WHAT IS ANCESTRAL eating?

Re-Indigenizingfood preparation and consumption is about restoring the spiritual, mental, physical and emotional wellness of the people. Ancestral eating is a growing movement across Native country as well as other parts of the world. Some recognize it as Decolonizing Diet, Ancestral Diet, or Tribal Food Sovereignty. In short, following an ancestral diet means eating wholesome, natural, organic Indigenous foods – just like our ancestors did for thousands of years.

Since time immemorial, food has been at the center of the Indigenous cultures of turtle island.  Through hunting, gathering and agriculture, meats and plants were hand processed in several different ways. Harvest ceremonies were done, songs were sang, dances were danced and words of giving thanks were recited in great depth to all the plants and animals who sacrificed their lives to nurture our existence. Indigenous peoples were dependent on the natural cycles of mother earth and the great spirit. Being in alignment with those natural spiritual and physical forces was a way of life of our ancestors that has brought us this far as nations. 

Colonization led our people to believe that Western medicine, foods and technology would improve our health. In fact, the overall health and wellbeing of the people was vastly superior prior to the introduction of Western toxins.  Euro-American culture has furthermore influenced our people to devalue the spirituality of food, ultimately leading to the deterioration of our people's health and our traditional social structures that were held intact by community and family agriculture, hunting, and gathering. 

 

Spirituality of Food

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Today we can reestablish optimum health of individuals, families, communities, villages and nations by re-Indigenizing and hybridizing our diets collectively in a way that is culturally appropriate for our people. By re-adopting an Indigenous based diet, you'll be assisting in the reconfiguration of your spiritual tie to the Mother Earth. When you strengthen that spiritual tie, your mind will operate with more clarity, empowering you to think critically with an Indigenous mindset. Natural, whole food is organic matter that is made up of energy just like everything else, but because it is created by the earth’s soil, thus it exists at a higher vibration than something that is created by a factory. Processed foods and alcohol, on the other hand, resonate at a low vibration. As a result of being whole and organic, natural foods are more reactive to good thoughts you send towards it, and thoughts are a form of energy. When there is emotion behind your thought, a physical manifestation will soon follow. Our ancestors understood this through our own languages and thought processes, and that is why our ancestors have always prayed over their food and water. We should continue this practice.

After adapting to an ancestral diet–– free of alcohol and other mind/mood altering substances––  your body will be stronger and more responsive to your physical fitness goals because it’s not being zapped with unnatural preservatives and additives contained in processed foods and drinks that are detrimental to your body’s biochemistry. Your emotional wellness will also benefit significantly because your brain and body biochemistry will be in harmony. Ultimately, your entire being will function at an elevated level. The re-Indigenization of diet and dedication to eating ancestral foods is simply a return to this holistic lifestyle. Make no mistake, this is NOT a fad diet. Re-adapting to ancestral eating and should be a permanent shift to be passed down for future generations to enjoy.

By adapting to this elevated lifestyle, we will create positive economic repercussions as well. We will stop supporting fraudulent food, drug and alcohol corporations who care only about money and not about health. You have the power to positively impact intertribal food commerce by participating in the efforts of Tribal Food Sovereignty through gardening, hunting, gathering, trading and buying from local farmers. Tribal Food Sovereignty is an important nation building tactic which empowers our people through self-determination, ultimately leading to a vibrant and joyous life for us and future generations to come!

The true measure of wealth is the quality and availability of food and water! Eat for longevity. Restore the spiritual tie to real food and clean water.

 

THE IMPACT OF COLONIZATION ON ANCESTRAL food-ways

As Indigenous people, it is important that we understand why many people in our communities are currently in poor health so that we may better understand the importance of re-traditionalizing our diets now. It is also important to understand that in the days of our ancestors, our communities were most certainly in better health. 

The people we descend from were athletically gifted people and our original dances, songs, combative techniques, ceremonies and games are all proof of this. The diets that our people followed allowed them to have a better quality of life than many of us now. Since the invasion of westernization on the lands inhabited by Indigenous peoples, the overall physical/spiritual health and wellbeing of the people has quickly deteriorated. Attacks on Indigenous peoples’ food sources were some of the first and most devastating acts committed by early western governments. In addition to the invasion came dramatic changes to the ecosystem by the introduction of foreign and invasive plant and animal species, which led to severe environmental disruption, thus further deteriorating Indigenous ways of life. The strategic introduction of alcohol also contributed to a spiritual disconnect from our land and its resources, resulting in poor health. 

Further European incursion into the lands–– now known as the Americas–– led to centuries of brutal and devastating colonial practices which continue, to this day, to impact Indigenous peoples’ overall health and wellness. With the depletion of Native lands and confinement of Native peoples to Reservations; with the cultural genocide and epidemic of abuse which took place in the church and in boarding schools; and with a severe drop in population, Native peoples became further dependent on government assistance and Native communities weakened. 

  Distribution of rations about 1892 at San Carlos Agency, Ariz.

Distribution of rations about 1892 at San Carlos Agency, Ariz.

