Food Waste to Food Cycle: Listening to Indigenous Voices across Turtle Island

Winner of second place in RAVEN’s Harmony Foundation Essay Prize, Atlanta Grant shares her research on Indigenous food systems in her winning paper.

Atlanta Grant Bio:

Atlanta is an Indigenous Masters (M.A) student in the Institute of Resources, Environment & Sustainability at the University of British Columbia embarking on her research around traditional food systems, knowledge preservation and food waste (or food ‘cycling’). She will be looking at Indigenous food waste practises in hopes of reclaiming autonomy and food sovereignty within our Indigenous communities whilst addressing the need for a restructuring of individual waste practises within our urban environments.

Throughout her undergraduate career Atlanta was involved in assisting Toronto Public Health’s Food Policy teams ‘Public Health of Canada’ report. Interviewing vulnerable populations in the Greater Toronto Area and their accessibility to healthy and affordable food. During this time, she was also accepted by the Centre of Engaged Learning Abroad (CELA) research trip to Belize. Here, she studied with the Mayan communities discovering issues around food sovereignty and Indigenous development the Belizean and Mayan communities continue to experience. It was through these experiences she began to think critically about her own Indigenous community within the Canadian context and ideals surrounding traditional knowledge and our physical environment.

Says Atlanta, “Growing up I was always particularly observant of my natural surroundings, more specifically, the berries that grew in my grandma’s backyard. These little red strawberries, so small and fragrant. I was convinced they would nod their heads hello as I walked by, and felt pain when they were crushed by someone’s boot. As an adult, these observations became a curiosity around food and our food systems, how we mishandle, mis-treat and waste or food that gives to us selflessly. As I began my personal research around Indigenous food knowledge, I began to learn how unique every Indigenous communities traditional knowledge is, and the ways it connected to my own ancestry. This paper is in physical form the beginnings of these findings, acknowledging the sacredness of Indigenous knowledge, and how Indigenous communities across Turtle Island have protected their oral knowledge of food since time immemorial. I believe what this paper showcases are the incredible lessons we can learn about how to mend our tainted relationship with food, and how by re-discovering the berries as our friends, we can begin to move forward in mending the destruction humans have caused to the land. And most importantly, address the systemic hardships our Indigenous communities continue to face, and the emergent need for Indigenous leaders honoured in the discussion of environmental stewardship today.”

It is our honour to present Altanta’s winning paper here:

Food Waste to Food Cycle: Listening to Indigenous Voices across Turtle Island 

As an Iroquois woman originally from the traditional territories of the Mississaugas of the
Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Ojibwe, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples and a present guest on the traditional territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples, I acknowledge the land and those who have cared for the land since the beginning and continue to protect it today. This acknowledgement is part of my commitment to the struggle against systems of oppression that have dispossessed Indigenous peoples of their land since contact.

FOOD WASTE TO FOOD ‘CYCLING’

Abstract

Food at the epicentre of human survival, holds centuries of medicinal and healing teachings for Indigenous communities. Humans, animals, plants, land, water and spirit are viewed as interdependent and in relationship to and with each other (Wilson, 2004). Through this relational lens, the ontology of life ensures anything produced by the land, such as our food, deserves careful stewardship and respect. Conversely, by valuing food solely for its market value, the colonial commercialization of our foodways has disrupted these relational ways of being and food cycling practices. Non-relational thinking about food has created a destructive path of handling of our food that among its social consequences, is contributing to climate change. Food waste or food ‘cycling’ the distribution of food from harvest to scraps, as viewed through Indigenous peoples, holds critical knowledge and practises used since time immoral that can help combat our broken relationship with the land, and future utilization of our food pathways. This paper aims to learn from and provide various teachings held by Indigenous peoples within the North American context within a comparative analysis form. Giving space and autonomy for our foodway practices for the physical, spiritual health of Indigenous people, as well as the environments they depend on.

