A R M E N I A / B E L I Z E / N E W M E X I C O / I N D O N E S I AWHETS / B A TO JANE / E GY P T / N E W YO R K / M E X I CO C I T Y / P E R U
A J O U R N A L O N F O O D O R I G I N S A N D C U LT U R E .
In the SiwaBOasis, at A the ERN L top C UofTaLdate E Rtree Y . is C Accu, O M the pollinator. â€“Origin Foraging in Siwa (pg. 18)
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Welcome to Whetstone Magazine, Volume 4. It’s been too long. That’s what I’ve been telling myself, repeatedly, as the days between our last release and the one you’re reading have defiantly compounded. It’s been so long, in fact, that I sort of forgot how this part goes. As a refresher, I went back to Volume 3 to see how I did it then. I talked about building a business with Melissa Shi, and we did that at the end of last year, when we grew Whetstone Magazine into Whetstone Media. I talked about our plans with the filmmaker and director David Alexander, who, in addition to being a dear friend of nearly 20 years, is a hauntingly gifted producer of documentary film and narrative journalism. I hope you’ll take the assertion as a challenge to visit whetstonemedia.co/presents and see for yourself. Revisiting these declarations assuages the anxiety around the span of time since we last printed. We are doing as we have set out to do, without capital, distribution partnerships, advertisements or sponsorships. I suspect those things will come with the growth of the magazine, but that we have been able to produce four magazines, two short films and four video dispatches from over 30 countries in less than two years is, I believe, something to be proud of. We are equally proud of Whetstone’s continuing tradition of centering women, nonwhite, queer and indigenous voices. It’s not just because it improves the publication (it does), but it’s who we are. Whetstone was created to reflect the diversity and brilliance we see within our own communities, and the opportunity for us to share that with you is an immense honor. This magazine is dedicated to my dear friends who seeded this overflowing dream: Franklin James Clary, Angus Brown and Debby Zygielbaum. I love you all, always and forever. Stephen Satterfield Co-Founder, Whetstone Media
PHOTOGRAPH: PETER PRATO
is a food and health writer with a masters degree in public health nutrition. These days, she's most interested in how our changing climate is impacting our health and the way we eat. You can find her online at www.bethkrietsch. com and @beth_kri.
is a food writer and event producer dedicated to connecting people through the celebration of food. She produces food and spirit events across the country, specializing in highlighting producers and chefs from California and Mexico. As a journalist Ferron has covered local food culture for Bay Area publications including SFWeekly, Edible Marin & Wine Country, East Bay Express and more. Her international reporting has appeared in Munchies, Roads & Kingdoms and other travel publications.
has spent the last ten years in the restaurant industry working in some of the best restaurants in New York City and Philadelphia. As a cook he found the lack of diversity and representation of African Americans and other people of color to be unbalanced both in the kitchen and on the plate. Using history as his foundation, Chef Omar Tate produces a body of work congruent with the palates and sensibilities of Black America today.
is an illustrator and designer living in Oakland, CA. She is best known for her editorial work that can be found in various print and digital publications. Alexandra’s art often deals with themes of gender, race, culture and the importance of sharing these stories.
has enjoyed a lifelong commitment to the visual arts, contemporary styles and personalities, and the cultural and historical place art occupies. Karineh has a personal appreciation for current trends in food and art. Karineh awakens the senses through her undeniable understanding of color and texture. After years of living in New York City, the intoxicating California sun persuaded her to move to Los Angeles. Today, she travels from coast to coast attending to her clients' needs.
is a French graphic artist based in Copenhagen, Denmark. Aurélia uses her art as a positive and colorful tool to incite people to accept each other. Her work transmits a strong sense of empowerment of people of color, especially women.
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Lauren Vied Allen
Anthony Morano & Leila Elamine
is a visual creative focused on food and travel photography as a means of gaining a larger understanding of cultural identities and enriching her community. She documents culinary traditions, food, people and the crossroads where they collide to create compelling photographic stories. She is the editor and co-founder of The World In A Pocket, where she is committed to exploring the world through the lens of a dumpling.
is a fourth year history student at Grinnell College, interested in sharing stories from history, food, current events, and her daily life through comics. Since she was a kid, she would read comics, manga, and graphic novels all day long. Just as her favorite cartoonists and artists have done for her, she wants to draw stories that transform readers' worlds, perspectives, and thoughts. She is currently working on creating a nonfiction, historical graphic novel about a Japanese American food retailer. Her website is: www.samnakahira.com/
is an African American, Chinese and Norwegian expat chef from California. The Blues Woman is her baby, and way for her to tell her story about all the women who have come before her. She is classically trained as a chef and also went to university for English and Sociology. She writes articles for magazines and takes a special interest in the intersection of food and justice.
is a Black Kreyol farmer who has been tending the soil for twenty years and organizing for an anti-racist food system for fifteen years. She currently serves as founding co-executive director of Soul Fire Farm in Grafton, New York, a people-of-color led project that works to dismantle racism in the food system.
Say hello to Leila Elamine and Anthony Morano. Theyâ€™re the Recipe Hunters, an endearing and multi-talented team traveling the world creating short films, photography and writing that celebrates the connection between humans and food. The Recipe Hunters are in search of age-old, traditional recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation, and their work highlights these artisan food processes from around the world. The Recipe Hunters are part of Culinary Heritage Co., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with a mission to promote cultural pluralism through food. 5
is a photographer, filmmaker, script writer and restaurateur living in Mexico City. His main objective is to join people through images, stories and food. His main work has been in advertising, creating both written and audiovisual pieces. His pieces have won several awards in Mexico City and Latin America such as Círculo Creativo and Ojo de Iberoamérica.
is the restaurant critic for the San Francisco Chronicle.
is a freelance writer based out of Mexico City. She has worked as an editor and writer for various publications including Delta Sky magazine, Luxury Latin America, The News, The New Worlder, International Living and Mexico News Daily among others. Lydia has been blogging and writing in Mexico for over a decade and lives a double life as a local tour guide in Mexico City. She is the author of "Mexico City Streets: La Roma," a living and visiting guide to one of the city's most eclectic neighborhoods.
is a British photographer based in Jakarta, Indonesia for the last 30 years. He travels frequently throughout SE Asia shooting hospitality, design and food for a diverse range of editorial + commercial clients. When not on assignment Martin continues to shoot a long term personal project on Indonesia’s volcanoes. You can view more of his work at : www.martinwestlake.com
is an artist and creative director based in San Francisco. He runs a creative studio McCalman.co which produces projects across analog and digital platforms. Additional to designing Whetstone magazine, he has a monthly illustrated culture column called ‘Observed’ in the San Francisco Chronicle. His first book ‘Illustrated Black History’ will be published by Harper Collins in August 2020. His exploits can be followed at @McCalmanCo on Instagram and Twitter.
is a designer and illustrator living in Oakland, CA. She graduated from the California College of the Arts (CCA) in 2017 with a BFA in Graphic Design. Her work pulls inspiration from pop-culture, music, and narrative fiction, blending whimsical stories with bold graphics. She currently works with George McCalman on a variety of exciting publication and branding projects for specialty clients. To see more of her work visit: alienazoe.com. Photo by Alora King.
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To Debby, With Love
On November 8, 2018, we lost a beloved friend, and editor of this magazine, Debby Zygielbaum. Debby edited all three volumes of Whetstone, and before she passed, was in the process of working on this one. Debby was a witty and exuberant genius, a savant on all things farming, biology and shepherding. For 15 years she worked as a pioneering biodynamic viticulturist at Robert Sinskey Vineyards in Napa, California where she raised sheep and grew pristine grapes with unparalleled fervor and dedication. She was righteous and funny with a bellowing and unencumbered laugh. We will be miss her beyond belief. She is survived by her wife Kerrigan Valentine who she loved dearly.
The Future of Coffee in Cajamarca WHETSTO NE
Climate change has Peruâ€™s preeminent coffee-growing region braces for an uncertain future. CONTRIBUTOR PHOTOGRAPHY
Beth Krietsch Michael Medoway (for Chameleon Cold-Brew)
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Thirty-three-year-old Edilmer Rojas Suarez’s coffee farm sits 1,360 meters above sea level in San Ignacio, Peru — one of 13 provinces that make up the Cajamarca region, a lush, mountainous area in Peru’s northern highlands, where coffee farming is an important economic driver that supports the livelihoods of thousands. In certain pockets of the world, climate, elevation and other factors align to form the perfect recipe for coffee production. Cajamarca is one of those places, a region where it seems specialty coffee is meant to be grown. With high altitudes, fertile soil, ideal temperatures and a historically semi-dry climate, coffee farms known for producing high-quality Arabica dot the hillsides, contributing to the region’s status as Peru’s leading exporter of premium coffee. Although the land is fertile and dense with dedicated coffee producers, climate change has made farming in the region significantly more challenging in recent years. Irregular rains and warmer temperatures are now the norm, complicating the drying process and compromising the quality of the coffee. Leaf rust, known in the region as la roya, and problems with pests are also increasingly problematic as temperatures rise. On the other end of the spectrum, frosts are a concern too. For smallholder farmers who invest so much in their coffee crop, a sudden rainstorm or a brush with la roya can have devastating consequences. When coffee crops are wiped out, so is a farmer’s income. When quality goes down, so might a farmer’s pay. Living in one of the poorest regions of Peru, these farmers rely on the income from coffee sales not only to sustain their farms, but also to feed their families, send their children to school, cover transportation costs and other expenses that fall far closer to needs than wants. To understand what coffee farming brings to the local community, consider Jose Garcia Moreto, who started farming after buying a piece of land in the region. At first, he farmed cocoa in addition to coffee, and would sell his coffee in very small amounts. Once his farm matured and he became involved in Cenfrocafe, a well-regarded local cooperative, his farm has became profitable enough to allow him to do things like send his son to school and employ others in the community. “I feel happy because when my friends come over I can give them work,” Moreto said. “It’s how we earn money. It’s the way we make a living.” Coffee farming is always risky. Even in the best conditions, there’s plenty of room for error. But as the climate changes and seasonal weather patterns become less consistent or altogether different, a farmer’s ability to produce a quality product is even less of a guarantee. Suddenly, plenty of new variables are thrown into play and navigating them is far from straightforward.
