Restoring Heritage Cuisines and Indigenous Agroecosystems to Address Obesity, Malnutrition and Trauma –

One of the consequences of the conquest and settlement of North and South America by Europeans was the displacement and destruction of native biological and cultural diversity. The environmental historian Alfred Crosby has called the European invasion of the Americas [sic] a biological conquest and a form of “ecological imperialism.”

No space or native habitat touched by colonialism was spared the effects of this bio-invasion. Indigenous plants and animals were diminished by the violence and displacement associated with the arrival of European colonizers and their biotic baggage. Cattle displaced bison; sheep replaced native deer; wheat displaced maize and amaranth.

Europeans and others benefited from the arrival of the crops of Native America including amaranth, agave, avocado, bean, bell pepper, cashew, cassava, chili, cocoa (for chocolate) corn, guava, peanut, potato, pumpkin, tomato, vanilla, wild rice, and many more.

A demographic catastrophe resulted and native populations declined by 70 to 98 percent. This was caused by genocide through war, enslavement and forced labor, introduced disease (smallpox, measles), and widespread hunger and malnutrition. Many people were worked or starved to death in mines, plantations, and sweatshops.

Historical trauma and native foods

Recently, we have become more aware of the peculiar form of death facing Native peoples as a result of processes that Russel L. Barsch calls ecocide, or death caused by destruction of indigenous ecosystems including the agricultural and food systems of entire cultures and civilizations.

Research demonstrates that access to traditional foods—the nutritional substances a given people co-evolve with over generations of living and adapting to place—is essential to our health. Thus, eating poorly is not a case of persons making “poor personal choices” or engaging in “bad individual behaviors;” it is a matter of systematic discrimination and structural violence when people are denied access to the resources they need to maintain their own indigenous food traditions, cuisines, and diets.

Barsh and Gary Paul Nabhan, and others have documented the devastating effects of nutritional genocide in their studies of Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest and Southwest. The health effects are still being amplified by institutional racism and colonial domination and the ecological wreckage left in the wake of conquest, enclosure, and domination.

This peculiar form of barely visible structural violence proceeds from the destruction of ecosystems and indigenous farming and heritage cuisines. A principal consequence of this form of ecocide are increased morbidity, reduced life spans, and the greater incidence of chronic conditions related to diseases like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes linked to malnutrition, hunger, and culturally inappropriate non-traditional diets.

Trauma studies emerged after the Nazi Holocaust, but the concept was applied to Native American communities for the first time in the 1980s as a result of the work of Maria Yellow Horse Braveheart and her colleagues. The basic idea involves recognition that “Historical trauma is cumulative emotional and psychological wounding over the lifespan and across generations, emanating from massive group trauma. Native Americans have, for over 500 years, endured physical, emotional, social, and spiritual genocide from European and American colonialist policy.”

It is a recurrent form of trauma that affects entire communities because the violence and discrimination is directed at the collective and not just individual members of the culture. The effects of historical trauma include alcoholism and substance abuse, domestic violence and child abuse, malnutrition, obesity, and cardiovascular illness.

Perhaps the most pernicious form of structural violence is that which proceeds through silent erasure. The forced eradication of Native foods, foodways, and farming traditions has caused grave damage to people and the land. But the silent killer of nutricide is being challenged.

Deep food: Healing through heritage cuisine

Native peoples are resilient. We are organizing to reverse the damage produced by centuries of historical trauma and structural violence. Today, we are witnessing the emergence and florescence of a pivotal movement involving the recovery of ancestral food crops, wild plants, and heritage cuisines.

This is what I call “deep food” to distinguish it from the “local” and “slow” food because this is about the recovery of the deeply rooted ancestral foods and food ways of the First Peoples.

This indigenous movement focuses on improving health through heritage cuisines. It also ties together respect for and assertion of treaty rights as civil rights and the restoration of traditional hunting, foraging, and farming methods and principles. An important part of this work involves establishing community gardens, home kitchen gardens, agro-forestry mosaics or “food forest” projects, and many other innovative campaigns. Here are two examples from the Pacific Northwest

READ THE ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE: Restoring Heritage Cuisines and Indigenous Agroecosystems to Address Obesity, Malnutrition and Trauma –

About Kurly Tlapoyawa (1010 Articles)

3 Comments on Restoring Heritage Cuisines and Indigenous Agroecosystems to Address Obesity, Malnutrition and Trauma –

  1. I know that Crosby is no the subject of the post, but his work is cited (and rightly so) due to its impact on academia, but I think that it’s also important to have a background on what is being said.

    I read Alfred Crosby’s ECOLOGICAL IMPERIALISM for my global/comparative history seminar; he’s considered the pioneer of environmental history, a popular approach by contemporary scholars. I have to say that, although revelatory, much of the U.S. history literature that has come out of this approach tends to be apologetic towards the imperialistic practices of Anglo-Europeans–i.e. The Contested Plains (1998) by Elliot West.

    I liked Crosby’s book, but some of the phrasing and terminology bothered me. More specifically, my criticism of Crosby is that he placed the blame for the demise of the American mega-fauna on the prehistoric ancestors of the American indigenes–whom archeologists refer to as ‘Paleo Indians. Crosby also referred to the first peoples of the world–those indigenous to wherever Europeans settled–as the “shock troops” that paved the way for the “civilian wave” of Europeans that came afterwards.

    Crosby’s work soon inspired a still growing body of environmental history, some good and some highly questionable. A case in point is another book called Ecological Indian (1999) by Shepard Krech.

    Krech, undoubtedly influenced by Crosby, tries to dispel the ecological/environmental stereotype of Indians, but in doing so, uses the mega-fauna extinction example to support his argument. Native scholars, like Vine Deloria Jr., argued against this assumption, which I believe, has been thoroughly discounted in the years since

    Anyway, just thought you’d be interested in some of my boring academic musings.

    This is an example of what one of my profs is constantly advising me against: what he calls “beating up” on the old guys (Crosby was pretty old when he published this book – from the old guard); I guess I haven’t matured enough academically to just ‘kill them softly.’

  2. The intention, of course, being to downplay any culpability on behalf of the brave white settlers. But as George Jefferson would so eloquently put it, “not so fast, honkey!”

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: