You are what your an­ces­tors ate The Pue­blo Food Ex­pe­ri­ence Cook­book

THE PUE­BLO FOOD EX­PE­RI­ENCE COOK­BOOK

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS -

You are what you eat,” a phi­los­o­phy that most likely orig­i­nated in the early 19th cen­tury, was pop­u­lar­ized in the 1940s and re-en­er­gized by the coun­ter­cul­ture of the ’60s. It mor­phed, in the early years of the 21st cen­tury, into “You are where you eat” — the culi­nary war cry of the lo­ca­vores, who aspire to eat only foods raised, grown, or wild crafted within 100 miles of their homes — or 250 miles, in the case of desert dwellers like eth­no­bi­ol­o­gist Gary Paul Nab­han, who wrote about his year of eat­ing lo­cally in Com­ing Home to Eat: The Plea­sures and Pol­i­tics of Lo­cal Food (W.W. Nor­ton, 2001).

In­ter­na­tion­ally renowned Santa Clara Pue­blo sculp­tor Rox­anne Swentzell (who shows new work at the Tower Gallery at the Poeh Cul­tural Cen­ter over In­dian Mar­ket week­end) joined that con­ver­sa­tion in 2013 with the Pue­blo Food Ex­pe­ri­ence project, when 14 vol­un­teers of Pue­blo de­scent agreed to eat, for three months, only the foods avail­able to their an­ces­tors be­fore the first Na­tive con­tact with the Span­ish in 1540. Swentzell took that lo­ca­vore goal one step fur­ther: We are not only what and where we eat, she sug­gested; we are also what and where our an­ces­tors ate. The Pue­blo Food Ex­pe­ri­ence grew out of Swentzell’s work with the Flow­er­ing Tree Per­ma­cul­ture In­sti­tute, a non­profit she co-founded at Santa Clara Pue­blo in 1987.

“I’ve been a seed saver for about 30 years,” Swentzell told Pasatiempo, “and I’ve been very aware of how crops are adapted to their en­vi­ron­ment. I had read an ar­ti­cle that said it takes 20 gen­er­a­tions for any species to adapt to an en­vi­ron­ment. Given that thought, I was fas­ci­nated with the idea that we hu­mans, be­ing like seeds, also adapt to our en­vi­ron­ments. And the way we move around nowa­days, our bod­ies are con­stantly hav­ing to adapt to a new en­vi­ron­ment. Then I re­al­ized that Pue­blo peo­ple are a very spe­cial case in that we are one of the few tribes that were not re­lo­cated. That means that we still have our ge­netic code to our en­vi­ron­ment in­tact. But the prob­lem is we are not eat­ing our lo­cal food; so even though we have lo­ca­tion in­tact, our food is like we are liv­ing in a for­eign coun­try all the time. And our health is strug­gling. So I wanted to see if I could ex­per­i­ment with eat­ing our tra­di­tional foods, foods we evolved with for more than 20 gen­er­a­tions in the same lo­ca­tion, and see what it would do for us.”

The ex­per­i­ment proved, be­yond a doubt, that re­turn­ing to a pre-con­tact diet — free of dairy prod­ucts, re­fined sugar and car­bo­hy­drates, and other highly pro­cessed foods — had a pos­i­tive ef­fect on all the vol­un­teers.

Be­fore they started the new di­ets, all the vol­un­teers (who ranged from six to sixty-five years old) were weighed and given blood tests that mea­sured their blood sugar, choles­terol, triglyc­erides, and liver func­tion. When they were retested af­ter the three-month trial pe­riod, the doc­tor who con­ducted the ex­ams re­ported that the group had an av­er­age weight loss of 35 to 40 pounds and sig­nif­i­cant de­creases in triglyc­eride, choles­terol, and blood sugar lev­els. Swentzell’s own high to­tal choles­terol level — which she had as­sumed was ge­netic be­cause she had been un­able to lower it no mat­ter what she did — dropped from 245 to 172 mg/DL. Her son Porter lost 50 pounds. Another vol­un­teer noted that the lu­pus but­ter­fly rash that had marked her for years was gone, as were the swelling and muscle pain that ac­com­pany the condition.