Keywords: Food waste; sustainability; food security; First Nations; climate change; food system; relationality

Foreword

Growing up there were certain truths I held towards the world: 1. never take more food than you can eat, 2. the strawberries are our friends and 3. listen to the land and you will know. I carried an interconnected worldview rooted within an Indigenous axiology of relational accountability towards the Earth (Wilson, 2008). Of course, as a child, I did not think of it as an axiology or in philosophical, categorical measures. This was a little girl who had a backyard full of berries who has nothing else to do but listen intently to her musings. As an Iroquois woman, my worldview, has led to practises that involve considerations towards the food that I consume, and the food that I ‘waste’. However, as I transitioned to urban life, I found it difficult to protect my food and began disposing of it in a way that did not show equal care towards the environment. For me, this experience has illuminated the distinct role that our beliefs, ideologies and worldviews have in shaping our relationship to the natural environment, plants and the living creatures residing here with us. And ultimately, how losing the berries as our friends, has resulted in a distorted relationship with the land, its careful stewardship and ultimate protection.

Food Waste to Food ‘Cycling’ viewed through First Nations’ Ideological Lens: A comparative analysis

Over the last several decades, major changes have occurred to food systems in the Global North (Vermeulen et al., 2012). Here, a major keystone has been our reliance on agricultural technology and its impact on shaping our foodways and present-day industrial food system. This includes global trade, connectivity, efficiency, consumerism and the utilization of agro- technology shown through machinery and fertilizer/pesticide influx (Stuart & Woroosz, 2013). As our populations grow, the demand for continual growth becomes an expected trajectory stemming from commodified capitalism, intensifying the pressure for mass-produced food and the infrastructure to support it. Within the North American context, this has allowed for trade of products globally and a market demand where middle- and high-income communities have the access to a variety of foods, whereas marginalized communities–those situated in a food apartheid (Sbicca, 2012) and of lower/middle incomes — do not experience our food system or have access to food in the same way (Holt-Giménez, 2011). Through recognition of these inequalities, a number of ‘food-related’ issues have emerged, including newer discussions around ‘food waste’ (Evans et al., 2012). In which the discourse on food waste emerged as a sub- category of ‘food security’, beginning in the 1950s as food production was dramatically increasing, due to increased efficiency within our food chains, yet many communities still didn’t have access to food and were relying on food banks and relief efforts (Evans et al., 2012). As this issue began dwindling (although never fully solved) the discourse shifted to ‘why is there so much food leftover?’ and ‘why is there so much waste?’. (Evans et al., 2012). As ‘food waste’ has become an important topic in the Global North, public outcry and demands for Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and federal/provincial governments to address the issues of the unused, unwanted and leftover food has increased.

In this comparative analysis, I aim to address the food waste crises through an Indigenous perspective to prioritize marginalized groups and others repressed by the industrial food system. Resultingly, these groups are also the most likely to be experiencing food insecurity and a variety of diet-related health complications. Despite decades of this colonial violence, Indigenous peoples continue to protect and advocate for the rights of our interspecies relatives on this land. Indigenous oral tradition conveys teachings regarding food handling carried out in respect of our foodway relatives, where every Indigenous community across North-America holds similar and unique food handling practises specific to their traditions and community. Therefore, addressing the ‘food waste’ narrative (as is understood differently in various communities and impacts each community in unique ways) in this comparative analysis will not act as a comparison of knowledges, rather, learning and engaging through knowledge from various Indigenous groups via traditional shared knowledge to de-colonize the discourse around food studies and environmental protection. All information gathered for this paper is theoretical, literature-based research gathered around White Mountain Apache Tribe and Musqueam First Nation. While, additional personal communication, and shared oral stores were gathered from my own community of Huron-Wendat First Nation. Further research around Indigenous food cycling practises should ethically and in collaboration with communities include oral stories and consented shared knowledge from each of the specific communities to honour each individual communities’ traditions and protected histories.

Within the North American context, I will be comparing different First Nations’ and Native-American knowledges and practises around food ‘cycling’ to learn and understand theseways of knowing as we continue to mend and shape what our future food systems can look like, while additionally learning how to better aid and support food autonomy and sovereignty for Indigenous peoples spiritual and physical health (Kuhnlein, 2015). Specifically, I will highlight the practices of the Iroquois Huron-Wendat First Nation located in Ontario and the Musqueam First Nations in coastal British Columbia for ‘Canadian’ context, as well as the White Mountain Apache Tribe in Arizona, United States. The Musqueam First Nation and Iroquois (Huron- Wendat) were chosen for the basis of this comparative analysis. Being Iroquois Huron-Wendat, I chose the Iroquois community to speak to the knowledge I hold. Additionally, I chose the Musqueam First Nation because I am a guest on Musqueam land in British Columbia and wish to continuously learn and acknowledge the land and food practices of these peoples, and the land I reside on. And lastly, I will provide food cycling examples from the White Mountain Apache Tribe, as through their established food sovereignty programming they have been working towards traditional food culture revitalization, in which important teachings have been shared and learnt from.

