Traditional Food Principles
Grist featured an interesting article about a woman’s mission to revive her native tribe’s traditions toward food and eating.
Valerie Segrest is a native foods educator and a memeber of the Muckleshoot Indian tribe in the state of Washington. Segrest teaches a course at Northwest Indian College titled “Honor the Gift of Food” which advocates a different approach to eating. This is based on the Eight Food Principles formed from Segrest’s conversations with other native food specialists and tribal Elders.
- Food is at the center of culture
- Honor the food web/chain
- Eat with the seasons
- Eat a variety of food
- Traditional foods are whole foods
- Eat local foods
- Wild and organic foods are better for health
- Cook and eat with good intention
Though Segrest’s work is focused toward a particular people group, the principles deal with a universal part of life that everybody shares and everyone can relate to. The first principle contains much truth about food being central to culture. This is not just talking about specialties and exoticness; this is about the culture being woven in kitchens at dining tables, and behind the flashy restaurants proclaiming “cultural” food. Segrest and co-author Krohn talk about the traditions of activities that people share even before partaking of the food; harvesting, preparation, processing, etc. This is one example of people sharing life together and the sharing food itself can be a medium for different generations to pass on/exchange culture as they gather for the meal.
Honoring the food web/chain can lead to more awareness of how our actions impact the health of the environment, and ulitmately our own. This is an excellent principle but one that doesn’t come easily to many people, especially those who have grown used to seeing food come in packages on aisles in stores and supermarkets.
A lot of us regard food as merely something we can obtain anytime and anywhere. This attitude tends to harbor little concern for the whole natural process that brings us what we eat. We don’t think of bread as wheat stalks that came up from the ground, nurtured by rains and the sun – a living plant that slept at night and perhaps shared a moment or two with a passing cricket that alighted on it for a moment. We would probably not think of it as a living creature that lived out its lifespan and bore fruit in its season; we would mostly think of it as a five-buck commodity available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This kind of “here and now” availablity of food creates a situation where we become very unattached and almost passive in our purchasing of the things we eat.
Yet the principle of being connected and “knowing the journey” of the harvest is basic among those who are traditionally connected with their food. Perhaps that is why they honor the privilege of acquiring it, because they know that a lot of energy has been put into producing it – certainly more five than five bucks worth.
Reading through the rest of the Traditional Food Principles gives similar insights and ideas on how non-traditional we have become regarding food – a basic necessity for both our ancestors and for us today. It seems that, after all the developments and modernization the passage of centuries has afforded our generation, it is us who have much to learn from them, and not they from us. I’m glad there are people like Valerie Segrest and her group, who in reminding us not as much as what to eat but how to eat based on our own traditions, gives us much food for thought.
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