But im­proved phys­i­cal health, Swentzell noted, was only one of the ben­e­fits of re­turn­ing to pre-con­tact foods. Vol­un­teers also re­ported less de­pres­sion and more en­ergy and men­tal clar­ity. “Granted, we were all suf­fer­ing from some kind of health is­sues, but be­cause the diet was based on a cul­tural iden­tity — this is the food our peo­ple used to eat — there was also a re­con­nect­ing that none of us re­al­ized would hap­pen. It was so strong. It’s hard to even put words to it be­cause it was some­thing we all felt, a con­nec­tion to some­thing that was very, very old in our­selves, like we went home in a deep, deep sense. It was not a fad or a diet,” she said. “This was a be­long­ing. This was an em­pow­er­ment event.”

The Pue­blo Food Ex­pe­ri­ence Cook­book: Whole Food of Our An­ces­tors, pub­lished by the Mu­seum of New Mex­ico Press, was born from her de­sire to share the ex­pe­ri­ence. “I cre­ated the cook­book for my pue­blo,” Swentzell said, as a start­ing point for peo­ple who were ask­ing her what the group ate and how they pre­pared it.

The book’s co-edi­tor, Pa­tri­cia Maria Perea, Ph.D., who teaches Chi­cano/a and Na­tive stud­ies at the Univer­sity of New Mex­ico in Al­bu­querque, was in­tro­duced to the food ex­pe­ri­ence project and to Swentzell in one of those small-world ways that seem to flour­ish in North­ern New Mex­ico. Swentzell and Perea sign copies of the book at the In­dian Mar­ket mer­chan­dise booth on the Plaza this week­end.

Perea said, “I had met Rox­anne’s daugh­ter Rose in Prov­i­dence, Rhode Is­land, while I was teach­ing at Brown Univer­sity. [Rose B. Simp­son, a writer, painter and per­for­mance artist, was a stu­dent at the Rhode Is­land School of De­sign at the time.] And when we moved to New Mex­ico, we ran into her again in Es­pañola. My part­ner started tak­ing classes with Rose’s brother Porter at UNM in Taos and started go­ing to Rox­anne’s house to help with per­ma­cul­ture things like weed­ing. Then we moved to Chi­mayó, and I started go­ing with her, and Rox­anne in­vited us to do this Pue­blo Food Ex­pe­ri­ence diet.” The gift of “a ton” of buf­falo meat and the num­ber of small farms in Chi­mayó helped them make up their minds to give it a try. “It was amaz­ing,” Perea said.

“We went back more to the way Mex­i­canos eat,” she said, “in­tro­duc­ing our­selves back to corn, squash, beans, then com­ing up with new recipes. And I just got health­ier; it just came.” Af­ter that, Perea started spend­ing more time with Swentzell, and when the con­ver­sa­tion turned to cre­at­ing a cook­book to ex­pand the reach of the Pue­blo Food Ex­per­i­ment, she vol­un­teered to help.

The cook­book the women cre­ated is more than a collection of recipes. The mar­ket­ing copy on its back cover says it’s “by, for, and about the Pue­blo peo­ples” and that its “goal is to pro­mote heal­ing and bal­ance by re­turn­ing to the orig­i­nal food­ways of the Pue­blo peo­ples.” The book ful­fills both in­ten­tions by in­clud­ing seven es­says re­lat­ing to Pue­blo his­tory and cul­ture (among them three by Swentzell and one by Perea) along with the recipes.

The first chap­ter, “A His­tory of Pue­blo Food,” writ­ten by Rox­anne’s son Porter, a his­to­rian and pro­fes­sor at the In­sti­tute for Amer­i­can In­dian Arts, of­fers an es­pe­cially suc­cinct overview of the South­west­ern en­vi­ron­ment, the ar­rival of corn in the re­gion, and the Pue­bloans’ life­style tran­si­tions from gath­er­ers to planters to traders. The pages sum­ma­riz­ing the com­ing of the Span­ish and then the An­glo Americans of­fers a brief but pointed his­tory of the col­o­niza­tion of the Na­tive pop­u­la­tion and the im­pact of that col­o­niza­tion on their tra­di­tional diet.

Perea’s chap­ter, about a trip to the Es­tan­cia Basin to gather salt, is more per­sonal. “To so many,” she

Be­cause the diet was based on a cul­tural iden­tity — this is the food our peo­ple used to eat — there was a re­con­nect­ing that none of us re­al­ized would hap­pen. It was so strong. It’s hard to even put words to it be­cause it was some­thing we all felt, a con­nec­tion to some­thing that was very, very old in our­selves, like we went home in a deep, deep sense. — Rox­anne Swentzell

writes, “this land is des­o­late and ugly … But this is my home. I grew up in the vast ex­panse of th­ese plains. Here, there are things we do not know how to see. Un­der­neath this de­cep­tively dry earth, wa­ter lies quiet and pow­er­ful. It seeps up into plants and makes the tasti­est dirt I’ve ever known. … Wet earth here tastes clean, like fresh clay.”