Positionality: Terms and Comparisons

The understanding of Indigenous knowledge has been categorized into various discourses, such as ‘traditional ecological knowledge’ (TEK), informal knowledge or as an oppositional knowledge to scientific and western knowledge. Here, any food-related knowledge becomes situated as an alternative food system or AFS (Albrecht, 2013). TEK is understood as,“…a cumulative body of knowledge, practice, and belief, evolving by adaptive processes and handed down through generations by cultural transmission, about the relationship of living beings (including humans) with one another and with their environment” (Berkes et al., 2000, p.1252). Understanding, Indigenous knowledge is intergenerational, passed from Elders to community, in a cyclical and relational way. While TEK can work as the stepping point for compartmentalizing these understandings of knowledge, it is still commonly discussed with the narrative of oppositional understanding. Indigenous, or traditional knowledge is often viewed as un-scientific within the Western ideological framework.

As a result, Indigenous knowledge is often labeled as an ‘alternative’ model for discussions and implementation within environmental discussions. Indigenous ontology is distinct from western ways of knowing (Hunt, 2014) and by working within these models we inherently create a hierarchy of knowledge when discussing our local food movements, food systems and agriculture. Suggesting there is an epicentre of knowledge to be contrasted against, and thus insinuating the food cycling practises outlined are not legitimate. In order to be ‘successful’, Indigenous values must be at the forefront in rebuilding their own foodways, in which we begin to coexist with the additional formats of knowledge present. This analysis will be acknowledging these shared forms of ‘traditional knowledge’ within the aforementioned Indigenous communities within North America. The knowledge shared and addressed will be specific to the Indigenous communities within this analysis and will not be treated as all-encompassing nor as universally used practises within all Indigenous communities. Therefore, within this paper, Indigenous knowledge will not be in opposition to current food ‘waste’ knowledge; rather it will be viewed as rooted generational knowledge that deserves recognition for collaboration in global agricultural discussions concerning the well-being of our planet and Indigenous communities.

Language and present understandings around ‘food waste’ as un-wanted or un-used food (Griffin et al., 2009), will not be used within the parameters of this paper. As within the Indigenous axiology of relationality, food becomes much more then something to be wasted and is not viewed as un-wanted. Therefore, the term ‘food cycling’ will be used instead of ‘food waste’ when discussing in my own words the food practises within the Indigenous communities. Here, food cycling can be thought of as a life cycle, a circular food system in which full utilization of the food product is considered, where chosen certain parts are eaten, and those uneaten are placed back into the land or repurposed with thoughtful and careful consideration.

This paper will work through these worldviews by engaging in ‘two eyed seeing’ (Bartlett et al., 2012). This means I will be using my Indigenous spirit and academic knowledge together as one when discussing the issues and analysis in a genuine and meaningful way. For example, while this paper is considered a comparative analysis, I will not be engaging in a better/worse or winner/loser narrative when discussing the varying food cycling practices. Rather, my goal is to acknowledge and learn from the vast array of knowledge that Indigenous peoples carry and the important role this knowledge plays in assessing and aiding in our current environmental and food crises. Avoiding ‘knowledge grabbing’ and appropriation of practises that occur within the Indigenous communities I am not a part of (Wilson, 2004) through appropriate citations and considerations.

Food and knowledge sharing practices within Indigenous communities is generational and has sustained First Nation and Native communities from time immemorial. While forms of this knowledge can be appropriated and/or lost throughout time, the remainder of this paper will focus on the power of currently-held knowledge. And, through sharing and discussing these narratives we engage in the protection of Indigenous knowledge.


The Animal Life Cycle: Relational Teachings and Practises

Only then the nests are set out, the weirs are put in place, and the harvest begins. Everyone has a task. An elder counsels the young one with a spear, “take only what you need and let the rest go by and the fish will last forever”. When the drying racks are full with winter food, they simply stop fishing (Kimmerer, 2013, p. 243).


