Monday, April 19, 2010

"Ecological Food Justice and Indigenous Plant-Based Foodways" by CS (Piece Shared at National Association of Chicana/o Studies Conference)

"...The research I am presenting began as a prayer for the healing of all my relations: land, animal, seeds, waters and bodies. As an academic I have been trained to report back findings using a linear non-relational method, which is viewed as the proper way of presenting research which happens to be “inextricably linked to European imperialism and colonial[ity].”[i] Therefore, as a Xicana Indigena accountable to all my relations, I will be presenting today through an indigenous research paradigm, which places indigena beliefs and principles or epistemology in the frontline. Therefore, my presentation is that of an urban Indigena storyteller, semi-prosed, passing down palabritas through our oral and cultural ways of planting semillas...

Did you know, that prior to the arrival of those on floating boats in the lands today we call Mexico, geographic foodways or gastronomias were fruitfully diverse and abundant with hundreds of colorful fruits, vegetables, legumes, flora and slithering, winged and small two and four legged creatures? Human bodies were physically fit and ate sustainably, for calpullis or working communities’ gathered, cultivated, harvested, grinded and preserved foods such as maize, beans, calavasitas, jitomates, aguacates, chiles, semolina, pumpkin, amaranto y chia seeds.
Land, sky and water animals including insect flesh were eaten sparingly, seasonally and ceremonially like wild turkeys, ducks, birds, rabbit, armadillos, turtles, snakes, lake fish, frogs, bees and larvae de maguey. Nonetheless, the daily comidas were predominantly plant and maize-based. Some popular meals we enjoy today such as tamales, pozole, caldo, tacos and atole did not have heavy flesh in them. Tamales were stuffed with tomates, tadpoles, fruits, toasted grasshoppers, cactus and algae. Pozole was made with fresh chiles, mushrooms and hominy. Soups were floating gardens tasteful, delicious and highly nutritious. Caldos were of papa, chayote, roots, corn, frijoles and chilmolli. Tacos were not only made by hand but where stuffed with huitlacoche, nopales and ahuatli. Heavy flesh foods were not a large or major part of the daily peoples’ diets. It was foods grown from the land.
Then one day, a man appeared wearing a white button up coat with a funny long white mushroom top hat. He gathered the cocineras, healers of the plant and maize based ecological eating communities and told them, that their foods were tasteless, inferior and at the bottom of the patriarchal food hierarchy. Apparently, this man was a culinary imperialist chef from the European nation bound to the survival of the white skinned self- proclaimed nobility who were scheduled to attend la comida ceremony of the day. He infiltrated the cultural foods by adding his peoples’ desired daily meats or corpse such as beef, pig, lamb, chicken, milk, cheese and eggs along with sugar, high salts and processed grains to accommodate the uninvited guests appetites, egos, macho and feminizing pleasures, white superior complexities and non-accountable mentalities to earth-centered cosmologies. This invasion was a catastrophe. Fields of Tonanztin’s seasonal, organic, wild, natural, non-pesticidic, floating gardens and milpas, along with the comidas, indigena bodies y cocinas were infiltrated and occupied by colonial foods, taste and disease.
Luckily, the ancestors of this time, women and their families, revolted and protested by not eating the invasive mass-produced foods by re-membering their kitchen tools such as the molcajete, el metate, el comal y ollas de barro and of course, their plant and maize-based eco-foodways. Connected to the land many people took a stance despite the encomienda, hacienda y feudal plans that forcefully enslaved the indigena: physically, mentally, spiritually and gastronomically, meaning, that the panaderias, carnicerias, lecherias, and sugar & wheat mills had no competition against comidas in rebeldia.
Masculinist food paradigms and industries responsible for neoliberal policies such as CONASUPO, The Green Revolution, Monocultures of modernity, NAFTA and Corporate entities continue disrupting nutritious Indigenous intercropping farming and accessibility in living harmoniously with Tonanztin, a feminine food principle of cooperation and nurturing relations. This attempted feminization of the land, the idea that she is for the taking, has flourished to some degree but the people and their comidas throughout pueblos and rural geographies in Mexico, Central, South and North America continue to consume an indigenized way of eating, which is one that does not include heavy meats, milk, cheese, eggs, sugar, salt and market shelf foods as a daily ritual, in other words, rejecting colonial nutritional rules.
These foods have been idealized as food for the rich yet maculinized to feminize the other, la otra comida consisting of beans, rice and tortillas de maize. These simple yet nutritious comidas are not foods for the oppressed but of the free bodily gastronomies, for “comida[s] cannot be removed, displaced or replaced.”[ii]
As a result, these bodies, as countless medical studies release, do not become prone or occupied with colonial dis-ease: cardiovascular, obesity, cancer and diabetes. Ecological food justice occurs by re-membering Tonanztin and staying away from globalized, mass-producing, food servicing industries that market a heavily based diet full of grease creating a gluttonous, eco-terrorist society, which annihilates traditional plant and maize based gastronomies.