THE DRY SEASON GETS WETTER In years past, Cajamarca’s coffee-harvesting season was mainly dry, allowing farmers to lay their coffee beans out to slowly and evenly dry under the hot sun for weeks at a time. But changing weather patterns mean rainstorms are now common during this drying season, and a sudden storm can have devastating effects. The point of drying is to allow the coffee to achieve a certain moisture content, which is closely tied to the coffee’s quality. When drying coffee beans get wet, moisture content changes, quality is affected, flavor can be lost and cup defects are more likely.
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But that’s not all. Excessive rains during the harvest can cause the coffee cherries to take on too much water and eventually burst, or fall to the ground, which, again, can drastically reduce quality or even make the fruit unusable. Suarez knows the effects of changing rain patterns all too well. “It has been nothing but rain during the harvest season,” he said, adding that the climate and temperature have made it harder to dry coffee in a way that maintains quality. He is able to use a dryer that’s owned by Cenfrocafe, but the dryer is shared among many members of the cooperative and therefore not always accessible.
He’s still grateful that the dryer is available through Cenfrocafe, which helps its members produce the best possible organic and fair trade coffee by providing various mechanisms of support like technical assistance, loans, farm inputs, economic and leadership training, and professional development. Like many in the region, Suarez’s farm is a family affair. He tends the land on a parcel that originally belonged to his father, who is now in his eighties. Suarez finds joy in producing a quality product that provides income to support him and his family. “It’s arduous work that has to be done, but we are getting it done,”
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Suarez said. “We are doing what’s possible to reach expectations and better ourselves.” But the weather worries him. Each harvest season seems to get wetter and wetter. “There is hardly a timeframe of continuous heat in regards to the drying process of the coffee,” Suarez said. He is optimistic that access to a mechanical dryer will allow him and his family to maintain the quality and taste of the coffee they produce. “That is what we are trying to accomplish as a family from here on out.” San Ignacio coffee producer and agronomy student Jawin Robinson Garcia Guaman has felt the impact of changing weather patterns as well, particularly in the unpredictability of the seasons compared to years past. “Today the client asks us for quality in the cup of coffee, physical quality,” he says. “So, then with this, we can no longer achieve that. Why? Because the months of August and September are supposed to be summer. But now we have rain.” That’s not the worst of it. Producing at lower altitudes, those somewhere around 1,000 meters above sea level or lower, is becoming less plausible due to the threat of droughts that can wipe out an entire crop. To continue farming, producers in these regions need to relocate to higher altitudes. LA ROYA: A CONSTANT CONCERN La roya is an ever-present concern for Arabica coffee producers not only in Cajamarca, but throughout the world. Once this dreaded fungus strikes, it spreads unsparingly from plant to plant, sometime’s wiping out a farm’s production entirely. Even when la roya doesn’t destroy all trees on a farm, it’s not uncommon for it to degrade the quality of the beans produced. As one would assume, the impact on a producer is almost immediate. When the coffee disappears, so does the income it generates. The results are even worse for farmers who borrowed money at the start of the season to help finance things like food for their family. How is a farmer to buy new coffee plants to start over if all their income has been lost? Previously, many coffee varieties were spared from la roya and other fungal problems because they were grown in mountainous regions at altitudes that were too cold for the fungus to live. There is nothing inherent in the plant that makes it impervious to la roya (like American root stock and phylloxera). But as global temperatures rise, those same varieties are susceptible to leaf rust. This includes catimor, a cultivar grown by many of the region’s farmers. Now, only the highest altitudes are safe. Guaman didn’t have issues with la roya until sometime around 2012, but since then it’s been a problem. At one point the damage got so bad his family didn’t have a crop to sell for two years. They had to replant coffee trees and saw a significant loss in income
that added up to 20,000 soles, or $6,000 in U.S. dollars. On the whole, leaf rust hasn’t devastated Cajamarca as badly as many other countries and regions, but it’s still an issue, and no farmer is immune. Producers and farmer groups are doing their best to prevent future outbreaks by growing varieties like Marsellesa, Parainema and H1 that combine rust-resistant properties with high quality and yield. There’s also a deliberate focus on reacting quickly when la roya is detected. For example, from the moment la roya’s spotted, Cenfrocafe works with farmers to keep it from spreading to other trees. PEST CONTROL Unseasonal rains, leaf rust and the stress of making enough money to support their land and families aren’t the only problems for these farmers — pests, such as the coffee borer beetle, are a concern too. Guaman said the borer beetle was particularly problematic in 2015, especially in the warmer lower altitudes. It degraded quality immensely on some farms, forcing those producers to sell their coffee at extremely low prices. In some situations, cooperatives wouldn’t even accept the coffee because the quality was too low, Guaman said. He worked with Cenfrocafe at the time to help trap and reduce the number of coffee borer beetles with the help of sex attractants. “One week later these containers were full to the brim,” he said. “They were full of borer beetles.” The cooperative set out to continue trapping the borer beetles on other farms but ran into trouble when not all farmers participated. Still, they saw their efforts as a start, and the following year’s crop was much more successful. Cenfrocafe has continued to support farmers by helping them access ecological controllers when needed. COFFEE SALES IN A CHANGING CLIMATE Typically, cooperatives and farmer groups project how much coffee they will have available to sell at the end of the harvest, and coffee roasters book the coffee they want to buy months in advance. But the area’s irregular weather patterns make it difficult for a cooperative or farmer to project how much coffee they will have to sell. This leaves them vulnerable to potentially under-selling or over-selling their crop, says Kevin Sullivan, who leads North American sales at Falcon Coffees. Falcon is a sustainable-coffeetrading company that facilitates the exchange of coffee between farmers, cooperatives and exporters working within a producing region, and the roasters on the receiving end. It does a lot of work with Cenfrocafe and other farmers in Cajamarca, and it’s committed to supporting ethical and transparent supply chains. Abnormal weather patterns also make it hard to anticipate supply and demand, and challenges producers to respond by constantly altering how they care for their farms. “This can negatively impact quality, and thus the price can be reduced,” Sullivan said.
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A CLIMATE IN PERIL Despite the challenges, many of Cajamarca’s farmers continue to persevere and produce high-quality organic and fair trade coffee. In fact, this region is known for producing coffee for speciality roasters and recognizable corporations from Chameleon Cold Brew to Counter Culture and Pret a Manger. Unfortunately, the outlook isn’t as optimistic as these farmers. A study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says that, due to warming temperatures, by 2050, Latin America will see a 73 to 88 percent reduction in areas suitable for coffee growing. And recent research from the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) project that all aspects of the coffee value chain in Peru’s Northeastern coffee producing region, including Cajamarca, will be vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Researchers estimate that production systems will need to change across more than 30 percent of the current producing areas of this region or farmers may no longer be able to grow coffee by 2030. Maintaining production levels in areas where the coffee tends to grow best — between 1,000 and 2,000 meters above sea level — will require resilience and adaptability, the report said. Along with adaptability, researchers say success will depend on specific factors including farmers’ access to seeds, information, technology and the implementation of agroforestry techniques. SUSTAINABILITY AT THE FOREFRONT When it comes to the livelihoods of these farmers, sustainability needs to be top of mind for all involved: from the producer, to the consumer, to the roaster, and everyone in between. Without a focus on sustainability, there may be no more coffee to sell, to buy, to drink, or to support a future for those dedicating their lives to growing it. If there is hope, it is the formidable ingenuity of the farmer, and on the ground in Cajamarca, there is promising innovation. Since unseasonal rains pose some of these farmers’ greatest challenges, implementation of improved drying systems is crucial. Many local farmers have expressed the need for solar drying beds, which basically consist of a flat wooden platform where coffee beans can be laid to dry. An arch of plastic tarp hangs above to let the sun through, while protecting the coffee from the rainfall’s damaging effects. Some producers already have these solar dryers, but they’re expensive, costing hundreds of dollars each, and therefore unattainable for many others. One of Cenfrocafe’s biggest areas of focus right now is helping more farmers get access to these drying beds. They’ve prioritized them above other needs, knowing how important well-dried cof-
fee is to maintaining the region’s reputation for high quality Arabica that scores well enough to be eligible for purchase by specialty roasters. Though it’s not entirely altruistic, some roasters are getting involved too, knowing the sustainability of the region’s coffee production is closely tied to their own future. Chameleon Cold Brew, for example, is in the development phase of a project to fund a low-cost, high efficiency drying bed to distribute in partnership with Cenfrocafe, with which they work closely. This project came about after Chameleon leadership met with local Cenfrocafe-affiliated producers and was told that the farmers’ biggest needs are assistance with the dryers and additional food security options. If farmers can no longer produce quality coffee, they may stop farming it altogether. For a company like Chameleon (which is owned by Nestle) a supply of quality, organic coffee is important. “When producers can’t produce coffee at a certain quality level, or their production is reduced due to environmental reasons, then there is less available coffee to buy for roasters,” says Matt Swensen, Chameleon’s director of coffee. “Taking it a step further, if producers aren’t able to gain sufficient income from their harvest then they are at risk to switch crops to provide for their families.” In another step to help producers preserve their ability to produce speciality coffee amid environmental challenges, Chameleon and Cenfrocafe came together to fund a lab in Cajamarca that contains equipment that can be used to help farmers obtain feedback on the quality of the coffee they’ve produced. Information like processing and drying errors, cherry ripeness and maturity, and flavor notes are all detailed and reported early in the process, so if a farmer is making a simple mistake in the way they are drying their coffee, it gives them time to adjust. Without it, they would wait for feedback at the end of the harvest – previously the norm for the region but too late for any hope of adaptive correction. Meanwhile, a nonprofit research and development organization called World Coffee Research has included Northern Peru in a large-scale research trial that spans thousands of farms across 23 countries. It’s looking for coffee varieties that fare best in different parts of the world. Besides improving coffee quality and production, one of the driving goals here is to work toward more sustainable livelihoods for farmers through increasing their income. It’s not common for producers or cooperatives to do their own research at this scale, so the program has potential to significantly impact the lives of these farmers in a positive way. WCR thinks it’s possible, noting that they’ve chosen this region specifically because of its high potential to increase farmers’ coffee quality, yields and profits. “If we can show a farmer that they can make a higher profit by using more sustainable practices, that would be an excellent out-
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come,” says Danielle Knueppel, who is program director of the World Coffee Research’s Global Coffee Monitoring Program. “It is also important for the coffee industry to understand that if we want farmers to use sustainable practices that might cost them more to produce coffee, we will need to pay higher prices to the farmers. It’s the same concept as the organic food we buy in supermarkets. We pay higher prices because the cost of production is higher and we are choosing to support farmers that use sustainable practices.” INCENTIVIZING YOUTH Coffee farming in this region tends to be passed down from generation to generation, but not all young people want to stick around to work the land like those who came before them. In San Ignacio and other rural coffee growing regions, jobs and education can be hard to come by, and many youth gravitate toward the cities seeking greater opportunity. But a recent project by Cenfrocafe has convinced increasing numbers of young people to stay involved in the region’s coffee industry by participating in unconventional roles. The project trains youth — 15 years old and up — in various aspects of coffee production, from quality assurance and quality control, to cooperative management, and the technical sides of agronomy. As of now, 120 youth are involved in the program, with new members joining each year.