For the Musqueam people residing in the Coast Salish communities, salmon fishing is culturally important for physical and spiritual wellbeing. The salmons’ existence is relational (Tam & Olson, 2017) having its own purpose and relationship to land. The practise of relationality1 towards non-human beings begins the food cycling process, the action that occurs next physically, such as bone burial, smoking and skinning are variables within this broader spiritual relational belief system. Food cycling practises for the salmon are seasonal, and include fishing (sockeye, chinook, coho), smoking, canning, and otherwise preserving the remaining parts for wintertime (Rivera, 1949). Here, the salmon for initial consumption is broken down— the heads at times roasted and dried so the ‘white bone’ can be utilized within the head (Barnett, 1955). Remaining bones are placed back into the river/ocean, for reciprocity and cyclical teachings, which presently are being connected to a plethora of positive environmental benefits within the academic and quantitative research sphere (Claeson et al., 2006). For example, research has shown that the addition of salmon carcasses (bones and leftovers) to rivers positively correlates to stream productivity and nutrient levels (Claeson, et al., 2006). This life cycle practise concludes the utilization of the fish in its entirety with future fishing and harvesting decided based on the number of salmon that return for the protection of salmon conservation and wellbeing. This is as well, exemplified in death, as salmon continue to act as sustenance for other creatures, with their physical decomposition providing positive environmental benefits to the land (Gende et al., 2007).

“We are a fishing people. We have fished the Fraser River for salmon, oolichan and other fish from time immemorial, and our rhythms, stories and culture are closely aligned with the river. Many of the locations used by our fishers today are the same as those fished by our ancestors (MCP, n.d, p.27).”

In many cases geographical space dictates food consumption and food cycling behaviour, for the Musqueam people along the Salish Coast salmon is an important and crucial species for spiritual and physical wellbeing. Within the Iroquois speaking Huron-Wendat community residing in Northern and Southern Ontario, fishing and land-based hunting supplement the agricultural community. Fish, such as trout, are caught and cooked similarly to the Musqueam, which includes similar smoking and preservation techniques (Sainte-Marie among the Huron, n.d). Historically these Nations hunted for animals such as moose, black bear and importantly, caribou (Species at Risk Public Registry, n.d). However, in present day as these animal populations decline due to commercial hunting licenses, various Indigenous communities in Ontario have had to alter their hunting patterns, and the issuing of visitor licenses to halt non- Indigenous people from hunting moose on their land (White, 2017). Presently, Indigenous hunting in the area works to gather deer. The animal is fully utilized, including its brains, liver, pancreas. Food parts are prepared via boiling, roasting and drying techniques (Waugh, 1916) and the reserved water from the cooking process is used as broth for soups. Here, material clothing (moccasins, packaging etc.), rattles, and other instruments are made from skin and fur, overall providing humans with food, clothes, shelter and direction.

In contrast, the Apache Nation situated with the Southwest of the United States was not a heavily fishing-oriented community. Rather, they focused mainly on bison hunting (alongside many other Indigenous peoples in the Americas) until colonial takeover hunted them into near extinction during westward expansion of the 19th century (Wiedman, 2012). Due to these mass extinctions, the Apache are focused on the bison’s rehabilitation.

Bison are significant animals to North American tribal lifeways, as Grand Canyon National Park Executive Director Arnell Abold states,

“The buffalo is significant to each different tribe in its own way. Each tribe has its own

story. The buffalo provided many things for our people. They were essential for our food,

clothing and shelter. There is a relationship with the buffalo, and it’s not the same in

every tribe, but there is a healing in the connection with the buffalo (Haldiman, 2020, p.29)”

Notably, the food cycling practises towards the bison involved: bulk meat of the bison for consumption and hide and bone were made into material objects for use. Drying the meat (similar to Musqueam and Iroquois) is an important technique in ensuring the life span of this sustenance. The key food cycling technique used was to smoke/dry out the meat to ensure longevity in future consumption. The utilization of hide/fur into bags for storage, another cyclical teaching ensuring full respect/use towards the bison, and long-term use (Howard, 1965). Lastly, the dried meat was consumed directly or mixed with the fat of the animal for future nutrient-dense snacking (Feir, 2017).

Key similarities between all practises with the categorization of food cycling, included the various full utilization and techniques used for each animal per practise. Overall ontological practises shared unique and distinct life cycle handling, such as whole utilization of the animal, repurposing of bones, organs, hide, to the careful placement of leftover pieces for decomposition. Each of these practices were centered around an ontology in which animals are viewed as spiritual beings with whom we are engaging in a non-hierarchal interconnected relationship, learning from one another, and showing mutual reciprocity and responsibility (Kirk, 1986). Main
differences are centered around utilization of the bone, within fish species, where in some cases the bones are placed back into the body of water it came from, to animal/mammal bone boiled into soups and stocks. Every decision is meticulous and made for a reason. This shows, “…a long-term relationship of reciprocal exchange between animals and the humans who hunt them.” (Nadasdy, 2007, p. 26). Presently, these techniques and cycling practises (smoking, drying of meat and flesh of fish, bone and skin re-cycling) are techniques that are not commonly held in the average domestic household in North America (Kuhnlein, 2009) nor are they accessibly taught or supported within our Western education system outside of Indigenous education departments. However, these paradigms can be shifted to include Indigenous hunting and gathering knowledge as we continue to dismantle the extractive human-animal relationship today.


Gathering the Rest: From the Three Sisters to the Singing Nettle, We Must Grow

Strawberries first shaped my view of a world full of gifts simply scattered at your feet. A gift comes to you through no action of your own, free, having moved toward you without your beckoning. It is not a reward; you cannot earn it, or call it to you, or even deserve it. And yet it appears” (Kimmerer, 2013, p. 24).

squash as rooted foods for consumption and growing. Including, land-specific irrigation techniques and practises that ensured the survival of these agricultural crops. Here all seeds are planted within the same mound where, “…corn provides tall stalks for the beans to climb so that they are not out-competed by sprawling squash vines. Beans provide nitrogen to fertilize the soil… The large leaves of squash plants shade the ground which helps retain soil moisture and prevent weeds” (Kruse-Peeples, 2016, para. 3).

While ‘polyculture’ is a colonial word rooted in agricultural techniques, this planting of the three sisters showcases two things in regard to food cycling. Firstly, through current domestic forms of gardening and planting, we engage in assumptions towards our physically constructed environment that a man-made space will work for the plant (Landon, 2008). Secondly, it shows us a less wasteful and more relational practise of growing food. Present day literature speaks to this practise of intercropping as less susceptible to pests, meaning there is less need for pesticide and fertilizer use and less need to use water (Crews et al., 2018). While this does not speak to the physical food wasted, it speaks to additional forms of waste within the food system, such as water waste, and the associated negative impacts. Polycultures minimize physical waste of seeds, and through the gathering and knowledge of plants as medicine, helps us utilize our plants, and food for consumption for the better, through this formed relationship. Helping us re-frame our mindsets towards plants and foodstuffs as singular use objects, into multi-use life forms of medicinal healing in waste prevention. In contrast, in forms of monoculture, or growing one crop at a time, there is the heavy reliance on technology inputs, such as machinery, labour and fertilizer usage (Simic et al., 2013). Due to single cropping, there is diminished engagement with traditional skills surrounding the gathering and growing of crops. The planting of the ‘three sisters’ showcases lessons of reciprocity and relationship in growing food and how through thislens, we indirectly contribute to food cycling practises that are less wasteful towards the land. While household level food cycling practises, such as composting, are important, there are ways of indirect shared knowledge we can embark in globally within our food systems. Most importantly, current cropping methods strip the emotional connection towards our crops, as a single focus on yield can translate into a loss of other meanings associated with food. Without meaning, these crops/plants and foods are more easily accessible to be wasted, produced for mass consumption and as a commodity.

Comparatively, while corn, beans and squash are utilized in the Musqueam Nation on the Salish Coast, gathering practises towards berries, brush and plants supplied a significant portion of their diets (Musqueam Band Council, 1984) and can help us see the various other forms of traditional knowledge and cycling practises. Within our westernized industrial food system, items such as, plants and berries are commonly viewed within singular use, meaning items that are utilized for one purpose, selling their sweet fruits. For example, parts of produce such as tops of carrots, leaves, and stocks, are commonly wasted. For the gathering of various berries, such as Salmonberries and Salal berries for example, practises include full utilization of berry for consumption, drying of the berries for various recipes, and the breaking apart of the stem and leaves for tea (Pena, 2013).

