Resource Guide on Food as a Political Tool and a Link to Tradition
I used to think that food was a rather benign subject. My experiences since moving to southern Arizona have shown how excited and protective people become when I teach about food as a political tool and promote Indigenous peoples reclaiming their heritage.
I was recently teaching Tohono O’odham History at Tohono O’odham Community College to a class that contained O’odham and also non-O’odham college employees. We had read about food, and I had used many of the resources listed here. The students were aware of the causes for the loss of traditional food production, food that kept the O’odham healthy.
One student wrote that no one forces the O’odham to eat the foods they eat. This statement is reflective of the new colonial form of neo-liberalism and of the old “blame the victim” mentality, which assumes the moral weakness of Indigenous peoples. The student simply ignored the socio-cultural aspects of the colonial enterprise.
This resource guide is intended to provide some sources that can help start a journey of discovery. Food can serve as the focus of many school courses because it touches on so many aspects of existence. My hope is that this guide helps empower people to reclaim their food and to strengthen their spirits and communities.
I dedicate the guide to Danny, Ronald, Phillip, and Marlon and a healthy Tohono O’odham Nation and world.
American Indian Foods: Introduction (8 minutes)
This is a nice introduction to traditional and contemporary traditional foods and food production across the United States. Produced by the Intertribal Agricultural Council.
Food Fight: Revolution never tasted so good (83 minutes)
Follow this young man around the world on his home school project to discover the politics and history of how we eat what we do and how to eat healthy and make ourselves well. Discover the hidden research and the people and groups who control organizations that supposedly promote health. Produced by Chris Taylor in association with November Films.
FoodMatters (80 minutes)
This video includes food as medicine; the scoop on vitamins and superfoods; food safety; natural treatments for anxiety, depression, cancer, and more. You can watch online or order the DVD. A detox guide is also available. Produced by Permacology Productions Pty Ltd.
Seasoned with Spirit (Educational Ed., Five Part Series of 27 minutes each)
Loretta Barrett Oden (Citizen Potawatomi) hosts a series that introduces us to healthy Native food, culture, and history. Filmed in visually stunning locations, this series travels from the Gulf Coast, to the Great Plains, the Pacific Northwest, and the Great Lakes region. Native American Public Television. Producers: Matt and Renard Cohen.
The Desert’s Perfect Foods, Scientific American Frontiers, part of series Fat and Happy?
You can watch this video online at the above link or find it at a library. In the video, the late Tohono O’odham elder Danny Lopez speaks of traditional foods as a way to restore health and culture. The link also has great resources for educators to extend the lesson. Produced by Chedd-Angier Production Co.
The Future of Food (88 minutes)
This film presents the many voices of farmers from Canada to Mexico who struggle against mega-corporations to maintain a healthy food supply. After watching this movie, people may want to go hug the Indigenous farmers of Mexico for helping to maintain a needed diversity in foods against a homogenizing, international, greedy corporate and nation-state legal system that places food supply at risk. Lily Films and Deborah Koons Garcia production.
The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil
This video shows how oil and food are connected. Our current agriculture is highly based on oil and chemicals from oil. We are now past the peak oil production point. We must learn to grow food in a different way. Our Indigenous and non-Indigenous brothers and sisters in Cuba show us what they did when oil supplies were reduced after the fall of the old Soviet empire.
Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick? (Seven parts, first 56 minutes, rest 29 minutes each)
The opening episode “In Sickness and in Wealth” provides an exceptional overview of issues addressed more deeply in the six shorter segments. The entire series is highly recommended. This series could serve as the basis for an entire economics, government, health policy, or sociology course in high school or college.
Episode Four, entitled “Bad Sugar,” details how the Tohono O’odham and Akimel O’odham (Pima) have been impacted by the destruction of traditional food production, by the water loss from surrounding settler communities, by government commodity programs, and by access to majority culture food stores and restaurants. These people have the highest rates of adult onset diabetes in the world. With water rights restored and efforts to produce culturally appropriate food, there is hope. See the listing under web sites for this title and for the Tohono O’odham Community Action. Produced by California Newsreel with Vital Pictures, Inc.
AIHEC STEM FALCON (First Americans Land-grant Consortium)
This website includes “Best Practices in Community and Household Gardening Programs at Tribal College and Universities.”
American Indian Foods
American Indian Foods (AIF) is a program of the Intertribal Agriculture Council that began in 1998 under contract with the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service. The partnership was developed as a platform for American Indian food businesses to showcase their products and share tribal cultures with the world. The website lists tribal organizations participating under “Producers.” It discusses the “Made by American Indians” trademark and provides a calendar for food shows.
Gary Nabhan: From the Field to the Campfire and Kitchen, Stories of Where Our Food comes from.
This site includes information on Gary Nabhan’s books, articles, lectures, and blog. Books include Where Our Food Comes From (2008), which shows how climate change, free trade policies, genetic engineering, and loss of traditional knowledge are threatening our food supply. But he also shows what resilient farmers and scientists in many regions are doing to save the remaining living riches of our world. The site offers audio and video segments that can be played directly.