This means that now, even youth who don’t want to pursue traditional field-based production roles have the chance to develop specialized skills that allow them to play important parts in sustaining and progressing their local coffee industry. San Ignacio resident Juan Pablo is the son of a coffee producer and, through this program, is now training to be a Q grader, a highlevel coffee industry certification awarded by the Coffee Quality Institute to individuals who can thoroughly assess coffee for several different factors like flavor, aroma, fragrance, body and acidity. Juan Pablo will work in the aforementioned quality lab, focusing on testing and sampling, in an effort to gain better feedback. HOPE FOR THE FUTURE With all these projects in the works and the continued dedication from the region’s smallholder farmers, there’s plenty of potential for the future of coffee in Cajamarca. But still, in a time of tremendous climate shifts and transformation, there really are no guarantees. Do global coffee prices need to rise to help farmers adapt to our changing environment and absorb some of the financial risk that accompanies their livelihoods? Possibly. Will farmers in Cajamarca still be producing coffee in the decades to come? Only time will tell.
The Recipe Hunters
Origin Foraging in Siwa
Evading venomous snakes and fertilizing date palms in an Egyptian oasis.
Whole dates that may f ind a future
Water is added to the dates are mashed
home in tagella, a date pudding.
through a sieve creating a purée.
Siwa is in the middle of the desert. It’s in the northwest region of Egypt, about 30 miles east of the Libyan border. We had driven seven hours through this desert, from the port city of Alexandria, to live and work in the Siwa Oasis. In Siwa, the men mostly work on farms while the women take care of the children and household. It is segregated by sex — the women are with women, and the men with men. In public, the women are completely veiled, and unless you are a husband, father, brother or child of the women (or a woman yourself ), you are not permitted to see them unveiled. The only time the two sexes intersect is between family. Being there was a surreal experience — a bustling town of men without a single woman in sight. Women don’t go into town often and instead, send their sons, brothers and fathers. We spent our time in Siwa volunteering on Fatnas Island, clearing a date forest of debris and learning how to pollinate date trees with our host, Accu. Dates are both a staple of the Siwi diet and a symbol of the culture. The doors to Siwi homes are traditionally made of date palm tree trunks. Food is cooled and served on their branches, and baskets, toys and rugs are woven from the leaves. The following image displays a palm tree sheath, splayed open to reveal an intricate design of flowers. The pollen from the flowers will be used to hand pollinate the female trees. This pollination will, in time, create the date fruit. The process goes like this: Both male and female palm trees produce flowers. The male flowers, which grow inside of a leafy sheath (called a spathe) are removed
from the male tree. These flowers are then inserted into the female flowers, which grow high atop the palm trees in the tree top's center. In order to reach the female’s flowers, Accu must climb the trees, navigating the two- to three-inch thorns. If his skin is pierced, it may cause infection. Considering he does this with no shoes and a knife in his hand, it is quite the feat. The hand pollination has to be performed by February so that the dates will be ready for harvest in October. When we first arrived on the island, one of the Siwi men brought us over to the snakes hanging on the tree and said the following: Be careful where you step. Always be aware. If these bite you, you will die. We can clean the forest now because they are sleeping, but if we step on them, we will wake them up. If you see one, alert us immediately. As children, we are given the blood of the snake in our milk so that we hopefully do not die if bitten. But it happens often that people are bitten by these snakes. About 15 minutes into cleaning the date forest, one of the men found a snake. He was barefoot but managed to grab a nearby shovel and kill it. Inspecting the tree more closely, we see there are also scorpions hanging. Using the thorns of the palm trees, they nailed the snakes and the scorpions to the tree. This was one of the most dangerous farming experiences we had. I chickened out and instead opted to weed the garden, which was full of wheat, salad greens, onions and fava beans. We worked during the day
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A small amount of wheat flour is added
The final product is dense and thick, and
and stirred over open flame for hours.
f inished with a sheen of olive oil.
until it became nightfall. During lunch, our friend Muhammad who was in charge of the farm made us lunch. He would bring meat, rice, and macaroni from the village and collect the rest of the ingredients from the small island garden.
ration conveys to us the gravity of just this single spoonful. If strength had a flavor, it would be this — the taste of the wind, trees and earth of Siwa. The sweet, rich paste melts, but the crystals linger and spark with every bite thereafter.
Accu was in charge of pollinating the date trees. There was a time when the wind would blow the male pollen to pollinate the female trees. Now, people want more female trees since they’re the ones that produce the fruit. So these days, they are hand-pollinated from the small number of male trees. They don’t have much machinery and the trees grow to about 50 feet, so they rely on men to climb the trees, both when harvesting the dates and fertilizing the flower. Accu took his machete between his teeth, went up to a male tree, cut off a male spathe (which holds the inflorescence and, there within, the germinating seeds), brought it back to the tent and cut it open. Inflorescence is the reproductive portion of a palm tree which will be used to pollinate other trees. He then removed the inflorescence and shook it over a piece of paper on the floor of the tent. He collected the white powder (male sperm) along with some other parts of the male inflorescence and rolled the paper up, enclosing the contents inside. Before going out to pollinate, he mixed some of the male date seed with water and sugar and we ate it. I don't think we have ever before eaten anything so special or unique. This paste is concocted from the pollen of date tree flowers, sugar and a few drops of water.
Accu sheds his shoes at the entrance of the forest. Like a grasshopper, he climbs to the palm trees’ fanned branches with the male date seeds wrapped in a bundle of paper in his mouth. Among a floor of treetops, with a view of the glistening lakes below, he carefully navigates the three-inch-long thorns in order to pollinate and proliferate their forest. Accu, his comrades, neighbors and brothers would take turns on each other’s farms, helping out with the pollination and collection of dates. For us, it was a lesson in community and in sharing.
Given the small yield, the attentiveness displayed in the prepa-
We also pick the leftover dates that were not ripe at the time of the harvest. They’re a little dry at this point, and they’ll be used to make alcohol. After working on the farm, I was invited to the kitchens of the local Siwi women, where I learned to make date pudding or tagella, a bread made with date juice, and a dried date food consisting of crumbled dates and wheat. Throughout our stay in Siwa we were asked not to take photographs of the faces of women, only their hands in the process of showing us traditional recipes. The tagella is a very special and ancient traditional Siwi recipe which takes hours to make. The first step is breaking the dates down into a puree by combining them with water and, using your
hands, smashing them through a sieve, creating a date purée. A small amount of wheat flour (grown in the oasis) is added to the date purée as it heats up in a pot. In order to get a perfect consistency, water is added only as needed. The date purée is then stirred for hours and hours over a fire until it is ready. Tagella should be dense and thick, and before serving, olive oil is added. As I learn the methods of this age-old recipe, the women explain that young, eligible brides are often measured upon their skill in making tagella. The first time I met a Siwan woman was three days into our stay. We were invited to a wedding and I, being a woman, was invited into the women’s quarters to meet the brides. I immediately said yes and was soon thereafter was escorted to a plastic canvas hanging between two walls. Walking past the curtain, I see girls in beautiful, brightly colored, princess dresses; blue, pink, green and yellow. One young girl, carrying a baby on her hip, sees me and comes over. She takes my hand and brings me to another group of girls. All of a sudden 20, 30 girls of all different ages are surrounding me, touching my face, playing with my hair, asking me if I will teach them English, if I am married, and to see my family. There were so many colors, so many girls, so many questions! I ask if we can sit down together, and taking my hands, they bring me to a large rug on the ground and surround me. A young girl with a big smile pointed to her dress, and in Arabic, asks what they are. I said, DRESS, and then, pointing to her shoes, say, SHOES. They all laugh and say, “SHOES.” I then pointed to my nose and said, NOSE. I then remembered the ubiquitous song my mother taught me when I was younger. I stood up, put my hands on my head and begin to sing, “Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes.” All of the girls went wild with laughter. We sang together until our voices were hoarse and our cheeks hurt from laughing.
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The Women of Likotuden CONTRIBUTOR
Thanks to Global Greengrants Fund, a foundation that makes small grants to environmental causes around the world for bringing us this story.
Bolstered by government subsidies, rice has been a staple crop in Indonesia for decades. In 2007, in the wake of an economic crisis, Maria Loretha set out to decrease her countryâ€™s dependency on rice, and replace it with crops that are more drought tolerant and nutrient dense. Her move towards food sovereignty was audacious and forward thinking. This photo essay is a beautiful depiction of what sheâ€™s created. 27
Likotuden, East Flores, Indonesia Community leader Maria Loretha spent months traveling around the remote villages of East Flores and talking to the elders before she eventually found the native sorghum seed varieties that used to grow prolifically in this region of Indonesia. The ancient crop — now known in the Global North for its nutrient density — had all but died out on the volcanic island of Flores after successive governments encouraged farmers to grow commercial white rice varieties instead, denouncing sorghum an inferior crop that should be fed to animals, similar to how kale was once considered in the UK. The difficulty for the communities of East Flores was that the changing weather patterns left them with little or no rain, and their volcanic landscape didn’t support the requisite moisture in the soil that allowed rice and maize to flourish in other parts of Indonesia. Despite tons of chemical fertilizers, successive crops failed, and local families were left hungry, in debt and faced with the prospect of leaving to become migrant workers in order to survive. Instead, Loretha mobilized the women of the Likotuden area to plant 30 acres of sorghum using the old seed varieties she had collected from the elders. The crop is more labor intensive than rice and maize, but it requires less water, critical in a changing climate, and is more nutritious and versatile than these other grains. “We all know that when we eat sorghum, we feel fuller for longer than eating white rice” says Loretha. “And it can be cooked as a porridge, made into a flour, cooked into brownies, pizza or a pop-sorghum like popcorn!” The experiment, which involved 62 families initially, has proved so successful it has now expanded to other parts of Indonesia. For the women of Likotuden, sorghum has become a route to independence, allowing them to break free from a reliance on chemical fertilizers and pesticides, from the devastating impact of drought and a cycle of poverty. “My friends say I am the maestro of sorghum, a master sorghum grower, but I’m just an ordinary farmer,” says Loretha. “But in Flores, I feel like I live an extraordinary life.”
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With eastern views towards Adonara Island and the Ile Boleng volcano, the village of Likotuden is idyllically situated. In the 1950s and 60s, in a period that would later be known as the green revolution, years of chemical inputs altered soil and local food systems worldwide, contributing to subsequent decades of food insecurity. This was compounded in the 1980s when a national rice program provided further subsidies to expand cultivation. This image was shot during harvest time in march at the end of the rainy season.
Portrait of Maria Loretha, revered in East Flores with the moniker ‘Mama Sorghum'. She’s holding recently harvested heirloom sorghum. With Loretha’s help, East Flores now yields a diverse assortment of nutritious crops like jelai (barley), jewawut (millet), maize and plantain. Regarded as “inferior,” these crops were usually grown as animal fodder or secondary staples in anticipation of rice scarcity.
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For decades during the rice programs, knowledge on local crops waned. Once she began her quest, Loretha was able to collect thirty varieties of sorghum alone. She approached women in her village, like Mama Yustina (pictured here), and taught them how to farm and cook sorghum.
Freshly harvested sorghum. The community around sorghum has been made possible by partnerships, but most of all, what is emphasized is the exchange of knowledge in the name of self-reliance.
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Mama Veronica stands in front of her Sorghum fields. Preserving the knowledge of how to grow local crops means future generations are less vulnerable than the prior. In addition to improved health, for a region that has been plagued with unstable access to food, there is agency in reclaiming the soil.
Mama Agatha in the early morning harvesting her sorghum crop. In the past, decisions regarding agricultural policy have been made in “mainland” Jakarta without considering the conditions in the “outer” islands. Under Soeharto’s government in the 1980’s, 'Rice for the Nation' became highly politicized.
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Mama Elizabeth heading out to her sorghum fields late afternoon. Before the re-introduction of Sorghum, over reliance on expensive chemical fertilizers led to crop failures and resultant poverty and malnutrition, causing the women of the village migrating to other areas of Indonesia looking for work.
Potato King: The Story of George Shima CONTRIBUTOR
In the United States, exploitative agricultural practices are older than the nation itself. Four hundred years after Africans were kidnapped and forced to labor in the fields of the now US South, the trope of the hardworking migrant farmer — whether lauded for their industriousness or chastised about the legitimacy of their belonging in a stolen land — perpetuates the asymmetrical relationship between who owns the land and who works it. Lost in these narratives between centuries are the immense contributions made by, and harm inflicted upon California’s Japanese (and Chinese) farm workers in the late 19th and early 20th century. We were energized when Sam Nakahira, a college student and artist from Grinnell, Iowa, brought us the story of George Shima, a Japanese immigrant that once produced 85% of the potatoes grown in California. Shima’s story is a classic American tale of immigration, racism, achievement and hypocrisy. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did. 36
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Maya Matriarchs WHETSTO NE
In Jalacate, Belize, generations of Maya women gather in a Pentecostal pastorâ€™s house to cook for the community. CONTRIBUTOR
Lauren Vied Allen
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Set in the local pastor’s home and the surrounding area, this essay celebrates the matriarchs who coordinate and host community meals, keeping the village feeling peaceful, connected and fed through fellowship. Rosa Sacul and her mother-in-law, Adelina Sacul, lower a heavy steel bucket of pork hung by rope from the hand-built wooden rafters of their cohune palm–thatched home. They are preparing to make caldo, a spicy hot soup, as Rosa’s husband, the village pastor, gets ready to leave for church after breakfast. Inside the humble house, Rosa and Adelina are starting the fires that will soon be used to cook the soup, tortillas and poch, a tamal of fermented masa steamed in banana leaves. Women from across the village start to arrive at Rosa’s home, bringing with them spices, herbs and masa. “Everyone brings something to cook,” Aurelia Mo says, as she brings in herbs and peppers from her family milpa, or garden. Outside, Stephany Caal and Mo walk in worn flip-flops down a steep, rocky path to the nearby creek to wash a bucket of nixtamalized maize. They will soon walk to the home of a local woman who owns the only mechanical grinder in town, to turn their maize into masa for a few Belizean cents. “It’s a community grinder,” Mo says. “Everyone uses it.” As the village women arrive, they gather around a small table and start hand-forming tortillas with quick, rhythmic staccato surrounded by light chatter and giggling in Q’echi’. “Smash it over and use your fingers and side like this,” Mo says as she demonstrates her tortilla-making skills with the palms of her hand gently beating out a ball of masa with five other women as a sixth manages the comal, a flat pan used to cook tortillas over open fire. These perfectly circular and evenly flat tortillas are not only a staple of the Maya diet, but also a source of pride among the quiet, humble women. It is a tradition that they will begin teaching their daughters at a young age. “We start working in the kitchen around eight or nine,” Aurelia says. “We do simple things like cutting vegetables and get to make tortillas as we get older.” “They can hear us having church,” Luis Assi, the Indigenous Community Liaison for the International Pentecostal Holiness Church says as he points to the Guatemalan border. “It’s ok, they can worship with us.” The border is only about 100 yards from the church property. A thick line of brush separates Jalacte, Belize, from Santa Cruz, Gua-
temala, where political and territorial conflicts have been common for hundreds of years, ultimately peaking in the early 1980s. Now, the Q'eqchi' Maya mountain village of about 500 people on the Belize side is being threatened by the government, which wants to build a highway and border stations. Despite the tensions surrounding this small village, daily life progresses. “Free movement,” happens daily as Belizeans sell goods
to Guatemalans across the border bypassing customs agents. Maya children attend school while women cook for their husbands and families. Men work in agriculture or take a 90-minute bus into Punta Gorda, the district’s main city, for work. The church is a center for communities to gather and find peace. Gene Lewis, a U.S. missionary with IPHC based in Belmopan, Belize, has been traveling to Jalacte since 1983. “I’ve seen this village grow up in the church.” He mentions that many of the village
elders were young teenagers when he started working in Jalacte. “Rosa and Adelina, they are the matriarchs. Watch how they see everything go on in this kitchen,” Lewis says as Rosa and Adelina stand near the fires with plastic cups of coffee in their hands, a combination of Nescafe, powdered creamer and ample sugar. Their shiny pots hang from the rafters above as a sign of their pride. “The women make this village tick,” says Lewis. “The men may work hard, but these families wouldn’t survive without the women.”