Concurrently, pulled out of the ecosystem, a self-organized complexity of interconnected living and breathing species, animals are brutally slaughtered in the millions each week, are infested with hormones and full of dis-ease. Domesticated and oppressed by confinement, they are grown and raised unnaturally by not following the seasons nor the ecology of the land. As a result, wild species that roam freely like the mountain lion and coyote are violated as their lives are ended for trespassing unto private industry property. Thousands of gallons of fresh water resources are being depleted to grow Monsanto genetically modified corn and wheat seeds, which is then force fed to turkeys, cows, pigs and geese. Supersized and artificially colored butchered packaged meats sold with subsidies, makes purchasing these foods easy to eat, creating a cultural ignorance or carnism[iii] of the violent domination, exploitation and environmental degradation of the real costs involved in assembly line, industrialized commodified food chains. Aqua-creatures no longer grow to maturity, for they are abundantly over fished and instead are harvested in polluted bacteria ridden, man-made rounded puddles of streams, for ground, fresh and salt waters are not only mercury ridden but are chemically unsanitary or completely depleted.
And guess who is working in these animal slaughter factories and fish farms? Over-exploited people of indigena ancestry who were pushed off their homelands, forced to join the market economy all due to the increase of the privatization of lands by corporate entities, global tourism, restaurants and hospitality. Now these foods are bought and sold to global fast food chains, like Mickey Dees and international grocery markets, which are provided all year long including foodstuff like dairy. Since when do female cows, wetnurses, or any females at that provide milk so consistently? They are connected to machines all day long and forced to give and not receive not even a day with their younglings. Industrialized, animalized and feminized proteins’ mass production followed by mass consumption is not an indigenous way of eating in solidarity with the ecological communities.
Eating to survive means eating for the next seven generations to live and in order for this to manifest food habits need to be addressed through an ecological indigenous food justice lens which is accountable to all of our relations and not through ecological imperialist beliefs which do not “respect and protect the sovereignty, integrity and ecological spaces of other species,”[iv] for “capitalist patriarchy thus defines creation and nature as raw material, and acts of domination, destruction and exploitation…”[v] Luckily, people from below and to the left, those who migrate from one end of one world to another have maintained the balance of eating, for the “body itself and its everyday habits, such as eating beans and chiles…become the mobile country and the embodied memory bank that is, in traditional cultures, accessed through the natural landscape.”[vi] At food distribution centers, fresh produce and fruits are sold abundantly to immigrant communities. Eating staple foods sustain peace and ecological order, strengthens cultural identity and shortens health gap disparities. Transnational migrant communities are living longer, are healthier and suffer less of dis-ease all due to re-membering a traditional way of eating.
As I was sitting at the kitchen table, a nepantla battle-ground, with all the wombyn queens, I observed their wholistic ways of cooking and through charlas culinarias compartimos recipes and enjoyed plant based cultural comidas like mole de papas, enchiladas de espinacas, caldo de habas y tacos de flor de calabaza. Borderless boundry zones I came to see exist in their places turned into spaces of liberation, power and bodily sensory ways of knowing.[vii] Feminized senses or subjective measuring has been determined to mean not a thing cause objective perspectives, the eyes and hearing is a masculinized concept rejecting truthful bodies, la mujer cocinera, a living theory in the flesh. Preparing comidas by cutting: touch, smelling: scent and tasting: knowing. Relational accountability, a dance with the elements: land, water, fire, and air prepared with foods from Tonanztin’s jardin. Herbas buenas y sazon: metamorphosis of the raw edible foods into gastronomic culinary artes. Sustainable foodways reindigenize our Aztlan, a temple, land and a dis-membered coyotlxaqui brown moon body-a sovereign entity.
Acculturation and assimilation is inclusive of a marketed Westernize food strategy, which is no different than a blanket full of small pox dis-ease. Let me reiterate: cardiovascular, obesity, cancer, and diabetes are not natural and neither is eating 3 full size meals daily. Gastronomias during the pre-colonial days consisted of la comida and sustenance drinks, like xocolate, atolle and maize.
Ecologial and healing foodways exist and not only in domestic spaces but in urban regional locations. Mexican Plant-Based Restaurants, Proyectos Jardines and even blogs such as Decolonial Food for Thought are spreading seeds of knowledge by advocating and putting into action the practice of the“full autonomy in the organic chain of life”[viii] by eating to survive, cultivating the land with indigenous wholistic perspectives, maintaining earth’s skin, soil fertility, protecting bio-crop diversity, participating in CSA’s, preserving seeds, cooking and dispensing critical cultural food her-stories and not just for today but for the next seven generations of our families.
As a caracol that swirls metaphysically into higher vibrations, dimensions and oppositional consciousness, it is time to complete a full circle in sharing this story not of green capitalism or of lifestyle classism but of decolonization, restoration, detoxification,“culinary pedagogy,”[ix] and community relational accountability. It is possible to eat and live with out dis-ease and speciesism by re-membering ancestral ecological, cosmological earth-centered gastronomies, which are natural ways of healing…
To all of our relations."