Grassroots International – Food for Thought and Action: A Food Sovereignty Curriculum
You can link to a ready-to-go curriculum on food sovereignty. Food sovereignty — the right of people to determine their food systems rather than international market conglomerates — is important because you are what you eat and should want to control that system.
Hungry for Change
You can watch the trailer for the Food Inc. documentary and watch public service announcements on the Child Nutrition Act and our food system. You can get the discussion guide to the movie. You can sign petitions regarding school lunches. The site also provides a link to a reading list and healthy eating tips.
Indigenous Food Systems Network
This site allows people to network and share information. It includes the First Nations Development Institute’s Food Sovereignty Assessment Tool, which provides a useful framework for community planning.
Intertribal Agriculture Council
The mission of this organization is to change Indian agriculture for the benefit of Indian people and to promote the Indian use of Indian resources for the benefit of Indian people. The site provides information about their programs, which include a symposium and the trademark program. It has the application for the “Made by American Indians” trademark. It also offers guides and information for small farmers.
Native Earth Bio Culture Council – Conference for Food and Seed Sovereignty
The site provides videos and information on the annual Symposium for Food and Seed Sovereignty.
Native Seeds/SEARCH: Southwestern Endangered Arid land Resource Clearing House
This non-profit organization started when Tohono O’odham were seeking seeds for traditional crops. Through their own farm, they provide over 350 varieties of traditional seeds, which are distributed worldwide. You can sign up for a newsletter and purchase food and craft items as well as cookbooks. The site offers a substantial resources link to other non-profit heirloom seed organizations, seed sources, gardening and seed saving information, soils, water and more. The Native American Program includes a Cultural Memory Bank and free seeds for Native communities.
TED: Theme –Food Matters (currently 15 speeches of 18 minutes)
TED conferences examine big ideas. The website provides speeches by some of the great thinkers of our age. Current speeches include school lunches and others on growing, cooking, and consuming food.
Traditional Native American Farmers Association
TNAFA is an affiliate of the non-profit Seventh Generation Fund and offers workshops designed to revitalize traditional Indigenous agriculture for spiritual and human needs. The Indigenous Sustainable Community Design Course is offered for young and old, Indigenous and non-Indigenous. One focus of the course is permaculture – a holistic approach to food production. Other food-related workshops are offered as well.
The Faces and Places of Global Culture: Exploring the Humanities of Humans – A Reference Resource for Global Culture
By clicking the “Food/Recipes” link, you will discover the history of Native American food, links to Native health sites, information on Native food today, links to Native-owned Food businesses, links to other Native food web sites, and a host of recipe links.
The Future of Food
This provides links to other organizations involved in creating a better food supply under “Get Involved” link. The “Resources” section offers a valuable bibliography on food. You can purchase the documentary The Future of Food or watch the whole film on the site for free.
Tohono O’odham Community Action (TOCA)
TOCA is dedicated to creating a healthy, sustainable, and culturally vital Indigenous nation. They have brought back production and gathering of desert foods that contain properties that have kept the O’odham healthy from the beginning. The “O’odham Foods” link takes you to reports on The History of the Food System, the Loss of Traditional Foods, the Effect of Loss of Traditional Foods, and Principles of Native Food Sovereignty. The link tells about foods, includes recipes, and how to purchase. The site and the TOCA organization are wonderful examples for others to follow.
Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick?
This is an exceptional web site for educators and others to assist in teaching the important materials in the seven-part documentary series as well as to take action (see “Videos” entry above with the same name). The “For Educators” link takes you to incredible lesson plans, discussion guides, and a link with lessons for the Gila River Water Settlement Act of 2004, which is vital to restoring production of good foods. There are pdf and online quizzes, links to data sources, and handouts. Resources can help people anywhere investigate their own communities.
White Earth Land Recovery Project and Native Harvest Online Catalogue
This site contains information on the Good Foods program to address the diabetes problem on the White Earth Reservation (which is discussed in this issue of TCJ). The Farm to School program is an excellent example of how one tribe is helping keep children health. Our people are sick. Eating good foods starting as children will allow monies to be used elsewhere. Site contains links to some media resources, a good explanation of Globalized Agriculture and Hunger, and Seed Sovereignty.
Barrio, J. (Ed.) (2010). Thinking in Indian: A John Mohawk reader. Golden, CO: Fulcrum Press.
The introduction on John Mohawk’s legacy addresses the important issue of real sovereignty. The following essays are of interest for this resource guide: Enduring Seeds; Indians and Sugar; Small, Indian, and Beautiful: Development through Appropriate Technology; Western People, Natural people: Roots of Anxiety, and Review: The Spirit of Regeneration. The late Professor Mohawk argues for education for survival using the old with appropriate new technology. He warns against materialism and dependency on the wage economy.
Berzok, L. (2005). American Indian food. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
This book explores Native American foodways from past to present in many regions of the country. Thematic chapters consider foodstuffs; preparation, preservation, and storage; customs; food and religion; and concepts of diet and nutrition. While at times the book uses language reminiscent of colonial oppression, the information is useful to confront many misconceptions.
Divina, F., & Divina, M. (Eds.). (2004). Foods of the Americas: Native recipes and traditions. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press
Published in association with the National Museum of the American Indian, this book includes information and recipes from a variety of authors with different tribal affiliations.