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Herbs and peppers flavor the caldo. These local herbs are similar to cilantro and oregano, and come from a familyâ€™s milpa, or garden.
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Jerson Chun scanned over every bowl of pork caldo for one with chunk of cheek meat. He meticulously picked apart only one side of his meat selection. When he was f inished, he asked around for a banana leaf, wrapped up his cheek meat and exclaimed, â€œI gotta take this to my dad!â€? as he ran out of the house and up the mountain to where his dad was working.
Black Dinners Matter Decoding the dinner table in African American cinema. CONTRIBUTOR
Amanda Yee & Soleil Ho
In the films Moonlight, Do the Right Thing and The Color Purple, the dinner table is erected as a potent metaphor for ownership and communion. Can the details of these meals show us what it takes to rebuild connections and safe spaces that have been lost to or compromised by white supremacy? With four centuries of slavery as the backdrop, what’s eaten and where depicts how enslaved Africans and their descendants reclaimed their agency, had it stripped away, and in some cases, even participated in supremacist structures like patriarchy.
We begin with Do The Right Thing, when Mookie, the film’s protagonist portrayed by Spike Lee, throws a trash can through a pizza parlor window, signaling a violent transition into a new world. Much intelligent analysis has been written about this scene since the film premiered in 1989, but here, let’s focus on the pizzeria, that hermetically sealed sanctuary of whiteness, which during this climax is suddenly ripped open and exposed to the elements. Until that point, Mookie, the pizzeria’s delivery person and sole ally in the major-
ity Black neighborhood, got to traverse both realms — he thought — freely. After all of his hemming and hawing about where his allegiances lie, Mookie throws that trash can and repudiates white supremacy once and for all. That’s why this feels so powerful: Up until this point, the residents of this fictitious version of Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood settle for eating at this pizza parlor, a space that was not their own to define. Radio Raheem’s attempt to order food while his boombox blasts Public Enemy’s Fight the Power is a perfect example of this. The music is treated like an intrusive foreign body, and he can’t order until he shuts it off. “You come into Sal’s, there’s no music. No rap, no music, no music, no music,” says Sal Fragione, the owner of the restaurant. When the film came out, the Howard Beach incident, in which a group of young Black men were violently harassed out of a pizza parlor in Queens by white men, was still fresh on our minds. One of the men, Michael Griffith, was chased onto the Belt Parkway and fatally struck by a car. Echoing this assault, Lee shows us how easily the veneer of civility can be shed, and the ensuing riot and violence highlight the fragility of it all. This concept of spatial ownership and mastery is also integral to The Color Purple. Trapped in a marriage at 14, protagonist Celie is condemned to a life of drudgery. In a montage sequence, she struggles to wrangle her new husband’s badly behaved children, clean up his trashed house, and feed them all. She gradually improves and reclaims the space, and yet when her husband, Albert, comes home, he sits at the clean dinner table and rests his muddy, booted feet right on top of it. This is a power move, signaling to Celie that she owns nothing in the house, not even her own labor. Intoxicated by his rule over Celie, Albert is indifferent to her unless something she does displeases him. Within patriarchy, the woman’s realm is the home, especially the kitchen. Though Celie may certainly take pride in that work, a hallmark of patriarchy is that it’s the man of the house who ultimately owns everything. He is entitled to women’s labor by virtue of his position in the gender hierarchy.
When Celie, Albert, and Albert’s children actually eat at that table, the scene is total chaos. The children scream and cry, Celie attempts to maintain order, and her husband fumes with resentment towards them all. The situation doesn’t improve when they have visitors. The stakes just get higher. Anxious to please the guests, Albert terrorizes Celie, who must perform perfectly as a cook and maid. At dinner, he dominates the conversation, bullying Celie into silence. Unlike the pizzeria in Do the Right Thing, this is a Black-owned space, but one that is so poisoned by patriarchy that the notion of it being a nourishing space is impossible. Instead, it’s a cage. In Moonlight, Chiron’s mother doesn’t feed him. Instead, as a boy, he is fed by her drug dealer, Juan, who drives him to a fast food joint when they first meet. Throughout Chiron’s childhood, he’s fed by Juan and his partner, Teresa. At their house, plates of soul food, served tenderly, coax him into opening up to them. Surrounded by scenes of stress and chaos — of Chiron’s abusive mother and macho, bullying peers — these scenes around the table are a reprieve for both the viewer and the character. It is a space for difficult conversations and emotional honesty, where we see Juan and Teresa doing their best to intervene with the child they’ve informally adopted. “Stop putting your head down in my house,” Teresa tells a teenaged Chiron as he slouches over his plate. “You know my rules: it’s all love and all pride in this house.” This is their space, and they are free to define it as they wish. Stripped of music and devoid of any indulgent close-ups of the food, the scenes demonstrate that, with Juan and Teresa, what happens around the table is the most important part of these meals. The tonal contrast in these scenes encapsulate Chiron’s inherent conflict, constantly torn between his need for human connection and a desire to live up to a stoic masculine ideal. Much of what he faces throughout the film fits the description of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome, a condition coined by educator and author Dr. Joy DeGruy to name the psychological obstacles faced by African-American communities after generations of chattel
slavery and oppression. That history, which transpired without any meaningful therapeutic interventions or social acknowledgement of the scale of that trauma, has led to a host of negative residual impacts. Hopelessness, extreme feelings of suspicion and paranoia, depression, anxious hypermasculinity and racialized self-hatred are among the symptoms addressed in her book. The point she makes again and again is that AfricanAmerican communities were repeatedly brutalized by white society both during and after slavery, then invalidated and blamed for their troubles.
If you’re told that the residual, generationally compounded effects of centuries of oppression are just “your culture,” why would you seek help for that trauma? How do you even begin? Moonlight offers another way. More than anything, the table scenes are a demonstration of what it means to truly check in with each other, to slowly and precisely heal a traumatized psyche. Food was a weapon of control by slaveholders, most often used as a mechanism for domination and exploitation. In addition to being fed inadequate weekly rations — which
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Adrian Miller, author of Soul Food writes consisted of “five pounds of starch (cornmeal, rice or sweet potatoes); a couple pounds of cured meat, and 1 jug of molasses” — to be enslaved meant prohibition from foods like flour and sugar, to distinguish between classes. Though some slaveholders did use the denial of food as a means of punishment, there were also those that feared mass revolt. After working in servitude, from sunup to sundown, enslaved Africans were further demeaned by slaveholders at mealtimes. Meals were served out of troughs, and those
brought to the fields came in buckets filled with slop. There were no utensils, and eating and drinking water were both done by hand. The idea of eating together as a community, in leisure or with any sense of enjoyment,was completely unimaginable; it was survival. It is nothing short of miraculous that “Soul Food” — a byproduct of the Black liberation movement — exists at all. It is even more miraculous to know that Southern food, like jazz, is a defining American marker of culture, not just for African-Americans, but for all Americans. Though it has tried for 400 years, white supremacy has been unable to
stifle the Black imagination. From the 17th century onward, enslaved Africans in some areas of the South were permitted to sell and trade livestock, as well as grow food on small plots of land, commonly known as provision grounds. This was no act of goodwill by slaveholders, who by and large allocated barely arable land for those purposes—rather, they saw it as a hands-off way to cut down on the food bill. Yet that is where we begin to see food as a precursor to liberation and autonomy for enslaved Africans. They began to claim Sundays for cook-
ing finer meals than what they were allotted during the rest of the week. This meant that for the first time since they had been taken captive, meals could be for enjoying, solidifying cultural identity and offering one another some type of reprieve from the cruelty of their captivity. Provision grounds undermined the infantilizing stereotype that Africans were incapable of autonomy. As Adrian Miller writes, on the basis of these provisional plots alone, “the ideological justification for slavery” had been usurped. That sort of “soft” rebellion, that of simply enjoying a meal, is key to Celie’s narrative in The Color Purple. After a heavy first act, she slowly reclaims her sense of self by moving within the bounds of her role. It’s a delicate dance. We see this in her initial interaction with Shug Avery, a club singer who is also Albert’s first love. When Shug arrives at their house, she’s taken in with an illness and is confined to an upstairs room. Albert uncharacteristically takes over the kitchen, fumbling along as Celie watches. He may own the kitchen, but it’s obvious he has no idea how to make sense of it. The film quickly cuts to the breakfast he produces, which is literally on fire as he brings it upstairs. The tray is violently rejected, thrown against the wall outside of Shug’s room and reduced to a bloody-looking smear. Meanwhile Albert, the macho patriarch, cowers in terror. This is a moment when the order of things is upsidedown. Celie takes the opportunity to make her own version of the tray. A close-up shot of the food as it cooks — a sizzling slice of cured ham, three sunny-side-up eggs and fresh pancakes — emphasizes its beauty and luxuriousness. The shot of Celie carrying the tray upstairs is framed just like the shot of Albert doing the same, but here the finished tray is overfilled with biscuits, grits, coffee and even a small flower vase. Though Celie hides when she delivers the tray to Shug, it’s accepted without protest. This is the first moment of tenderness in the film since the very first act. It doesn’t feel coincidental that it’s marked by a close-up of food that actually looks appetizing. Unlike the meals shared at the table downstairs, this one is given as a gesture of kindness and sympathy. Shug is adult Celie’s first ally and friend, and it all begins with breakfast.