In the Reservation era, our ancestors were forced into an abrupt change of lifestyle and struggled to adjust to entirely foreign economic and governmental systems. Their traditional ways of hunting, fishing and harvesting were either outlawed or impossible to continue because of the environmental devastation which had already ensued. In a pathetic attempt to make up for treaty violations, the Government began distributing food, healthcare and education to Native peoples. These programs were initiated under the disguise of good-naturedness but in reality only further damaged our communities. Commodity food programs introduced heavily processed, fatty and starchy unnatural foods into Native diets. The Federal government intentionally introduced these cheap and unhealthy foods in Native communities with hopes of systematically wreaking havoc on native minds and bodies. The attack on Native health and wellbeing was to further eradicate the power of the people so that there could be no resistance to the continuing theft of indigenous land and resources; an age old tactic that was used for centuries in ancient Europe.
In spite of their ill effects on our bodies, minds and spirits, these harmful foods have become a part of our cultures today. Consequently, Native peoples are suffering from the epidemic of obesity, further resulting in deadly diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, infertility, cirrhosis, strokes and various forms of cancer. Euro-American culture has furthermore influenced our people to devalue our spiritual connection to food. 

The presence of alcohol, drugs and other mind and mood altering substances are a direct negative result of colonization and have contributed greatly to not only the current state of poor health, but also to the mental, emotional and spiritual disconnection that many of our people are experiencing. All of this has disempowered us and if we do not act now, it will continue to hinder our abilities to collectively restore, preserve and evolve our Indigenous cultures and spirituality.

 

MAKING THE SHIFT TO real food

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We like to encourage people to make steps towards a complete overhaul in food choices, ultimately leading to a permanent change in lifestyle. There cannot be one single diet plan prescribed across the board for everyone because everyone’s bodies and lifestyles are different. Diet plans will vary depending on the person’s level of health and lifestyle. Temporary diet plans are crucial for people such as athletes, body builders, fitness models and actors getting in shape for a movie role. These kinds of temporary diets should always be administered by professional dietitians and nutritionists.

For everyone else who’s simply looking to achieve holistic wellness, spirituality and longevity, lets start first by understanding which foods are ancestral foods and then making changes in steps, finding healthier alternatives, and adopting some practices to restore a healthier relationship with food. It is important to understand these practices before we get into recipes. There are some other topics within these practices that should also be recognized like: emotional eating, cheat days, eating in moderation, whole organic food vs supplements, healthy fats, protein, complex carbs, meal preps, and what to look for when eating out. We’ll briefly go over some of these practices and topics and how they’re related to our wellness.

 

Identifying real Ancestral Foods

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  • Ancestral foods are local and organic, non GMO, seasonal, and environmentally sustainable.

  • AF is mostly processed at home, with our hands.

  • AF eating is cultural. Native people can role model this way of
    eating, as we are the closest to the earth, and bring this foodway to
    tribes and the larger world community.

  • Our ancestors would recognize AF foods and AF ingredients. They
    could make these foods with little instruction.

  • AF foods are any foods that can be fished, hunted, or collected from
    a nest.

  • AF foods are any foods that can be harvested from the earth or water
    and tossed fresh into a salad.

  • AF foods are foods that indigenous people enjoyed for tens of
    thousands of years before agriculture, before contact with European
    colonists.

  • AF foods and drinks need little or no labeling, minimal packaging,
    very few ingredients, and have undergone minimal travel.

  • AF foods nourish the mind/body/heart/spirit.

  • AF foods are low glycemic - with carbohydrate rich foods like yams
    and sweet potatoes for high activity levels and athletes.

  • They are naturally low anti-nutrients, nutrient-dense, dairy-free, and lack the addictive factors of processed foods and carbohydrate-rich
    foods and drinks introduced at contact.

  • Eating AF is treating food as sacred, knowing the farmers and origins
    of the foods, knowing the paths the food has taken from the source (wild, farmed, or gardened) to the table, thanking the food, Mother Earth, and Creator.

  • Eating AF is sharing food and the wellness that it brings with the community.

  • AF foods should contain less than 4-5 ingredients if it is in a package. All the ingredients are real foods. Ancestral foods never contain artificial substances/poisons like chemicals, flavors, hydrogenated, maltodextrin, sugar, yeast, corn syrup, or other broken parts of whole foods.

  • AF foods are usually a single, whole ingredient such as fish, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds.

  • Your ancestor, or an indigenous ancestor from around the world,
     could identify the food and prepare something healthy with it. * with the exception of certain hybridized components, such as coconut oil. 

Thank you to Regina & Andy at Native Paleo for the contribution of this information.

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IDENTIFYING HARMFUL foods

Next, list of the foods that you know you need to cut out of your diet. The idea is to ultimately end your relationship with harmful foods. For example:

  • gluten products

  • alcohol products

  • dairy products

  • corn based products

  • soy products

  • products containing high fructose corn syrup (sodas, energy drinks, alcohol)

  • products containing refined sugar (maltodextrin, sucrose, mycose, dextrose, as well as a plethora of other synonyms for sugar)

  • fried foods cooked in hydrogenated oils like sunflower oil, corn oil, and wesson oil

  • pastries

  • donuts

  • products with labels like 'fat free’ and 'low fat products’

  • wheat products

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These are ingredients that Indigenous peoples have lived without for thousands of years. Prior to the introduction of these foods, Native peoples lived virtually disease free and in harmony with the Mother Earth. By identifying these products you’re putting them on your food radar to be conscious of when you’re out and about. The idea is to get to the point where you’re not consuming any of these foods or substances. 

Begin by setting a reasonable and realistic goal for yourself. As you prepare to eventually abandon these harmful substances altogether, you want to reduce your intake of these foods as much as you can over a reasonable period of time. Start by breaking it in half.  For example, if you’re used to having something starchy a few times a day, change it to once a day until you’re ultimately not having it at all. Replace it with something high in protein and healthy fats. Remember, ridding yourself of these harmful foods is the key to living a healthy and productive life. This practice should be prominent in your consience as you journey through your day.