Food is Medicine Stephen Thorpe, Gunnai / Gunditjmara
Over the past few months I have reinvented myself and started my own revival journey. My focus has been on decolonizing my diet by removing foods introduced from the colonizer that are not good for my body. I have also stopped smoking, drinking and using drugs. It is the beginning of my spiritual and cultural journey. I have taken active steps to learn about the foods that this continent ordinarily provides. This includes learning about native meats and plants and how to best cook with them.
My interest in native foods has developed since I began working at Charcoal Lane, a restaurant that focuses on native flavor infusion in the old Victorian Aboriginal Health Service building in Fitzroy which my nan help set up. I’ve recently started cooking with kangaroo, wallaby, emu, crocodile and native limes. I’ve created my own spiced lime jelly which is a fusion between Asian and native food – using palm sugar, chili, lemon myrtle and native limes. I then cut the jelly into cubes and serve it with fresh oysters.
Growing up we were taught how to catch yabbies’ at Lakes Entrance and Bunyarnda (Lake Tyres Mission), both located on Gunnai country. I also spent time on Gunditjmara country (the land of my parents) where our ancient eel traps are located. As a young boy I remember hearing stories about how the eel catching system worked. Eels would swim into it but could not swim out of it. They are one of the oldest agricultural systems in Australia and have been radiocarbon dated to be at least 8,000 years old. We farmed the eels and traded them with other tribes.
It is important to use our fruit, vegetables and meats in our daily diet as they come from our land – they have been used by our ancestors for thousands of years for good reason. They are packed with amazing nutrients. For example, the quandong has twice the amount of vitamin C of an orange and is about 50 times smaller. Muntri berries are high in antioxidants and is similar in size to blueberries. I was once told that for every introduced fruit and vegetable to this country, there is a native replacement that we are not using.
I am still to find out if the eel traps are usable. I want to respect my ancestors by catching eel the same way they did. I want to go and practice that piece of my culture as part of my healing journey and learn how to cook eel’s traditionally by smoking them in the trees. I would then like to experiment with ways to reincorporate eel into our daily diet. 6
All native food is medicine as it nourishes our body – when our body becomes fatigued and needs energy there is a medicine to give back that energy and it is food. It is medicinal, it keeps us alive. Process introduced foods have us addicted to their properties – they get us
B LA C K N AT I O N S R I S I N G
on a high (eg. sugar). When we eat these foods we feel bad. If you eat vegetables and fruit (no matter where they are from) you feel better. It is important that I learn about, use and eat native foods because it strengthens me as an Aboriginal man. It is the food that my people ate and it makes me feel alive. I’ve really started to fall in love with the food. You always see the same vegetables and fruits in the supermarket, genetically modified and from other countries yet we’ve already got all our own native foods right here. Unfortunately native foods are not as accessible as introduced species. People don’t know about them and therefore do not support those that grow it. People need to try the foods and realize that they should and can be easily using them. We need to teach each other and encourage our children to learn about them also. We should research how to grow native foods in our gardens, rather than introduced species. It is important that we use as many native foods as we possibly can daily – it is a way in which we can begin to heal ourselves.
Stephen Thorpe (Gunnai and Gunditjmara) is passionate about native foods and is currently a Trainee Chef at Charcoal Lane in Fitzroy, Victoria.