Perea told Pasatiempo that she had been go­ing through “this crazy crav­ing, with the rain, for eat­ing clay.” One of the first places she read about that phe­nom­e­non, she said, was in an es­say by Rox­anne’s late mother, writer, pot­ter, ar­chi­tect, and UNM pro­fes­sor Rina Swentzell. “We used to teach her es­says in the In­tro to Amer­i­can Stud­ies classes,” she said, “and I re­mem­bered read­ing an es­say [“Re­mem­ber­ing Tewa Pue­blo Houses and Spa­ces,” in­cluded in The

Mul­ti­cul­tural South­west: A Reader] where she talks about walk­ing around the pue­blo lick­ing dif­fer­ent houses and how they tasted dif­fer­ent. I re­al­ized I’d done that my whole life. I thought I was a weirdo — then I read Rina.” Swentzell writes about farm­ing, hunt­ing, and the re­la­tion­ship, as much spir­i­tual as phys­i­cal, be­tween com­mu­nity and food. About the ex­pe­ri­ence of work­ing with in­terns on the per­ma­cul­ture in­sti­tute farm, she con­cludes, “The seeds in the ground pulled us to them and grew not only from sun­shine and wet soil, but also from hu­man voices and hu­man touch. We fed them, and in the end they fed us. Com­mu­nity is much larger than hu­man. This is the story be­hind our re­turn to eat­ing our orig­i­nal food. It’s about our re­la­tion­ship to place.” An­nette Ro­dríguez, one of the 14 orig­i­nal Pue­blo Food Ex­pe­ri­ence vol­un­teers, shares the pain and joy of mak­ing a ma­jor life­style change and the pos­i­tive ef­fects it had on her her health. “I won’t go back to how I ate be­fore,” she writes. In the last es­say and the fi­nal chap­ter of the book, Mar­ian Naranjo, founder and di­rec­tor of Honor Our Pue­blo Ex­is­tence and another Food Ex­pe­ri­ence vol­un­teer, talks about the im­pact of the atomic age on health and re­la­tion­ships and how Pue­bloans are, by na­ture, well suited to feed both them­selves and the spirit world.

More than 60 recipes — rang­ing from corn and grains to beans, squash, pro­teins, greens, drinks, desserts, snacks, and condi­ments — of­fer sug­ges­tions for choos­ing and prepar­ing pre-con­tact foods. Not sur­pris­ingly, given its prom­i­nent place in the re­gion’s food­ways, the largest sec­tion of recipes fea­tures corn in its many per­mu­ta­tions. In an ear­lier in­ter­view for an ar­ti­cle in The New

Mex­i­can’s 2016 Health & Well­ness mag­a­zine, Swentzell talked about the dif­fi­culty the group had sourc­ing enough non-GMO corn to get them through the win­ter. “Even though it was one of our main sta­ples,” she said, “it has all been ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied, and it’s not the same kind of plant that we used to eat.” She didn’t have enough of the indige­nous corn she grows to feed ev­ery­one par­tic­i­pat­ing in the project over the three-month trial, but she fi­nally lo­cated a suf­fi­cient quan­tity in Ore­gon to meet the group’s needs. “Isn’t that sad?” she said. “Here we are, corn peo­ple, and we had to go to Ore­gon to find non-GMO corn.”

The corn-cen­tric recipes are as sim­ple as atole (a drink or por­ridge) and chicos (roasted sweet corn that can be set to sim­mer in a slow cooker overnight) and as com­plex and time-con­sum­ing as tamales, which re­quire mul­ti­ple steps and a com­mu­nity of cooks to turn out in quan­tity. You’ll find a recipe for cer­e­mo­nial piki bread in that chap­ter, too — one that calls for pre-con­tact an­i­mal brains, salt­bush ashes, and basalt cook­ing stones — al­though Perea con­fessed that they did not in­clude that bread in their recipetest­ing rounds.

