The Pue­blo Food EX­PE­RI­ENCE

Santa Fe New Mexican - Healthy Living - - NEWS - BY ARIN MCKENNA

Try to imag­ine spend­ing three months eat­ing only those foods your an­ces­tors ate more than 400 years ago. Would it be pos­si­ble? And how would it im­pact your health and vi­tal­ity?

In the Pue­blo Food Ex­pe­ri­ence, 14 vol­un­teers set out to an­swer those ques­tions — with as­tound­ing re­sults.

The idea ger­mi­nated when Rox­anne Swentzell, artist and co­founder of Flow­er­ing Tree Per­ma­cul­ture In­sti­tute, was spec­u­lat­ing with her son Porter — a his­to­rian study­ing An­ces­tral Pue­bloan cul­ture — about whether they could eat as their Santa Clara Pue­blo an­ces­tors had be­fore Span­ish set­tlers in­tro­duced new foods in 1598.

“It was just an ab­so­lutely fas­ci­nat­ing thought to us, and we wanted to test it to see, first of all, if it was pos­si­ble, and then what would it do to our bod­ies if we did,” Swentzell said.

Swentzell — who has been sav­ing and cul­ti­vat­ing in­dige­nous seeds for 30 years — had a pre-ex­ist­ing un­der­stand­ing of ge­netic adap­ta­tions to en­vi­ron­ment and a com­mit­ment to cul­tural preser­va­tion.

“We de­cided to do an ex­per­i­ment based on [the idea] that seeds fit their en­vi­ron­ment, plants fit their en­vi­ron­ment, and so do the

“When we talk about health, health isn’t just about our bod­ies,” Swentzell said. “And so the spir­i­tual as­pect and the be­long­ing and the con­nec­tion to our place and past be­came a whole level that I wasn’t ex­pect­ing, and

it healed some­thing in our hearts I think. And that’s my great­est sur­prise and the big­gest gift it gave us.”

ge­netic codes of hu­mans. Any species — in­clud­ing peo­ple — ac­tu­ally are ge­net­i­cally adapted to a cer­tain place,” Swentzell said.

“And I had the per­fect sit­u­a­tion at hand, be­cause Pue­blo peo­ple were not re­lo­cated, were still in our an­ces­tral place. The only dif­fer­ence is that we’re not eat­ing our an­ces­tral food any­more. But what if we did?”

Four­teen Pue­bloan vol­un­teers rang­ing from 6 to 65 years old were given blood tests and weighed be­fore and af­ter the ex­per­i­ment. Al­though some were fairly healthy at the start, most showed symp­toms of di­a­betes, heart is­sues, obe­sity, high blood pres­sure, al­ler­gies and fa­tigue.

“And so we dove into it, and for three months we did this diet — cold turkey — where we re­ally stuck to it as much as we pos­si­bly could,” Swentzell said.

They started in mid­win­ter, when many foods were not avail­able, and group mem­bers soon re­al­ized they were not pre­pared. They got through the ex­per­i­ment by shar­ing tips on where to find food and how to pre­pare it.

“The learn­ing curve was amaz­ing — fast and steep. . . . I was afraid I’d starve. But, of course, we could eat as much as we wanted, and we did, and we were OK,” Swentzell said. “I know that it took our lit­tle group, which is a small com­mu­nity, to be able to carry our­selves through that time of find­ing the food.

“One of the hard­est things was [go­ing] to the store, and some­times you couldn’t find a sin­gle thing in the store that you could eat, be­cause it’s mostly pro­cessed Euro­pean food.” Beans and squash were rel­a­tively easy to come by, but corn proved sur­pris­ingly dif­fi­cult. “Even though it was one of our main sta­ples, it has all been ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied, and it’s not the same kind of plant that we used to eat.” Swentzell grows lo­cal in­dige­nous corn va­ri­eties, but she did not have enough for “bulk feed­ing.”

The group found a source of non-GMO corn in Ore­gon that could meet the needs of the en­tire group. “Isn’t that sad? Here we are, corn peo­ple, and we had to go to Ore­gon to find non-GMO corn.”

The group was retested at the end of three months. “It was phe­nom­e­nal what hap­pened to us. The health ben­e­fits were be­yond what any of us ex­pected,” Swentzell said.

Dr. Maria Gabrielle, who did the be­fore and af­ter as­sess­ments, recorded an av­er­age weight loss of 35 to 40 pounds, with one per­son los­ing 50 pounds. Blood tests showed large de­creases in choles­terol, triglyc­erides and blood sugar. Par­tic­i­pants also re­ported feel­ing health­ier and hav­ing more en­ergy.

Swentzell’s to­tal choles­terol level — which she pre­vi­ously had not been able to lower — dropped from 245 to 172 mg/dL.

Three years later, many of the vol­un­teers are still fol­low­ing the Pue­blo Food Ex­pe­ri­ence diet. For Swentzell, it is a com­fort­able fit, and she main­tains it un­less cir­cum­stances (such a re­cent trip to Europe) in­ter­fere with find­ing na­tive foods.

“It’s not a new thing any­more. It’s just what you eat,” Swentzell said. “So if I have to stray, I find things that are the next clos­est thing to it.”

In their search for food, par­tic­i­pants be­came more aware of their en­vi­ron­ment and the plants and an­i­mals that could be har­vested. The ef­fort in­volved, such as find­ing food in the hills or look­ing an an­i­mal in the eye, some­times killing it and watch­ing it die, touched them on deeper lev­els.

“The con­nec­tion to your food was so dif­fer­ent than it is in the way Amer­ica is now, where you go buy your food in pack­ages and ex­change it with money. It’s a dif­fer­ent, dif­fer­ent thing,” Swentzell said. “When you’ve watched it be alive, or you grew it from a seed, you eat it with ab­so­lutely a dif­fer­ent sense of re­spect and grat­i­tude than if it’s just handed [to you] on a plate.”

Swentzell and oth­ers in the group also be­gan to feel a spir­i­tual con­nec­tion to their an­ces­tors, which took the ex­per­i­ment far be­yond a diet into a spir­i­tual jour­ney.

“When we talk about health, health isn’t just about our bod­ies,” Swentzell said. “And so the spir­i­tual as­pect and the be­long­ing and the con­nec­tion to our place and past be­came a whole level that I wasn’t ex­pect­ing, and it healed some­thing in our hearts I think. And that’s my great­est sur­prise and the big­gest gift it gave us.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.