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Navajo Book on Food Terminology Promotes Healthy Eating, Bridges Native and Western Worlds

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A new bilingual book, Navajo Terminology for Foods and Nutrients: kindness, caring, and blessings through our food, explains the culture and terminology of Navajo food and its health benefits.

Written by Frank Morgan and the Navajo Nutrition Task Force and published by the Navajo Nation Special Diabetes Project, the 176-page book and audio CD in Navajo and English cover the major food groups, incorporating United States Drug Administration (USDA) guidelines and breaking down the macronutrients, micronutrients and phytonutrients.

Morgan, who made the initial translations between Navajo and English, also researched the nutrition of food and its relation to metabolism and nutrients. The book aims to bridge Western and Native worldviews, as well as offer a powerful manual for bilingual learners. All dialects are accounted for—the book lists seven ways to say "tortilla," for example.

Morgan explained, “The reason this book is developed is to establish contemporary and standardized Navajo language for names of foods and nutrients, cooking and food preparation, and a limited glossary of terminology for nutrition."

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The audio CD contains 660 repeatable tracks featuring pictures and text when played on the computer. The format facilitates reading the written Navajo language—and the book is accessible and engaging to all ages with its numerous color photographs of foods in the Navajo environment by photojournalist Diane Schmidt. The book also includes input from hundreds of people in community forums and pilot trainings across the Navajo Nation. Additional chapters include words for water, cooking methods, a glossary of nutrition terminology for health professionals and a pronunciation guide.

Morgan hopes the book and CD will encourage Navajo people to lead a healthier lifestyle. "...[W]e want the people of the Navajo Nation to realize that it matters what you eat so your body will be optimally healthy and that you can go to old age with less health problems. We also want the people to be aware that foods have medicinal properties and to choose more foods with healing powers."

One goal of the book is to help people select Native foods to energize their bodies and minds. “We hope that people will be able to choose and move towards fresh vegetables and fruits, because by going in that direction more, people will be healthier, feel better and stronger, and avoid health problems," Morgan said.

The books and audio CDs of Navajo Terminology for Foods and Nutrients: kindness, caring, and blessings through our food will be used to train Navajo health care workers at all levels.

Morgan also offers trainings for Navajo-speaking health care workers with the book Navajo Terminology for Diabetes Mellitus, cross-cultural trainings about translation and wellness issues for non-Navajo speaking doctors and health care practitioners, and public presentations.