Asher Jay Açaí School Mural Painting
Posted in: Sustainability
By Asher Jay
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Walk the Purple Trail with Me

You, Me & Açaí

This is not about me, the individual, although I can tell you I am an explorer, storyteller and creative conservationist. I woke up one morning and as I was sipping on my Açaí smoothie I felt called to its color which persuaded me to look up purple fruits. And that's how I came upon the "Purple for the Planet" initiative by Sambazon. This sort of curiosity is typical of me; deciding to click upon every link and tumbling down the online rabbit hole of search results claiming to cater my latest intrigue. I soon found myself staring at the Açaí packet with the unique logo of Sambazon and wondering about the company's story. But this is not about the brand, Sambazon, that is committed to procuring, processing, packaging and purveying a superfood sustainably and holistically. This mini-series and post are about a powerful petite fruit, a small purple berry, that grows in clusters atop tall palms in the Brazilian Amazon floodplain. An unassuming little fruit with the grainy palate of petrichor and red wine called "Açaí."

Size Up a Superfood

Açaí is living proof that no matter your size, you can still pave the way forward for positive impact by seeding change both locally and globally. Despite only 10% of its constitution being edible, this fruit has been a staple in Brazilian diet and has found its way into bowls and cups worldwide. As evidence of the catch phrase "less is more", this berry packs in a punch of vitamins, antioxidants and minerals into the 10% pulp that it does have to offer up as a meal. Its capacity to contain so many nutrients in such minimal real estate of flesh is what qualifies it as a superfood. 'Superfood' is a term assigned to potent produce from the plant kingdom that imparts a high level of nourishment for a low caloric measure. Since Açaí is low in carbs and high in health benefits, it is particularly adept at both satiating hunger and invigorating one's body.

Get it Right

Like anything wonderful that nature takes time to nurture into existence as a food source for other living organisms, Açaí can be harvested in a way that protects the habitat it is acquired from. When the berry is manually harvested in the wild by the local communities in small batches throughout the growing season, it allows for a continuous healthy supply of the fruit to enter market streams. Applying the same principles that keep the Amazon flowing, it grows obvious that the only way to keep a continuous circulation of these berries in the marketplace is by protecting the source and ensuring it is constantly replenished.

This is where Sambazon steps in as a critical enabler, protecting both the communities on the ground that depend on this fruit for their livelihood and the rainforest that organically produces the wild yield annually. When a brand enters an equation of prosperity by committing to a triple bottom line philosophy that secures the future of a highly beneficial product for its own intrinsic value, the brand automatically aligns itself with preserving the future of not just its business, but that of the planet and people as well. This is why Sambazon is distinctive in its core architecture. The beating heart of Sambazon is not its staff or its mission or the emulation of the industry's best practices. It is this diminutive, wild purple berry! And like the tiny fruit that both literally and metaphorically fuels Sambazon's factories, the future and fate of this company is inextricably tethered to the health and well being of the Amazon rainforest ecosystem that the Açaí palm is native to. No Amazon floodplain, no Açaí..and vice versa, because Açaí is a keystone species in this region.

Substance Beneath the Surface

Beyond the nutrients Açaí offers to the living organisms that consume it, Açaí has resulted in a healthy economic module of sustainable fair trade agroforestry in the Amazon through Sambazon. Sambazon's Fair Trade practice assigns great monetary significance to keep the Rainforest alive while disincentivizing the timber industry and land clearing for agricultural expansion and cattle ranching. The potency of Açaí can thus be appraised not just as a consumable commodity, but also as a linchpin species capable of anchoring down the entire Amazon floodplain's biodiversity.

Worth the Trouble

To meet a berry of such provenance in person meant that an arduous pilgrimage had to be undertaken by me. Having landed ten days before the commencement of Carnival meant I had to race against the clock to arrive within the interlaced outstretched arms of the Amazon delta in Amapá. This included flying into Rio De Janeiro at an odd hour, catching as much shut eye as possible in a hotel room so I could take three additional flights that evening with layovers along the way, and an 8-hour journey by boat to reach the holy grail destination. Traveling manically was both exhausting and ripe in laughs, adventure and memorable moments. Sleeping in suspended hammocks swaying from window to wall on a boat barreling down the Amazon against currents and waves while storyboarding, scripting and directing the narratives I needed to document without access to any wifi or cell service made it a true adventure!

Curiosity Filled My Belly

Exploration, I have discovered, begins the moment one steps outside of one's comfort zone, which of course varies from person to person. I am okay with hole-in-the-ground toilets, insects laying eggs under my epidermis, sleeping where I can when I can, and even subsisting on beans and rice for months on end, but I draw my line at not having a proper cappuccino or tea latte fueling my corporeal form. The lack of elegant creamy caffeination brings out the savage in me and no one wants to encounter my limbic system at its worst. In the past I have been mocked for unfailingly carrying around a manual milk frother, coffee bean grinder and aeropress with me into the field...even in the Sahara with the Bedouin tribe and to base camp in the Himalayas. I make no apologies for this quintessential need of mine being met the right way, and alas on this expedition I'd misplaced my most important survival kit at the airport. I was duly in a dark place within as we chugged down the Amazon, however, to my unexpected and pleasant surprise, I found out that very day in the river basin at Joseuida's house that Açaí enlivened my body and soul just as effectively as a frothy cappuccino...without resulting in the tragic aftermath of a caffeine crash.

I spent the rest of my expedition scouring for Açaí the way I normally scour the streets for a hit of espresso. Paint me converted. I suppose now I'll have to carry Açaí with me on my voyages as my new personal first aid because it truly does energize my system without the impending mood spirals of coffee. I had barely met the berry on the palmate and it had already won me over. However, no spoilers, I do not want to give away the content in the episodes, so take some time out of your day and click through the series to experience the purple trail intimately with me. Share it with people you know so they too can experience the goodness of Açaí. Learning how to be a conscious consumer emboldens greater investment into brands that are both socially and ecologically conscientious.

Things Got Saucy, Things Got Sweet

As you navigate this mini docu-series with me, you'll witness several instances of me gorging on different preparations of Açaí along the way thanks to its ability to function as a refreshing pick me up no matter the time of day. I quickly learned that it’s not always consumed with other fruits and sweetened to taste like a dessert. I discovered that Açaí is consumed as part of the main course (like gravy) in the Amazon floodplains while it is prepared as a sorbet topped with bananas and granola in Rio. I personally enjoy it best with diced mangoes and dried coconut flakes, but no matter how we each decide to make or have Açaí, its capacity to fuel wildlife, human beings, a factory, and a regional economy underscores why it has found its way into so many lives across so many countries only to make life better for us all.

Sambazon's acuity in discerning the true positive footprint of Açaí from the outset has helped the brand prioritize safe guarding the palmate's future in the present tense. By weeding out bottom line driven myopic middlemen and fortifying direct relationships with its harvesting communities, the company not only assures extant members of confirmed sales, gainful employment, and access to education, but promises the same for future generations as well.

Take It To Go

If there is one thing I would urge you to take away from this series and my personal experience, it is this: choose to vote wisely with your dollar. Know that your dollar can travel further and have a greater positive impact when it is invested into companies like Sambazon that are committed to giving back not because it earns them good press or points with the public, but because it is inherent to the brand's value system and integrity. Parting advice from me before you watch the mini series...get yourself some Sambazon Açaí Bites or make yourself an Açaí bowl or smoothie because you are going to crave it as you endeavor down the purple trail with me.

-Asher Jay

May 27, 2020
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