Sometime in October 2013, I started talking to a Xicana from Los Angeles whose social justice journey led her to the snow where she now uses her knowledge of environmental science and urban planning as part of a centuries old struggle to protect La Madre Tierra from the destructive forces of the colonizer.
Our conversations have centered on several aspects of decolonization work within education, health, resistance, spirituality and food. We agree that decolonization must happen at all levels in our lives.
These conversations reminded me of Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s work “Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples,” which explores the intersections between imperialism, research, history, and knowledge and its impact in shaping the colonial status and oppressive conditions that indigenous peoples confront throughout the world.
Usually we tend to conceive decolonization within a narrow framework with the belief that merely undoing the existing unequal political and economic relationships will emancipate colonized peoples.
Yet, this “decolonization” work is framed within the framework of imperialism, which merely replicates previous colonial structures by replacing a European face with a select number of Black or Brown folks to govern so-called “independent” territories or outposts.
But decolonization needs to go a step further. Decolonization is not about the oppressed becoming the oppressor. Rather, we must decolonize our body, mind, and soul completely.
And that’s what this brief post is all about. Its about sharing some new knowledge gained from the conversations I’ve had regarding the importance of decolonizing our food staples and diets while rooting them back to our traditional Indigenous ways.
Most of us don’t consider how food has been used to collectively malnourish, colonize, and oppress our people since the invader arrived in 1492.
But food, or the lack thereof, has been a powerful weapon used to neutralize resistance movements. Today, the threat against our Indigenous communities and food staples is ever greater as conglomerates, such as Monsanto create genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
GMOs have been shown to cause health problems for people, are an environmental threat to wild plants and species, such as the monarch butterfly, and violates the rights of peasant farmers in Mexico and Central America.
Thus, reclaiming our ancestral foods can go along way towards resisting colonization and stopping the onslaught of GMOs.
Perhaps as early 9,000 years ago, maiz was first cultivated by Indigenous peoples in what is today known as Mesoamerica. Maiz became the primary dietary staple of Mesoamerican peoples eventually spreading throughout the continent.
Not only did maiz become an essential food staple but its role in ceremony is significant even to our present times. As my Xicana friend put it clearly, “we are maiz,” which keeps our “body and mind sacred.”
The European invasion, of course, had serious detrimental consequences for our people as they were occasionally starved to the point of extinction. Even today, our people are constantly served pre-packaged food that has no nutritional value while causing high rates of cancer and diabetes in our people, among other diseases.
As Linda Tuhiwai Smith points out, our experiences have been “defined by over 500 years of contact with the West,” and is based on “one major priority: survival.”
Yet, we can take “survival” to the next level by implementing changes in our diets so that we can begin living fruitful lives and not be forced to merely “survive.”
We can begin the process of decolonizing our diets through the use of readily available Indigenous foods that we might take for granted, such as nopales, elote, frijoles, calabazas, amaranto, chile, and chia, for instance.
Here’s a list by aztecstories.com on the seven warrior foods of the Mexica people, which was once presented in a workshop given in a Chicana/o Studies class at CSULA by the compañera Ketzaltzkuintli:
Corn – Tlaolli
Beans – Etl
Squash – Tzilacayohtli
Amaranth – Huauhtli
Nopal – Nopalli
Chile – Chilli
Chia – Chian
Other important foods include:
Maguay – Metl
Spirulina – Tecuitatl
Each of the Indigenous foods listed above have high nutritional value that have been proven to fight diseases and keeps us both healthy and balanced.
As a student in Chicana/o Studies, I can tell you that the discipline is not engaged in food justice research, methodology, teaching nor in advocating for a return to our ancestral foods for our people to offset the detrimental effects of westernized food practices.
Writing for Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social (MALCS), Luz Calvo and Catriona R. Esquibel created a Colonized Standard American Diet (¡Qué SAD!) and a decolonized approach:
With that said, I will continue to write about this topic in future posts, and even include ancestral recipes as I continue my conversations with my friend who has shared valuable decolonizing knowledge with me.