Ferreira, M., & Lang, G. (Eds.). (2006). Indigenous peoples and diabetes: Community empowerment and wellness. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press.
The authors present an extremely useful analysis of diabetes, looking at a variety of Native peoples. A couple of the chapters address good food for the future and interventions in food habits.
Indigenous people’s Seattle declaration (2000). In K. Danaher & R. Burbach (Eds.), Globalize this! The battle against the World Trade Organization and corporate rule (pp. 85-91). Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press.
This declaration arose from the World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in Seattle in 1999 and was signed by many Indigenous groups. It points out the dangers of WTO policies and asserts the rights of Indigenous peoples to food security and traditional food crops.
King, M. (2002). Native American: Food is medicine. Fargo, ND: McCleery & Sons.
This book provides recipes and choices for control of diabetes.
Krohn, E., & Segrest, V. (2010). Feeding the people, Feeding the spirit: Revitalizing Northwest Coastal Indian food culture. Bellingham, WA: Northwest Indian College.
This wonderful book tells the archaeological and cultural stories of the way food was, what changed, and the revitalization of Northwest Coastal Indian food culture. Various programs are described. Foods are described, and the book ends with recipes. Purchases help support the NWIC Diabetes Prevention through Traditional Plants Program. To order copies of the book, contact Tami Chock at (360) 392-4252 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kuhnlein, H., & Turner, N. (1991). Traditional plant foods of Canadian Indigenous peoples: Nutrition, botany and use. Philadelphia, PA: Gordon and Breach Science Publishers.
Within the book’s foreword, Laurie Montour (Assembly of First Nations) describes the book as “a tool for First Nations People to change their situation.” The authors describe technical information simply and connect the food to culture. The authors’ goal was to reference the published literature on the nutritional properties, botanical characteristics, and uses of traditional plant foods. The book includes many lists and tables.
LaDuke, W. (2005). Seeds and medicine. In W. LaDuke, Recovering the sacred: The power of naming and claiming (pp. 153-212). Cambridge, MA: South End Press.
Three wonderful chapters within part three show how white allies can really help, the historical legacy of colonial bio-terrorism, the threat of genetic modification and the legal system that supports patenting (owning) life and appropriation, and recovering the healing and spiritual power of foods produced long before European contact.
Mihesuah, D. (2005). Recovering our ancestors’ gardens: Indigenous recipes and guide to diet and fitness. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
Almost 50 pages of recipes follow chapters on the state of health, traditional diets and activities, how we got to the present condition, calories, planting gardens, and being an activist.
Milburn, M. (2004). Indigenous nutrition: Using traditional food knowledge to solve contemporary health problems. American Indian Quarterly, 28(3), 411-434.
This excellent article discusses the variety of healthy Indigenous diets, the great diversity of Indigenous crops, and the difference between Western and Indigenous science. It discusses carbohydrates and fats in a sophisticated way and outlines the problem with U.S. government food and nutrition policy especially for Native peoples.
Porterfield, K., & Keoke, E. (2005). American Indian contributions to the World: 15,000 years of inventions and innovations. New York: Chelsea House Publishers.
This work has been recommended for elementary-middle school use. The sections on food, farming, and hunting and on medicine and health should be of interest. It has won many awards, including the Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers Writer of the Year, and it was selected by Booklist as the Editors Choice Reference Source, 2002.
Rimas, A., & Fraser, E. (2010). Empires of food: Feast, famine, and the rise and fall of civilizations. New York: Simon & Schuster.
This is a worthy book for anyone interested in survival. The authors look back at what happens to groups as natural or man-made disasters impact food production. While North America’s Indigenous past is shorted, the book provides a basic understanding of where we are today and where we are headed as the Earth warms. Looking toward the future, the authors provide points of reflection for both local food movements and free market proponents about our thin margins and the action that is needed.
Waziyatawin. (2005). Decolonizing Indigenous diets. In W.A. Wilson & M.Y. Bird (Eds.), For Indigenous eyes only: A decolonization handbook (pp. 67-86). Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press.
This handbook is useful for generating action and change. It includes a chart to track what food and drink are consumed, calculate food categories, and evaluate current diet. Another activity calculates Body Mass Index and asks how family and community have been impacted by obesity. Additionally, participants are asked about pre-colonization diets and current access to traditional foods. Then readers are asked who benefits from Native people being obese and diabetic and who would benefit if they were healthy. Additional activities connect food to spiritual and cultural activities.
Weatherford, J. (1988). Indian givers: How the Indians of the Americas transformed the world. New York: Fawcett Columbine.
This book documents the food that originated in the Americas, though such foods are often associated with or claimed by other peoples in other places. Three chapters are of special note: The Food Revolution (pp. 59-78), Indian Agricultural Technology (pp. 79-98), and The Culinary Revolution (pp. 99-116).
Michael W. Simpson, J.D., M.Ed., is a Ph.D. candidate in American Indian Studies at the University of Arizona. He consults on curriculum and instruction and conducts teacher professional development concerning Indigenous issues. He can be reached at email@example.com.