This same multi-use pattern is also seen within the stinging nettle plant, used commonly in ceremony as nettle rope (Personal Communication, 2021, March 19th) is viewed as a harsh plant and a ‘weed’ for the majority population, tested to have “pharmaceutical properties2” including being high in minerals and the ability to aid in the healing of wounds (Moore, 1993). Here, “It is being conscious that the colonial narrative on the incorrect labelling of certain plants as “weeds” ignores their traditional value and neglects their healing potential” (Matheson, 2020, p.50). The view of these plants as only useable for a single purpose, is wasteful action. We can see this as well, through reliable produce that is consistently accessible within our grocery-store chains. Here, plants and fruits that are globally traded and marketed (such as strawberries, blueberries etc.) are readily available. Rarely do we see seasonal plants of the Indigenous land in our geographical areas, if accessible, this is through niche farmers markets which are financially inaccessible to many communities. Eating for individual needs and desires, versus seasonal consumption and neglecting the life cycle of plants as worthy, continues to fuel the perception that they are waste, contributing to our non-relational outlook to the land. Through understanding their multi-use life cycle, eating based off of what the land is offering, we are less wasteful, and showcase mutual respect to the land for which the plant was gifted.


Sharing of ‘Recipes’: ‘Wasteful’ or Just Underutilized

The following recipes shown within the purpose of this comparative analysis were chosen out of respect to the chefs, land and origin story of their creation and relation to their Indigenous group. While the word ‘recipe’ is used here, this is an introduced colonial term within the context of writing. Instead of recipe sharing, shared knowledge around food is discussed within ways of feasting and food preparation to be passed onwards, for example, the smoking and drying of fish, and/or the drying of seaweed or meat (Personal Communication, 2020, December 2). These are all specific to nations/families, with great variation. Through this analysis of recipes, we can learn of a kind of shared knowledge surrounding food, and the utilization of foodstuffs that are commonly considered ‘waste’ or ‘unworthy’ for common consumption.

Soapberry Ice Cream

Soapberry Ice Cream or colonial termed ‘Indian Ice Cream’s’ main ingredient ‘soapberry’ is a berry that grows commonlyon Musqueam First Nation unceded land. While not so common anymore as colonial fruit pathways take over (Cheung, 2020) it remains a popular fruit used in the present day, showcasing Indigenous cuisine and culture.

Ingredients:

Sugar Soapberries

Directions:

Here, you mash up the soapberries with a fork, until they begin to get frothy. Adding in sugar, stirring quickly the foam begins to firm up. Keep stirring until completely firm, producing a bowl of soapberry ice cream!

Sagamite Soup

“A sagamité is not a fixed recipe, it’s an idea” (Cruz, 2012, para. 7).

Sagamité was a staple porridge-like soup for Iroquois Huron-Wendat people’s pre- colonization. As the soup has no fixed recipe, it generally consists of:

  • Ground up corn (maize)
  • Beans (red beans)
  • Squash
  • Elk bones (boiled down) for broth(other meats or fish could sub here, such as Venison).

Acorn Flour

Acorn’s a commonly gathered nut for Apache/Navajo peoples, was used in a variety of ways. The following are some recipe titles I have come across and discussed in communities of mine (Personal Communication, 2020, December 1).

  • Acorn ‘cakes’
  • Acorn Stew/Soups
  • Acorn Bread

This comparative and general outlook at the various recipes and shared passing of food knowledge serves as a concluding point to the earlier discussed food cycling techniques and practises. From drying of proteins, burying of bones, re-utilizations of plant leaves and stems, these recipes showcase the westernized ‘oddness’ of the recipes. Not commonly do we see flours of acorn nor does the common household boil down elk bones for both. This alludes to the current paradigms in place towards food knowledge, and food cycling, and another complexity in food cycling practises held by Indigenous peoples by viewing land as pedagogy (Simpson, 2014). Through this viewpoint, foods gathered and used for consumption are chosen based on what the land is ready to give. This pedagogy encourages minimal taking, full utilization of foodstuffs gathered and hunted, resulting in minimal ‘food’ wasted as the land promotes these teachings.

Conclusion: Listen to the Land, and You will Know

She found herself in the woods more than normal, popping blueberries between her fingertips. Gramma said not to take so many at once, slow down. Calluses on her hands, little mountains on each knuckle, reminiscent of every hurtle she’s faced in her life. Running down to the river, choking on air, climbed on top of the highest rock, “I can feel something here.”

