid proposal. From the drastic meddling with a local tradition to the serious economic problems that would follow to thousands of small vendors, it was an unjust law and completely oblivious to the local reality. Reason prevailed and the bill, fortunately, was rejected.

We should not be satisfied, though. It is just amazing that a federal senator, thousands of miles away from the Para, would have the power (and the nerve) to propose such a bill that would interfere so drastically with a local tradition. It is appalling that the National Congress, in Brasilia, even has the power to pass such a law to alter significantly the life of every Paraense. It is so patently absurd to think that the Paraenses, who have been eating acai for so long, would need Brasilia to keep them from dying from Chagas disease.

Contamination can happen, sure, and safety and health procedures are in order, but there is nothing to justify the ban on unpasteurized acai, nothing can take away the right to choose from the individual.

It is time to take back the right from the government to decide what we can or cannot eat. We have to ban the ability of the government even to conceive of a bill of that nature and the possibility of them meddling so deeply in the Amazonian life. Actually, we should pass a new eternity clause: the inalienable right to eat the açaí we want and the inalienable right to sell it. The right to an açaí without the bitter taste of the state.

Translations for this article:

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory