Decolonising Food: Recentering Traditional Foods in the Fight for Climate Justice

Challenging the ‘one size fits all’ attitude of the vegan movement in the West

This piece is from our print edition: the FOOD issue, which you can buy here.

The original people have always had a connection with the land. This connection will never be broken because for us it represents Mother Earth. Mother Earth gives us food to eat. If you protect the land, the land will give you food. It’s a reciprocal relationship.”

Saúl Kak

We often hear about the need to reduce our meat consumption and become vegans if we have any chance of surviving the onslaught of climate chaos. However, these ‘one size fits all’ diets, undermine the complexities of our genetic makeup and our relationships and cultures around food. For me, as a descendent of Anasazi and Dine People, my body needs the protein and healthy fats from game and fish to thrive. In fact, most Indigenous Peoples of North America are likely to be anemic because they have lost connection to their traditional diets. During my teens, I learned this the hard way; I attempted to be vegetarian and within weeks became extremely anemic, because other sources of protein weren’t enough.

So that’s why I am sharing this recipe for a Pueblo Deer Stew with you. Not only is it a comforting and grounding stew for these winter months, a time when we are supposed to slow down and hibernate, but the recipe also represents beautiful traditions that my people continue to practice, like hunting.

In my Pueblo tradition when a person or persons (typically the men in the family) successfully hunt a deer or an elk, they bring the animal back to the family, where they offer prayer to honor the animal for providing food and materials for survival. Then the family butchers the animal, using the meat for sustenance and the hide for cultural practices such as ceremony or traditional dances. After the meat is butchered and cleaned the family prepares a large batch of stew fit to feed dozens of people and they invite the community to their home to gather, eat and honor the animal.

It’s vital that climate and animal rights activists understand that the consumption of traditional game is very different to the industrial-scale meat consumption that is responsible for the mistreatment of animals and vast carbon emissions. Subsistence hunting does not decimate species like industrial-scale hunting and fishing. For thousands of years Indigenous Peoples have had a relationship with eating traditional game and fish that includes a spiritual kinship, a connection to the territory, and a responsibility to protect the ecosystems in which the species live.

For Indigenous communities this relationship to traditional food and hunting is even more essential when we look at the fight for self-determination, land rights, and climate justice. During the 1800s when the U.S. Army led efforts to control Native American populations, a saying was shared among the troops: “every buffalo dead is an Indian gone”. And in the same era, Colonel Kit Carson led an effort to kill tens of thousands of sheep to subdue the Dine (Navajo) People. While it might not be as blatant, this notion still exists and is still being practiced by governments and corporations.

Right now, in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, offshore drilling threatens the Porcupine River Caribou herd, a critical food source for the Gwich’in People of Alaska. In Alberta, Canada, we are seeing species being killed and driven from their habitats by the Alberta Tar Sands project, the largest fossil fuel extraction project in the world. And everywhere across the planet, we are losing species to deforestation, oil spills, mountaintop removal and so forth. On top of this, we are being sold toxic meat and fish, raised inhumanely and treated with hormones and chemicals. So, in the assertion of our rights as Indigenous Peoples or when we talk about sovereignty, we aren’t just talking politics; we are talking about being able to continue our ancient food traditions that are in harmony with Mother Earth and our animal relatives. By maintaining and reclaiming our hunting and gathering practices, not only are we resisting the systems that have taken these traditions away, but we are creating solutions to food issues, to health issues and to climate issues.

Many of the important battles for environmental and climate justice are being fought on the ground to protect these sacred foods and lands where Indigenous communities can hunt and gather wild vegetables and medicines. Understanding this unique relationship between Indigenous Peoples and land, food and culture is core to becoming an ally to Indigenous land rights struggles.

If we think about protecting the environment and the climate crisis as just reducing our carbon footprints, we miss the opportunity to think about what exactly a holistic relationship to our food looks like. How can we enter into a deeper exploration of how our food connects us to the land, the fight for self-determination, and how to regain balance with our wider community of plants, and four-legged and winged ones?

So as you make and eventually enjoy this deer soup, let the ancestral wisdom within it ground you and inspire you to stand with Indigenous Peoples as they continue to reclaim and fight for their traditions and cultures.

A sampling of pre-contact Pueblo foods:

Buffalo, deer, elk, antelope, mountain sheep, rabbits, fish, ducks, geese, turkeys, small birds, eggs, grasshoppers, piñon nuts, wild plums, currants, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, cactus fruits and pads, Indian tea, wild onions, wild parsley, juniper berries, wild spinach, osha, cattails, watercress, chokecherries, and mushrooms, Indian rice grass, wild asparagus, purslane, serviceberries, sumac, mint, rosehips, corn (non-GMO), beans, squash, seeds, sunflowers, tomatillos, amaranth.

Pueblo Deer Stew

2 large onions, diced

5 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons flour

4 tablespoons butter

½ lb chicos

Bay leaves

2 lbs venison

Salt and pepper to taste

In a large stew pot, sauté the garlic and onions with a little olive oil. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium high heat. In a separate bowl mix the venison and flour together, then add to skillet with butter. Turn occasionally, searing and browning all sides of the meat. Add the venison and other ingredients (chicos, bay leaves, garlic, onion) to a large stew pan and cover with water. Simmer on low heat for 4-6 hours or until the meat shreds easily with a fork.

This piece is from our latest print edition: the FOOD issue, which you can buy here.

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