Arms out, chest puffed pretended to be a chickadee bird, thought about flying. Shoving pebbles into the corner of her cheeks, “chickadee deee deee deee”. Nothing echoed back.

Frustrated she hops back to grammas house, blueberry pie wafting through the wind, it carries her feet there. See? I will hold you up.

Shoveling in spoonful of pie, after pie. Hot blueberries bursting in her mouth, she placed her feet down firmly underneath her grammas’ table, roots wrapping around every vertebra, clicking her bones into place. “Why do you feel the need to run child? You got everything you need here.” And gramma was right, one piece of blueberry pie, glass of milk, deep breath, listening to the wind howl, it was all she needed to hear.

Learning and engaging with the three communities of Musqueam First Nation, Iroquois Huron-Wendat and White Mountain Apache Tribe showed that the main similarities around food cycling practises surround our view of the world as encompassing relationality and teachings from the land and its beings. Differences mainly included ties to geographical space and were dependent on specific foods available, such as common protein sources (fish vs. meat) and plants/fruits/nuts gathered. However, what do these teachings and practises mean for Indigenous communities presently, fighting to continuously practise knowledge? These food cycling practises are tied to a broader picture of land reclamation rights and the need for a worldview shift in our industrial food system today.

Examples of this are evident within the historical (and continuous) fight for Musqueam First Nation to reclaim fishing rights and autonomy in aquaculture waste practises (Heaslip, 2008; Schreiber, 2006). This is also seen through the Apache peoples current fight for diet reclamation, reclaiming diet and food pathways that were stripped through reservation relocation via colonization (National Congress of American Indians, 2019). Lastly, as an Iroquois Huron- Wendat women, I see this in the fight towards reclaiming knowledge within my urban environments as city-built infrastructure strips the natural land around me. Until legal rights are granted, knowledge and health reclaimed, and stronger support for our urban Indigenous peoples reclaiming culture, these discussed and aforementioned practises will be under threat.


Current food ‘waste’ literature and knowledge continue to present the issue as emergent (Abeliotis et al., 2015; Venkat, 2011) by showcasing food waste and waste management within the household level to be associated with high greenhouse gas emissions lead from improper household composting structure. The current narrative continues to present issues of ‘food waste’ within the discourse of education and economic paradigms relating the issue of household food waste in dollars lost (Parizeau at al., 2015), or address this issue within nutrition education programs for food literacy around food waste issues (Kim et al., 2007); yet, continuing to do so fails to address traditional knowledge that has been stewarded by Indigenous peoples since time immemorial.

As land stewards, Indigenous activists are advocating for rebuilding our broken food system with place-based, relational knowledge that addresses the complexities of food
inequality, that reminds us to reconnect and learn a valuable lesson from the land: if to mend what has been broken requires shared knowledge from Indigenous peoples, we must give back in return. The fight for legal rights to access and to practise culture on the land where knowledge of food cycling practices has been generated and shared for generations can continue if spaces of equality can be created when asking for Indigenous people’s assistance and embarking onIndigenous centered research. Only then, can Indigenous ways of handling food be implemented into everyday food use practices such that we can begin to witness true change. Understanding, we can take lessons around how to best root our contrasting worlds, puffing out our chests courageously, but ultimately, work when it involves humans is hard and not linear. As we all learn and move forward, we must take lessons from the softness of Earth, feeling the moss below our feet, feathers between our fingertips, wind pushing us forward. Approach these conversations with the openness of the wind, knowing everything will be ok as long as we stay rooted, feet firmly planted on the ground.

Footnotes

1 Relational thinking or ‘relationality’ underpins the axiology used within this research project in the findings. This decolonizing Indigenous methodology refers to the ideas of ‘connectedness’ between humans-animals, and therefore exhibiting mutual reciprocity and respect towards their use for consumption.

2 As within studies and literature, plant medicinal properties are referred to as holding ‘pharmaceutical properties’. However, this is a colonial term, rooted within capitalist medicinal structures.

References

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Abeliotis, K., Lasaridi, K., Costarelli, V., & Chroni, C. (2015). The implications of food waste generation on climate change: The case of Greece. Sustainable production and consumption3, 8-14.

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Berkes, F., Colding, J., & Folke, C. (2000). Rediscovery of traditional ecological knowledge as adaptive management. Ecological applications10(5), 1251-1262.

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