The iconic final meal in Moonlight shares many of those characteristics. It’s prepared by Kevin, Chiron’s childhood friend and former flame, in the diner where he works. Here, a plate of arroz con pollo is given star treatment. It’s almost unprecedented in media to see a Black man cooking for another Black man out of a sense of care for him. Perhaps this context explains the power and intensity of this scene. It’s intimate and slow, indulging in warmly lit close-up shots of Kevin’s hands chopping cilantro and molding white rice in a ramekin while intense chamber music plays in the background. After vignettes showing
the hardness of Chiron’s adult life, in which he has adopted a tougher, more masculine persona, the generosity and sweetness in Kevin’s gesture is a disarming contrast. In this space that they’ve informally created together, two men can freely open up to each other without persecution. With this gesture, Kevin completes the work that Teresa and Juan began when Chiron was a closed-off, terrified child, and for Chiron, he is finally able to shed the persona he’d built around his tender, inner self. The Black imagination offers a reprieve
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and a place of emotional and physical nourishment. The beauty of this gesture, and the way food stokes this imagination, is about ensuring one anotherâ€™s immediate survival. It is almost as if to say, if only just for this moment â€” this Sunday, this Civil Rights march, this bus or train ride, this meal before you partake in your education, before you go, before you stay, because you survived, because you are deserving of joy and love â€” you have a place of belonging here. Even if shielding one another from larger oppressive forces is overwhelming, and seemingly futile, this powerful
imagination is an inadvertent act of resistance. Within the constraints of white supremacist patriarchy, film is one way Black artists and creators have attempted to manifest their own visions of what it means to be Black in the United States. Food as a metaphor to tap into that particular strain of thought has centuries of work behind it.
determination and ownership. The struggle continues to this day, but so too does the work to reclaim the table: in the labor of Black farmers young and old, in the writings of scholars and cookbook authors who piece together histories from scraps of old recipes, in food programs like the Black Panther Free Breakfast program, and in every meal that the community shares together.
From enslaved Africans hiding seeds in their hair to Celie building sisterhood with a basket of biscuits, the story of African American food has also been a story about self-
WHETSTO NE On the road to Sevan, a traffic jam induced by sheep, stacked jars of pickled vegetables, and 9th century cathedrals and monasteries. In Yerevan, outdoor spice markets and women making roadside lavash. An Armenian American goes home for the first time, and brings us along.
Armenia Memoir CONTRIBUTOR
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Although I am Armenian, I had never been to Armenia. I traveled there like any other tourist, with two friends, neither of whom had been to Armenia before either. We arrived in the capital city of Yerevan just after midnight and went straight to our hotel. The next morning, in pursuit of coffee, we ventured to a quaint neighborhood café within walking distance of the hotel. The local jams, butter and honey were extraordinary, and the coffee the freshest I’d ever had. As I engaged with the workers, I felt a familiarity, as if I’d been there before. As a photographer, my routine typically begins with finding a local farmers’ market to experience and photograph the food and culture of the people. Walking through the colorful market, I encountered the most amazing produce. Yerevan, like many urban centers, is filled with traffic and hustle. Indeed, to truly experience Armenia, one has to travel to the outskirts of the country. So we did just that and drove to Mount Ararat, a snow-capped and dormant compound volcano in the extreme east of Turkey. Driving along the outer edges of the mountain, we stopped and walked through the surrounding valleys and in small villages where we were welcomed by friendly residents who offered us food by the tableful and sweets made from local ingredients. The historic locations are easily accessible and hold enormous wisdom. Another aspect that stood out was the deep pride and knowledge of a younger generation of Armenians about their country’s history, culture and arts. They don’t just recite the facts, it is a history they really understand and explain in such a way that it can be fully absorbed. As an Armenian, I came across certain foods that I had never heard of or eaten. One of the highlights was a local lunch stop serving Zhingyalov, a delicious bread stuffed with sautéed leafy greens. It is a traditional dish for Armenians, typically from Artsakh and Syunik regions. The aroma of herbs combined with the hot bread fresh from the oven creates an amazing moment of taste and smell. I’ve lived on three continents and in six metropolitan cities. Along the way, I’ve visited (and photographed) several countries. I feel like a citizen of the world, but there was something very special about going to Armenia. What struck me the most was that innate and familiar feeling of home, a feeling likely felt by anyone who travels to the place of their own origins.
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In downtown Yerevan, an array of spices.
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Lavash, Armenian flatbread is a staple in their diet. Women cook the loaves on the searing hot walls of underground ovens.
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In between cities, there is no McDonalds to be found. Both travelers in Armenia and those who live in the village indulge in roadside snacks like this assortment of pickled vegetables.
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On the road to Sevan, a herd of sheep set the pace of traff ic.
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In the Valle de Guadalupe, where hotels, wineries and restaurants are opening with alacrity, preserving Baja Californiaâ€™s native plants is on peopleâ€™s minds too. CONTRIBUTOR
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Norma Meza Calles calls bladderpod the cabbage of the Kumeyaay, the people of Bajabbbntas de Nejí, Baja’s northernmost indigenous community of about 200 people, which isn’t far from the Tecate entry point along the Mexico—U.S. border. Bladderpod is a resilient plant, the kind that emerges after fire and survives droughts. In coastal California it relishes the ocean’s spray and sunbathes in low deserts. The flowers are bright yellow and charming, and smell somewhere between green bell pepper and new tires. Peshaash, as it’s called in one variant of Kumeyaay, is the kind of dish Calles’s grandkids love, a definitive nostalgic snack beckoning familiar comforts like a quesadilla, grilled cheese, or an egg over rice. Sometimes she worries that once she’s gone, they’ll never have it again. Calles boils the bladderpod for four hours, discarding and replacing the water to remove the bitterness. She then sautés it with onions and rolls a scoop into a handmade tortilla. “We were taught that the community has everything you need to live, and that includes what we need to eat,” she says. Calles is one of many Kumeyaay shepherding this cultural knowledge of traditional foodways, medicine and native plants. But pressure to assimilate to Mexican culture, a changing climate, and aggressive real estate development in the region all complicate her work. In the Valle de Guadalupe, where hotels, wineries and restaurants are opening with alacrity, preserving Baja California’s native plants is on people’s minds too. A few locals in the culinary industry are including native plants on their menus and working with younger generations in hopes that through food, they can inspire interest in protecting the local ecosystem. While they do not share the same historical relationship to native plants or inhabitants, the messages overlap: What we need is already here. Baja California, the northern half of Mexico’s western peninsula, is known for its coastline. The narrow Transpeninsular Highway curves around the Pacific Ocean, sometimes through long, highup stretches displaying nothing but the precarious cliff you’re driving on, the ocean and sky. At one point, a 75-foot statue of Christ — arms stretched out towards the horizon — towers over the east side of the highway. It is also home to some of the best seafood on the Pacific. Before the colonization of Baja, many generations traversed these mountains, coasts and deserts, following animals and plants in accordance to the season. In rugged landscapes, techniques like controlled burnings improved the health of the soil and vegetation. Diet and health intrinsically linked plants to daily life, but so too did spirituality and social status. “The most powerful elders smoked tobacco de coyote. It had a purple flower used to have visions,” says Calles.
Medicine remains one of the strongest traditions that uses native plants, and social gatherings also revolve around harvesting and preparing food. “My grandparents used to go to the Sierra Juarez, where they got together to meet other tribes and sing, dance and see their girlfriends or boyfriends, just like their parents did. They gathered acorns and prickly pears,” she says. In the Valle de Guadalupe, the buckwheat flower’s pom-pom blossoms shift colors throughout the seasons, from white in spring, to pink, to rusty red in the fall — a useful indicator of harvest time. In the past, migrational patterns differed between native communities and families, but generally, late winter was spent in lowlands, and summer on higher ground. Winter on the coast was for roasting abalone and agave, for hunting marine mammals and foraging seaweed. As it got warmer in the late spring, desert agave and chaparral yucca were harvested. In the summer, it was sage, used for medicine and rituals, and manzanita seeds to be made into a sweet drink. There was also wild game, mostly rabbits, deer and quail. Chia was foraged in the summer and also used for drinks or eaten raw on long journeys. The tiny seeds were valued for packing a punch of nutrients. Chia flowers were found in areas where there had recently been fires; they were picked, and the seeds shaken and collected from the plant. Acorn, particularly atole de bellota, a sort of acorn mash, remains a staple for many native communities and is as foundational as the tortilla in Mexican cooking. The preparation is laborious, and involves drying and pounding the acorns, then releasing the kernels, grinding them, and finally leaching them to remove tannins. The acorn meal is mixed with boiling water, producing a mushy batter. Calles remembers it being stored for winter months in a trunk, preserved with ash. When it’s cooled, it ends up gelatinous, and it can be sliced and eaten. Acorn atole and dried meats like deer and rabbit are some of the most common traditional dishes still found on plates in Native family homes. Nopales, the cleaned cactus paddles often found in Mexican restaurants, make an appearance too. La Nativa, a summer festival in Ensenada celebrating indigenous art, provides a snapshot of how native plant traditions continue today. One vendor served acorn coffee, another staple made with roasted and ground acorns. The toasted flavor and deep brown color are nearly indistinguishable from a cup of coffee. Another is selling chia mixed with lime juice and water, though these days, the seeds are store-bought. Beatriz Farlow is from the Kiliwa people, native to this region. She lives at the foot of San Pedro Mártir National Park, known for its granite rock formations and pine trees. For La Nativa, she’s prepared a guisado de biznaga, a taco filling made of the fruit she
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Norma Meza Calles sautĂŠs bladderpod, the cabbage of the Kumeyaay.
