Thursday, March 17, 2011

Earth-Centered Foodway Systems of Gastronomy: Statement of Purpose for Doctoral Studies at the University of Washington

(I decided to share this letter to all you, my relatives, not only to provide a model of a critical statement of purpose but to share with you the strength and determination of this young Xicana who wrote this letter by surrendering to all of her relations which guided her thoughts, prayers and fingers : ) ---University of Washington, Seattle is the next stepping stone, I was accepted.)

To enhance cultural, ecological and healthy sustainability amongst immigrant first, second and third generation indigenous Latino communities residing in the United States, the revitalization of a Mesoamerican cuisine counter to global imperialist food ecologies and paradigms is a vital element in securing the continual existence and preservation of a pre-colonial food culture, knowledge based and natural system of living. Presently, in Michoacán, a southern region in Mexico, a “below the grassroots”[1] indigenous foodways movement, lead by Purepecha women in partnership with the Conservatory of Mexican Gastronomic Culture has become safeguarded by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as an intangible cultural heritage. Aside from its authenticity this project or Michoacán Paradigm is an ecological food preservation and sustainability model for communities in search of an alternative method of safeguarding one’s ancient cultural existence.

This comprehensive model illustrated by the female cocineras, cooks, provides a “time-tested”[2] authentic deeply rooted method of cultural, ecological and health system of sustainable development, which has survived for over 7,000 years. These women are living codices in the flesh that carry ancestral, sustainable and ecological foodway knowledge, which are earth-centered foodway systems of gastronomy. This wise food system travels daily across borderland brown geographies bound to face societal and media pressures such as assimilating and acculturating a hegemonic Western foodway hierarchy. However, as Dr. Hayes-Bautista, author of La Nueva California (2004) recognized, indigenous first generation immigrants and ethnically mixed communities’ foodways keep them biologically healthy. This ensures the ongoing “historic continuity, revival of food products, procedures and techniques”[3] along with food system ecological epistemologies that are culturally and ecologically sustainable, in other words, alive.
In opposition, a counter food narrative exist which uses “food as a weapon”[4] against an indigenous “physical land mass called…[a] body”[5] by marketing an industrialized highly animal based, salt, sugar and processed food diet as a superior and healthier way of eating, yielding the food industry trillion of dollars a year.[6] Viewed through a critical food colonial matrix of power[7] the Standard American Diet (SAD) not only intersects with critical issues of race, class, culture and identity but also oppresses and exploits the carriers of ancestral ecological foodways and culinary epistemologies. Luckily, first generation Mexican or indigenous immigrants maintain a strong cultural identity and close relationship with food, preserving a Mesoamerican cuisine and foodway. This argument has brought about questionable and mindboggling scientific curiosities in explaining how despite having a low socioeconomic standing, Latino first generation immigrants are healthier than middle and upper class Anglo-Americans. Empirical data strongly supports this social phenomena or Latino Health Paradox as referred to by some health researchers.
The preliminary research I have conducted through various methods of decoloniality such as feminist anthropological kitchen table and kitchen space ethnographies,[8] charlas culinarias,[9] testimonios or life food centered histories[10] and talking circles[11] have indicated that a Mesoamerican foodway thrives today which is high in vitamins, minerals and macronutrients while low in animal based products, sugars, salts and processed foods. The indigenous palate is an ecological sustainable healthy foodway which according to UNESCO, is an intangible cultural food heritage recognized as the Michoacán Paradigm which is to be preserved and revitalized in communities that are resisting globalized hegemonic foodways and who recognize an urgency to preserve ancient indigenous identities, health, diet and ecologies.[12] As a doctoral student, women of color whose daily interactions and relationship with food is viewed through an ecological, indigenous feminist anthropological lens, I strive to carry and share ancestral ways of eating to communities of color and contribute to the present academic food studies discourse which evidently lacks an indigenous food paradigm through research, writing and public presentation. I have also witnessed throughout my research that comida or food is a natural carrier of ancestral knowledge,[13] which speaks to our bodily sensory ways of knowing.
This is why I desire to further research Mesoamerican foodways with a focus on cuisines but more specifically the Indigenous women cooks’ foodway ecologies and epistemologies that have for thousands of years sustained the environment and the indigenous body. This is a critical contribution to the area of Food Studies, for an indigenous ecological and epistemological approach has been overlooked as one of various solutions in maintaining healthy, sustainable food sovereign and autonomous communities. A cultural foundation of ethical eating creates a grounded foundation on maintaining an indigenous healthy foodway system counter to a racialized, classist and imperial foodway, which homogenizes and superiorizes a Western foodway that exploits land, animals, seeds, waters and the human body. Presently, women of color anthropologists trained in the United States are not investigating women lead Mesoamerican foodways, ecologies and epistemologies; I would be one of the first few to investigate write, explore and introduce this living codified food system of decoloniality and ecological sustainability lead by Purepecha cocineras.
In deciding on the top seven universities I would pursue as a potential school of research training, I had to ask myself which institutions would provide me the critical skills and tools necessary to pursue this engendered research endeavor? The University of Washington doctoral degree in Socio-cultural Anthropology with a specialization in Medical Anthropology and Global Health instantly became a top school of choice. This program encourages various perspectives to generate empirical grounded and analytical account of people’s stories, struggles and their embodied efforts in addressing the “interconnected global environment.” These methodologies encourage feminist anthropological research in food studies. Also, the university encourages building collaborative working relationships. The research I am proposing would bring together a food centered dialogue between the University of Washington’s department of Anthropology, The Conservatory of Mexican Gastronomic Culture, The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Purepecha female carriers of ancestral Mesoamerican cuisines and ecologies, making up the Michoacán Paradigm that sustains and maintains healthy eco-communities and the National Institute of Anthropology and History located in Mexico City.
Receiving a doctoral degree in Socio-cultural Anthropology with a specialization in Medical Anthropology and Global Health would be an academic achievement and great professional success, welcoming future opportunities for a female of color anthropologist with an area focus on indigenous foodway ecologies, epistemologies and sustainable developments. In guiding this accomplishment, I would seek mentorship from Dr. Devon Peña and Dr. Rachel R. Chapman. These professors are trained experts in ethno-ecology, racial and ethnic health disparities and food systems. In receiving their mentorship, my critical holistic food lens would widen, embracing their philosophies, pedagogies and theoretical positioning. This Mesoamerican food centered working relationship would offer me the opportunity to gain vast professional skills and possibly a research or graduate assistant position. This professional, academic food centered mentorship will prepare me for presenting my dissertation proposal, fieldwork, solicitation and application of funding sources, publication, dissertation defense and other academic research based work.
Also, in deciding to pursue a doctoral degree from the school of social sciences, learning that the department of anthropology from U of W supports investigations centered on social and cultural systems assured me that my critical feminist anthropological and ethnographic approach would receive departmental support in developing my final analysis. As a student, I would gain immeasurable tools for further developing a theoretical, geographic and historical perspective and position, evoking critical action and thought. Opportunities exist that allow students to receive funding from various sources such as departmental awards, research institutes, centers around campus, and small research grants. I would take advantage of these financial sources in funding my proposed research. My professional academic goals are to become a distinguished professor, author, and innovative speaker, fostering indigeneity, decoloniality and systems of indigenous ecological sustainable methods of eating.
This research would greatly benefit community based health organizations, government sponsored health departments and other health initiative and farm based bills and policies fighting to eradicate health disparities and decrease food accessibility gaps between the economically privileged and low wage working class or the oppressed. Some future projects include developing a comprehensive indigenous people’s food guide, creating an academic and community-based course on cultural and ecological nutrition developed through an indigenous framework. These two examples are necessary to share with a larger community in aiding healthier food choices such as the indigenous cuisine, which maintains ecological balance, health and vitality just as the Michoacán Paradigm exudes.
Mesoamerican foodways and feminine culinary epistemologies sustain ecological communities, which protect natural food systems inclusive of the environment, land, animals, seeds, water and the human body. These traditional gastronomic systems have survived and rebelled against colonial and industrial food systems for thousands of years. Today, these food systems are keeping communities healthy such as the Indigenous immigrant families living in the United States and the Purepecha communities living in the state of Michoacán, Mexico; despite racial and classist food ideologies and a hegemonic food system of oppression which globalizes food, taste and dis-ease. As a woman of color with an applied ecological, indigenous feminist anthropological lens trained from the University of Washington with a strong research focus on indigenous natural food systems of ecological sustainability, will solicit and apply for funding sources and sponsorship to conduct ethnographic fieldwork. In return, these investigations would present a critical culinary and health analysis of Mesoamerican ecological feminine foodways. These findings would become a model of decoloniality, revitalization and another way of eating.