[i] Smith, Linda. Decolonizing Methodologies.
[ii] Esteva, Gustavo. Grassroots Post-Modernism.
[iii] Torres, Bob. Making a Killing: The Political Economy of Animal Rights
[iv] Shiva, Vandana. Earth Democracy.
[v] Shiva, Vandana. Earth Democracy. 138
[vi] Pullido, Laura. Black, Brown and Yellow.
[vii] Albarca, Meredith. Voices in the Kitchen
[viii] Esteva, Gustavo & Madhu Suri Prakash. Grassroots Post-Modernism.
[ix] Korn, Leslie E. and Rudolph C. Ryser. Ethnobotany and culinary pedagogy as a community-based clinical intervention among Mexican Indians with diabetes. Culinary pedagogy: “food and medicine rooted in their cultural context are avenues into community healing and action research.”


  1. A wonderful piece of writing and call to remembrance. Tlazocamati.

  2. Gracias! Thank you for your support!

  3. I assigned this piece as required reading for my freshman writing seminar for the past two semesters, alongside Helena Viramontes's "The Moths" and the context of the South Central Farm. Many students have told me that it is their favorite reading of the course, so thanks for sharing and I hope I can continue to include it (and any future work you publish) in future classes I teach. Keep up the fantastic work.

  4. Thank you Omar!! Here is a link to this piece which was revised and published in the peer reviewed journal of Critical Animal Studies:

    My Commentary starts on page 52. I will definitely keep our community posted on future publications. We have two chapters coming out in a book being published by Ashgate Press in 2012 on Radical Nutrition : )


  5. Great! Thanks for the update. Looking forward to seeing the upcoming publications and sharing those as well.

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