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collects every June from a globe-shaped cactus . After it’s pried with sticks from the top of the nest of thorns, the flower is boiled for hours to remove the bitterness, and then it’s preserved in water. Like bladderpod, it’s sautéed and served in a quesadilla. It has an earthy flavor, like mushrooms. Visitors who come by Farlow’s booth are familiar with the cactus, but mostly shocked that it’s used for food. “I think I’m the only one who makes food like this in my community,” says Eva Guadalupe Salazar Carrillo. Eva is from San Jose de la Zorra, a Kumeyaay indigenous community in Valle de Guadalupe, not far from the wine region that is equally well known for its basket weaving. She’s wearing woven earrings, a shell necklace that reflects the light and bounces it around, and a matching blouse and skirt patterned with eagles flying over snow-capped mountains. She’s an expert basket weaver but wanted to give La Nativa’s native foods cooking competition a shot. Her plate is a rainbow of plants she gathers each year, often freezing or preserving them for future months. She learned how to harvest from her mother and other elders. There are staple greens like watercress and purslane, and others are reserved mostly for special occasions like, flor de quiote, the chaparral yucca blossoms harvested in late spring, before the flowers on the stalk open. In the traditional preparation, the stalks are roasted, and sometimes the split leaves are used to tie sage bundles. Next to the atole de bellota is dried rabbit and deer that her husband hunted, which he does twice a week. She’s side-eyeing some of the other dishes in the competition, served in paper plates by about 10 men and women. “There are tortillas, beans, almost all of them have oil, butter and condiments. It has to be exactly like it was before, when there wasn’t salt unless it was from the ocean, fat unless you took it from an animal,” she says. In these communities, recipes and plant knowledge have been passed down orally. But with each generation, European food crops and later, store-bought goods, have been incorporated into or outright replaced traditional foods. When missionaries arrived in the 1800s, they immediately appropriated land for agricultural and military use, flattening ecosystems in the name of cattle raising and grain cultivation. Plant cultivation techniques like controlled burning and seasonal migrations — for centuries, central features of Native diets and culture — were prohibited and, in some cases, met with physical violence. Over the years, rushes for precious minerals, the enforcement of the U.S. border and the privatization of land have limited Native communities to a small fraction of their ancestral lands, in settlements called ejidos. Many of these settlements are isolated, built
around water sources but secluded from areas that were colonized. The number of residents in each one ranges in the hundreds. Over the generations, Native communities incorporated ranching and livestock into their livelihoods. In addition to working on ranches, they found work in adjacent industries like mining and vineyard labor. There are remnants of tradition (like the basket weaving in San Jose de la Zorra) that remain economically viable, such as the harvest of yucca, firewood and honey. Calles says that by the time she was born, her grandparents were “sedentary,” and although they lived off the land, they rarely traveled far to harvest or hunt. “We learned how to eat with little water, how to save water and how to save food for the winter,” says Calles. “They [her grandparents] trained us, it was like school. And they want to see results.” She remembers prickly pears being cooked in the winter, wild celery in spring soups and during rainy months, only eating twice a day, mostly off of food saved from previous months. “I didn’t even know you could get cilantro at the store!” she says. While Calles has all the training she needs, there are obstacles to foraging and hunting. Certain areas are private and fenced off, and legal restrictions limit how people collect plants. “I can’t go collect acorns anymore,” says Calles. “The government only protects plants for some people.” Collecting seeds or plants from the wild technically requires a permitting process, yet a landowner has free reign to clear native vegetation or extract the available natural resources on their property. Carillo, for example, has a permit to harvest on public land, but for those who don’t, buying the plants or seedlings is an ordeal, and there are almost no nurseries with permits to sell native plants. Calles, like other grandmothers her age, pushed her children to leave the community, where jobs and higher education are limited. The pressure to assimilate meant learning Kumeyaay language and traditions fell to the wayside. But she and a group of other “grandmothers” have gathered a group of about 50 young people who are interested in learning about their culture. At a recent conference Calles introduced me to a group of teenagers and 20-somethings from different Native communities. Delfina Albañez Arballo says she doesn’t know how to make all the foods her grandparents prepared, but she uses plants for medicine and is trying to learn more. “Our traditions are oral, they go from our great-grandparents to our grandparents, like a little chain. So we don’t lose too much,” she says. “We’ll continue with the same traditions and it’s a beautiful thing.”
Tesuque Pueblo Return to the Land New Mexicoâ€™s Pueblo elders work to retain, rediscover farming practices CONTRIBUTOR
Concerned elders have now turned to modern practitioners.
In 1540, when Spanish explorer Francisco Vázquez de Coronado led an expedition from Mexico into present day New Mexico in search of the rumored Seven Cities of Gold, he encountered a highly-developed civilization. An entire village, adorned with adobe homes constructed of mud and straw, shimmered golden-brown in the blazing Southwest sun (perhaps giving the illusion of gold). The Spaniards called these villages pueblos, meaning towns in Spanish, to describe this agrarian society with large-scale farming systems.
The Institute’s Land Grant Program has teamed up with NMSU, with grants from the USDA, to help provide support through its Pueblo Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Program. Funded in 2013, the beginning ag project provides farmers with best practices, sustainable management workshops, and marketing strategies. Though the program is based on modern ag practices, it has aided new farmers with research and provided experienced Pueblo mentors.
Much of the language, culture, religion and architecture found during Coronado’s early expedition are still being maintained today, in various forms, among the 19 Pueblos dotted aloang the Rio Grande River. A few have no plumbing or electricity in the core of the village to help preserve ancient traditions. Despite these efforts, agricultural practices are waning, practices that helped this society maintain centuries of existence in the high mountain desert where average rainfall is less than fifteen inches per year.
More than one hundred farmers and ranchers have participated in the program, with most of them being sustenance growers that provide traditional crops of beans, chile, corn, melons and squash for family, or community-wide celebrations. A few sell at local Pueblo feasts or harvest celebrations, while some are ranchers and others are alfalfa producers who sell to local buyers.
Concerned elders have now turned to modern practitioners, seeking help from New Mexico State University (NMSU) and other agriculture programs. “We’ve heard from a number of tribal leaders that they are very interested in retaining the practices and traditions [of farming],” said Charlene Carr, a member of Laguna Pueblo. Carr is also director of Land Grant Programs at the Institute of American Indian Arts, one of New Mexico’s land grant schools, which provides agricultural education, technical assistance, and access to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs and funding. “Now in our day and age, we have these conveniences of going to the grocery store. We don’t have to grow it and process it,” Carr said, adding that agriculture has a spiritual tradition among the Pueblos, which is tied to their stories, song, and language. “Tribal leaders are very interested in keeping the practice going.”
Edmund Gomez, Extension Economics Assistant Department Head and Project Director at NMSU, says he doesn’t know for sure why farming has waned among the Pueblos. He’s heard that elders have told their children to get an education and then come back to help the Pueblo, something he also heard as a boy in his small, largely Hispanic, community in Northern New Mexico. Although the children have not been coming back, he observed something interesting with this program: retirees coming back to the reservation to take over inherited land from parents or grandparents. “Now that they’re back, and they have grandkids, they want to keep the tradition and show the grandkids how growing things is part of who they are,” Gomez said. “They want to come back to work the land, but they’ve lost the techniques or didn’t learn them. They want to learn new concepts, they want to learn how to deal with insects or weeds. Or [they] want to learn about soil techniques or different varieties.” Tiana Suazo, twenty-six, of Taos Pueblo, about an hour from the
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The best science is Indian science, says Emigdio Ballon.
Colorado border, said she started participating in the program after accepting a job last year to manage a garden for a traditional foods project at the Taos County Economic Development Corporation. Suazo, one of the few women in the program, said she’s seen a surge in Native youth involvement in farming in the last five years. “It’s more common with the elders in our community, about fortyfive years and up, and it’s mostly traditional farming – corn, beans, and squash, all foods we use throughout the year. It’s done using traditional methods with the acequias [a water system using river water from the Rio Grande] but I do see a lot of these boys helping their grandparents,” said Suazo, who since beginning the program, has fallen in love with farming. “It’s something that has sustained our people for thousands of years. It’s something that we cannot or should not forget,” she said. Among the many impediments to the continuation of indigenous land practices, one of the most reliable has been the United States government. In 1960, Congress authorized the construction of one of the world’s largest earthen dams, the Cochiti Dam, in the United States. It stretches five miles on land held by Cochiti Pueblo, which also sits near the Rio Grande, about 42 miles south of Tesuque. The reservoir built to control the floodwaters of the Rio Grande also covered sacred lands and fields that the tribe had for centuries maintained. It now serves as a recreational facility for tourists. Decades of heavy metal runoff have sedimented at the bottom of the lake, tainting any potential for future disassembly of the dam. On a warm spring day in Tesuque Pueblo in Northern New Mexico, a van from Tesuque’s senior center brings seventeen elders to check on their seedlings in the greenhouse. In the starter boxes are several varieties of chiles, vegetables, gourds, melons, tobacco, potatoes, herbs and flowers. The van then takes the elders to the Pueblo’s
sixty-plus-acre farm for the seniors to tend to their seedlings, in individual plots, or, ones they share with a partner. The Pueblo farm also has fruit trees, a hoop house filled with strawberry plants, and more plots available for other tribal members.“I have a heart condition and I’m diabetic, so this is stress relief,” says Pat Dorme, a senior citizen tending her plot. “The food is healthier for you and the best part is sharing it with my family. It makes you feel good.” Tesuque Pueblo, (who are not participants in NMSU’s individual farmers program), provide the water and plow the plots for residents who are interested in farming. Created in the 1970s, the tribal farm grew and sold only commercial alfalfa until the mid-2000s. In 2005, the tribe hired Emigdio Ballon, a Quechua (Inca) from Bolivia and former Colorado State University ag professor, to help develop the farm for local consumption. He has also created a seed bank containing heirloom varieties from various tribes, including pink Hopi corn and chiles that have been passed down through the generations of various Pueblos — some as old as 200 years old. Food grown on the farm is now distributed among the community. Ballon allocates the produce among local schools and senior programs, as well as giving some to residents leaving church. Scanning the farm, Ballon says,“The best science is Indian science.” He’s speaking about the journey to redevelop an agrarian system, not based on the construction of massive dams, rather the wisdom of Tesuque’s ancestors. “You cannot control Mother Nature. You cannot stop flooding.” Reaching into his pocket, Mr. Ballon pulls out a dollar bill. “Mother Nature is the biggest treasure; she gives you all these things,” he says, gesturing to the farm. Holding up the dollar bill he says, “This you cannot eat.” Kim Baca is a writer, content creator and creative consultant based in Albuquerque, N.M. She is an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation and part Santa Clara Pueblo.