[1] “Men and women, youth and elders who have information about the community’s readiness to move to action, and have earned credibility and respect from multiple members of the community,” South Central Los Angeles Civic Engagement Project: An Anthology of Non-Traditional Leaders, Success, “A New Beginning,” (SANBI), 16.
[2] As reported in United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Representative List, Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage Intergovernmental Committee, 5th session, Nairobi, Kenya, 2010.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Interview with Greg Christopher Rodriguez, writer of Decolonial Food for Thought, December 11, 2010.
[5] Cherrie Moraga, “Queer Aztlan: the Reformation of Chicano Tribe,” in Latino/a Thought: Culture, Politics and Society, ed. Francisco H. Vazquez and Rodolfo D. Torres. (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003), 258.
[6] Marion Nestle, Food Politics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007), 11.
[7] A logical structure of domination or coloniality “hidden beyond the rhetoric of modernity” functions through economic, political, civic and epistemic domains. Walter Mignolo, The Idea of Latin America (MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2005), 10.
[8] Maria Elisa Christie, Kitchenspace (Texas: University of Texas Press, 2008) and Ramona L. Perez,” Kitchen Table Ethnography and Feminist Anthropology.” Conference Paper (ASFS, 2004).
[9] Meredith E. Abarca, Voices in the Kitchen (Texas A&M University Press, 2006).
[10] Carole Counihan, A Tortilla is Like Life (The University of Texas Press, 2009).
[11] SANBI
[12] UNESCO Representative List
[13] Gustavo Esteva and Madhu Suri Prakash, Grassroots Post-Modernism (New York: Zed Books, 1998).

3 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing this!!

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  2. Writing a graduate school personal statement can be a daunting and difficult task. You are selling yourself and trying to let the admissions representatives know WHY you should be chosen over other qualified applicants. See more writing a statement of purpose

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    1. I was accepted in 2011. I am a PhD candidate now. Thank you for your comment.

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