Other recipes, such as those for beans and squash — the other two of the tra­di­tional “three sis­ters” of the desert South­west — are much more ac­ces­si­ble. Some, like a rab­bit stew, look sim­ple — there are only four sen­tences in the recipe — but it as­sumes you al­ready know how to butcher and clean the rab­bit. Buf­falo, elk, and turkey star in the pro­tein chap­ter, joined by fish, birds, and other wild crea­tures, in­clud­ing grasshop­pers. At first glance, the ju­niper-lamb stew and sheep-corn soup seem out of place — it was the Span­ish who brought the churro to the Amer­i­cas — but a quick glance at the list of pre-con­tact foods at the back of the book clar­i­fies that those tough moun­tain sheep were here from the be­gin­ning.

I re­al­ized that Pue­blo peo­ple are a very spe­cial case in that we are one of the few tribes that were not re­lo­cated. That means that we still have our ge­netic code to our en­vi­ron­ment in­tact. But the prob­lem is we are not eat­ing our lo­cal food; so even though we have lo­ca­tion in­tact, our food is like we are liv­ing in a for­eign coun­try all the time. And our health is strug­gling. So I wanted to see if I could ex­per­i­ment with eat­ing our tra­di­tional foods, foods we evolved with for more than 20 gen­er­a­tions in the same lo­ca­tion, and see what it would do for us. — Rox­anne Swentzell

Cook­ies and cakes sweet­ened with dried plums and pies made with turkey- or duck-egg crusts fill the dessert sec­tion. Sun­flower “coffee” and mint or cota tea (made from a plant na­tive to the Pue­blo land­scape) are sub­sti­tu­tions for coffee — some­thing many food ex­pe­ri­ence vol­un­teers cited as one of the most dif­fi­cult post-con­tact foods to give up.

“It’s hard to get peo­ple to change the way they eat, es­pe­cially in Na­tive com­mu­ni­ties where there’s some real pride in food like fry bread and Navajo ta­cos,” Perea said. But she thinks that even non-cooks (like her) may ac­cept th­ese di­etary changes be­cause of a grow­ing in­ter­est in sus­tain­abil­ity and a grow­ing aware­ness, es­pe­cially among indige­nous peo­ples, of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween food sovereignty and tribal sovereignty. She noted that De­col­o­nize Your Diet: Mex­i­can-Amer­i­can Plant-Based Recipes for Health and Heal­ing (Ar­se­nal Pulp Press, 2015), a book that spans the foods of both the Amer­i­cas, was pub­lished last fall and has been well re­ceived. Aca­demics from North Amer­i­can tribes rang­ing from New Eng­land to the Pa­cific West Coast are also ex­plor­ing food sovereignty is­sues, she said.

Do Swentzell and Perea rec­om­mend that ev­ery­one should start eat­ing more corn and beans; give up but­ter, cheese, and cream; and choose buf­falo rather than beef? While a healthy pre-con­tact Pue­bloan diet would prob­a­bly do no harm, it’s not what Swentzell and Perea are ad­vo­cat­ing.

“This may not be your pre-con­tact food,” Perea said, “but ev­ery­one is indige­nous to some­place, so we are en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple to think about the food that was avail­able to them be­fore their own colo­nial ex­pe­ri­ence.” The ap­proach, she said, is as valid for the Navajo as it is for New Zealan­ders or for African Americans dis­lo­cated by the slave trade in Brazil or Cuba or Florida. What was the tra­di­tional Ir­ish diet be­fore pota­toes were in­tro­duced to the is­land in 1580?

Non-Na­tive read­ers who are in­ter­ested in the Pue­blo Food Ex­pe­ri­ence and want to im­prove their phys­i­cal and men­tal health should think about their own an­ces­tors, Swentzell said. “Where were your genes in one place for 20 gen­er­a­tions?” she asked. “Find out what foods were there then. Every­body has an indige­nous food base — and it would prob­a­bly fit your body bet­ter than any other foods.”

Al­though she orig­i­nally put the cook­book to­gether for her own peo­ple, Swentzell said, she soon re­al­ized that “it’s re­ally about all peo­ple find­ing their roots. This book is our story about find­ing those roots. Hope­fully, it will en­cour­age peo­ple not to do our diet but to find their own.”

Im­ages from the har­vest at Santa Clara Pue­blo, New Mex­ico, circa 1900, Palace of the Gov­er­nors Photo Ar­chives (NMHM/DCA), Neg. No. 004128

ROX­ANNE SWENTZELL

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