Whether it’s paleo, Adkins, keto, or some other diet, America is obsessed with fad eating. Despite this, American waistlines have been steadily expanding, accompanied by diet-related illnesses like diabetes and heart disease.
The statistics are far more staggering in Native populations. Numerous studies demonstrate that Natives in Montana and elsewhere face sky high levels of obesity, malnutrition, and the diseases that accompany them. The Center for Disease Control predicts that half of American Indian kids born today are likely to develop diabetes in their lifetimes. Here in Montana, the life expectancy of Native people in Montana is 20 years less than non-Natives. Many of these issues stem from the rapid transition from Indigenous diets to the staples of the Old World (more recently compounded by the advent of processed foods).
Native populations feel the effects of industrialized food more than non-Natives. This is due in part to the relatively short adjustment period that Indigenous bodies have had to adapt to foods like wheat and dairy. Another factor is that most reservations are “food deserts,” that is, places isolated from sources of readily available, fresh and affordable food.
That said, everyone can benefit from a return to unprocessed, local food. As residents of Turtle Island*, we have an opportunity and responsibility to embrace indigenous foods; not as a fad, but as a lesson in sustainability and healthy living.
Eating our traditional foods is healthier and tastier than the processed foods that we have become accustomed to. Bison vs. Spam, Squash vs. Bagel Bites. Maple Cedar Tea vs. Sprite. From a nutritional standpoint, they are hardly comparable.
But there are additional benefits from revitalizing our traditional foods; they aren’t as easy to quantify. The Western world view has taught us that food is for fueling our bodies: giving us energy. However, that neglects our cyclical relationship with the Earth. How do we care for the food? How do we care for the land and the water? Can food provide spiritual, as well as physiological nourishment?
For me, the true measure of wealth is the health of your family and self. That’s why eating for longevity and restore the connection to real food is so gratifying.
*Turtle Island is a name for North and South America that comes from the Ojibwe creation story.
For more recipes and inspiration, visit Mariah’s blog: Indigikitchen