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Santa Fe Food Conference and Cookbook To Celebrate ‘What Our Ancestors Ate’

The Food Sovereignty Project: Reclaiming Native Health and Wellness Traditions, from Sept 23-24 in Santa Fe and The Pueblo Food Experience Cookbook

This week the Museum of Indian Art and Culture (MIAC) in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in partnership with the National Museum of the American Indian, Washington, D.C. is presenting The Food Sovereignty Project: Reclaiming Native Health and Wellness Traditions, from September 23-24. This conference and symposium will be followed by a Community Day Celebration at MIAC on Museum Hill, all focusing on how New Mexico tribes are reincorporating traditional foods into their diets to foster greater health and wellness in their communities.

The Food Sovereignty symposium brings together a diverse range of indigenous farmers, herders, and hunters, who have been able to successfully sustain and revitalize food production practices that are vital to traditional life. Also included are tribal program directors and educators who have initiated successful community-based traditional food programs. Food sovereignty efforts are part of a larger national movement of indigenous peoples to create sustainable forms of food production that are Native American driven. The Community Day will feature a buffalo roast and other harvest foods along with interactive stations, dances and other performances.

MIAC Director and long-time Indian educator, Della Warrior related, "The symposium and community day celebration features speakers who have community-based projects that address these long-standing problems among indigenous people by advocating a return to traditional foods. This event really foregrounds the critical work that individuals and tribal governments are doing to improve tribal communities through healthier diets and lifestyles."

In addition, to the offerings of the symposium, on hand will be a cookbook by Roxanne Swentzell and Patricia M. Perea, entitled, The Pueblo Food Experience Cookbook: Whole Food of Our Ancestors, Museum of New Mexico Press, 2016.

The Pueblo Food Experience Cookbook: Whole Food of Our Ancestors, Museum of New Mexico Press, 2016.

Here is my take on this cookbook:

Permaculture is a modern term describing an ancient system. If we lived as our ancestors did we would be in the middle of our own “permaculture”, hunting, gathering, gardening, harvesting and processing foods, plant and animal by-products. But the point, clay artist and founder of Flowering Tree Permaculture Institute, Roxanne Swentzell is making in this new book is that “culture” is the driving force, to share the common experiences, share the various languages, meanings and collective wisdom. This becomes the cultural wealth that is passed down, and health and happiness are its rewards along with the food and nurturing landscapes and companionships.

Harvest, Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico, ca. 1900, NMHM

Modern critics have plenty to say about how permaculture doesn’t work as advertised because we must deal with the modern world at so many levels, but we can all start to take small steps that become giant leaps in regards to health, nutrition, happiness and meaning in our lives. Roxanne Swentzell and writing partner Patricia Perea demonstrate that an experimental project, “The Pueblo Food Experience Diet” not only provides tangible health benefits, but there is an intangible but no less important happiness, serenity, or rootedness that engenders wellness for individuals, families and communities. The cookbook is really a manual for decolonization, so actual work is involved.

Book co-author Roxanne Swentzell irrigating a field, 2014 - Photo: Courtesy

The book has much to say, offer and teach in its short 100 pages with a history in front and recipes at the end. There is a growing catalog of such tribal references and this book should encourage more people to document their traditional cuisines, recipes and practices. The craft of seed saving, growing and sharing is at the start and end of all such projects. The health benefits start with the obvious in that we should all start to “work” for our food, from planning shopping and recipes, to physical chores, to gardening, to nature trips, to major landscaping and building up your new food technologies. The modern critics are not all wrong as there are new technologies such as hydroponics and greenhouses that may spur you to get off your social media devices and meet the new, healthier you.

Santa Clara women harvesting corn, 2014 - Photo: Courtesy

“The project was designed to help us remember where we fit in the permanence of culture. A group of Native people (whose ancestors have lived in northern New Mexico for more than twenty generations) agreed to eat only their original foods for three months. They took blood tests before and after the project. The results proved that we were doing the right thing. Everyone got healthier, and the diet seemed to spur inspiration to change our lives for the better.” - Roxanne Swentzell

Annette Rodriguez was suffering from lupus, weakened immune system and kidney damage and was taking steroids and chemotherapy. She saw the results in people engaged in The Pueblo Food Experience Diet, so she was eager to try it. But the first weeks of detoxing from processed foods, sugars, and caffeine was extremely difficult. She became emotional at how she was so addicted to these false energies and had to endure the cravings, broken habits and headaches but she was finally eating healthy and feeling well again. She woke up feeling good, had energy, lost weight, the inflammations stopped or were under control, and she could do the little chores that went along with gardening, gathering, and cooking without pain or inflammation.

Gorgeous foods in the Pueblo Food Experience Diet - Courtesy

She believes the diet treated her lupus in a way medicines could not because it became a holistic treatment of cooking, eating, exercise and basically a meditative way to live your day. Some of her family members suffer from diabetes, high cholesterol, and autoimmune disorders, so Ms. Rodriguez offered them her new secrets: corn, beans and squash, buffalo and turkey, cota and cocoa, pinons and pumpkin seeds, and the cornmeal cookies and trail mix used in the Pueblo Food Experience Diet.

Native foods from The Pueblo Food Experience Cookbook: Whole Food of Our Ancestors, Museum of New Mexico Press, 2016.

Patricia Perea’s account of a salt gathering trip to her ancestral homelands is informative and emotional as you feel the connectedness of the weather, the land, the actual taste of the soil, and in step with your human partners walking through space. The element of time, how humans remember and are connected to the past and the land is also revealing. You lose unnecessary things and quickly pick up what you are there for, in the moment. Salt gathering is an ancient tradition with its own lore and myths but in that trip Patricia tastes salt, soil, clay, even the taste of jerky, but she also tastes that moment and savors the past of her ancestors.

Hardwork provides a big payoff as is evident in this image of the Flowering Tree Seed Bank, Santa Clara Pueblo, 2015 - Courtesy

The book is based on the greater Southwest cuisine but is highly recommended and open to your own interpretive twists or additions. The Pueblo Food Experience Cookbook will be published nationally on October 15, 2016, it became available during this August’s Santa Fe Indian Market.

For further information about The Pueblo Food Experience Cookbook, the Food Sovereignty Conference, or to register, call 505-476-1269 or email miac.info@state.nm.us.