Mexico Cityâ€™s Chinampas: 700 Years of Feeding the City CONTRIBUTOR
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Less than a mile away from an endless stream of Mexico City traffic, I am at the water’s edge, staring into the face of a grazing dairy cow. In a bright blue boat with a flat bottom, I listen to the chirp of nearby cranes and wave good morning to children being paddled to school in canoes. Like many Mexico City residents, I had only known of the floating fiestas of Xochimilco for its Mariachi bands and Corona beers. Here was another side of those canals, this one quiet except for the buzz of insects. In Mexico’s capital — which has a population of more than 20 million and is notorious for pollution and hyper-urbanization — this rural retreat is the last thing that comes to mind. And yet, Mexico City’s canals have survived almost 700 years and remain one of the city’s few living vestiges of its grand founding. Every empire has a golden era. For the Mexica (known by the Spanish as the Aztecs) and their illustrious capital Tenochtitlan, that cultural apex was around 1450. The Tepenacos had been vanquished, affording the Aztecs control of the Valley of Mexico, and the Spanish had not yet arrived with their muskets and measles. The arts, religion and population all boomed. The lynchpin was one of the world’s most unique agricultural systems, the chinampas, that allowed the Aztecs to not just survive, but thrive, in the Valley of Mexico. The word chinampa comes from the Nahuatl word chinamitl,
meaning a bed or fence of reeds. There is nothing specifically agricultural about its etymology, but its utterance brings to mind islands of upright corn stalks and the fluffy seeds of ahuejote trees drifting across moss-green canals. The chinampas are stretches of land, islands really, built within lakes or rivers. They are constructed by layering piles of vegetation, lake mud and brush until these little islands sit above the water line. Trees, like the ahuejote (a perennial willow native to Mexico), are planted at the edge of these island fields to help them retain their shape and reduce erosion. The first chinampas were only 5 or 6 meters across, meaning that in the dry season canoe was the easiest mode of irrigation. Most of today’s chinampas are at least twice that size. While singular as a farming method, the origins of the chinampa is debated by historians. Some anthropologists believe it was developed first in the Valley of Mexico around 1500 AD, others, that it was brought north by the migration of Mayans from Central America. Whatever the source, this technique helped inhabitants take full advantage of the abundant water and rich biodiversity in the Valley’s ancient five-lake system, and established the foundation of one of the world’s most important ancient civilizations. The first chinampa farms were most likely for subsistence farming. In the valley’s mild climate chinampas can produce harvests up to four or five times a year. They were planted as milpas, an arrangement of nutritionally and environmentally complementary crops that have served as the basis for the Mayan, Aztec and (in part) Mexican diet. In the system, corn and squash grow side by
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side, and the squash’s leaves protect bean plants growing in their shade. Chiles were planted around the outside edge of plots as the first line of defense against insects. Interspersed within were other important herbs and greens like quelites, cilantro, epazote and romeritos. Today’s chinamperos (chinampa farmers) also grow tomatoes, onions, carrots, spinach, lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli, nopales, radishes, beets, zucchini and lots and lots of flowers. Charles Coe, a writer for Garden & Forest wrote in 1895: Even in the ditches or little canals, beautiful Water-lilies often line the way, while many of the plots are one mass of vari-colored flowers… The great variety of shades and the enormous size of many kinds astonish and delight the visitor from more northern latitudes. The Poppies are more attractive than our finest Peonies. Until the 1950s and ’60s, when the last remaining canals that crossed the city were finally drained or covered, goods were transported to the central markets by boat. Flat-bottom boats were loaded down with tons of produce and hundreds of flowers. While one man used a long wooden pole as leverage to pull the boat along the muddy canal bottoms, another used rope to hook onto poles wedged into the shoreline to pull the boat forward. It took hours. “My grandmother used tell me how they would load up the boats around 8pm in order to make it to La Viga [market] by two or three in the morning. They would sell and be home by 10am,” says chinampa farmer Victor Cadena.
Cadena’s family has been farming the chinampas for five or six generations, but he’s the only one left that wants to work the land. At 46, after a long stint in local politics, he decided to go back to the chinampas and reconnect with his family heritage. “I grew up in the chinampas, with my dad, with my grandfather. It’s a very precious place for me. I was fortunate enough during my time in government to continue working in my community. Maybe that’s why I’m so attached it,” he says. Cadena is now growing organic spinach, broccoli and tomatoes, and working on developing a chinampa certification program so that islands’ produce can fetch higher prices in the local market. While he’s thrilled to be back on the land, he admits maintaining the islands is constant work and that he and other farmers face a lot of challenges. A CHAOTIC SYSTEM The chinampas and canals extend over five different Mexico City neighborhoods, each one with its own local government. In addition to being governed by an overarching department in charge of the entire “Heritage Zone” (the chinampas and the town of Xochimilco were designated World Heritage by UNESCO in 1987) above UNESCO are city administrators and federal regulators. There have been many impassioned efforts to preserve this ecosystem, but finding common ground among so many different levels of government from different political parties is a Herculean task. Cadena has seen one administration’s solid conservation
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policies simply abandoned by the next. Bureaucratic inconsistency is just the start. According to Cadena, there are few legal land titles among the chinamperos, making it difficult to organize local farmers and determine the rights and responsibilities of each within the community. Many farmers are uneducated in good agricultural practices, contaminating crops with unhygienic harvesting and transportation methods, or using harmful chemicals that seep into the water. They also suffer at the hands of intermediaries and bristle at good faith conservation efforts of local organizations or governments often enacted without their consultation. In addition, thousands of chinampas have been abandoned because newer generations have little interest in carrying on the rural tradition. Of the over 20,000 chinampas in the zone, only about 3,000 are currently being farmed. “We went to a school to talk to kids about the chinampas and some of the sixth graders didn’t even know what a cow looked like. These are kids from right here in these communities!” says Cadena. Regular city residents aren’t much better. In a documentary about the canals called Yo Soy Xochimilco, downtown residents were asked how the disappearance of the chinampas would affect them. Everyone interviewed responded that it wouldn’t. “If we lose the chinampas, the city will collapse,” says Ricardo Rodriguez who has been working with chinampas farmers for over a decade through his organization De la Chinampa a tu Mesa, “The chinampas are one of the three most important lungs of the capital. They are also the only vestige left of our culinary and agri-
cultural history.” According a report published by UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, each year the chinampas sequester 110 tons of carbon per hectare and without them Mexico City’s average temperature would rise by 2 degrees Celsius. THE BIGGEST THREAT While it’s true that the Spanish took the first steps to drain the lake, preferring to rule New Spain on solid ground, it was with Mexican independence that the canal system began to be radically transformed. Various projects in the mid-1850s were proposed to drain the valley’s lakebed in order to expand the city. During the years of the Porfirio Díaz presidency, the city’s Gran Canal was built with the specific motive of draining the valley, and various rivers were redirected, definitively emptying Lake Chalco forever. In the early and mid-20th century, Mexico City’s booming population and intense rural-to-urban migration required the natural spring water that fed the lakes and the chinampa canals be pumped into the city to serve its newest colonias. The city’s demand for space continues squeeze the chinampas today. When the natural springs of the lakebed dried up, the city began to pump water from a nearby water treatment plant into the canals to sustain their water levels. The treated water is cleaner than some, but not clean enough — especially for watering crops destined for human consumption. What is left of the chinampa farming system is still beautiful, but after years of encroachment from the capital and neglect from its residents, both the water and soil are contaminated.
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The water is rife with heavy metals, harmful pathogens like salmonella and E. coli, and low levels of pesticides like DDT and Endosulfan, according to bioengineer Dr. Refugio Rodriguez and other scientists working in the chinampas. Additional harmful microbes are added to that mix with the runoff of untreated cow manure that many farmers use on their fields. But it’s not completely hopeless. Working in chinampas are people like Dr. Rodriguez, an award-winning scientist who has spent 30 years cleaning up after Mexico’s biggest industrial polluters. She was first engaged by a local nonprofit called Yolcan. Yolcan has been working with chinampa farmers for the last five years to convert island farms to organic agriculture and helped create a demand in the local market that will support paying farmers a fair wage for their produce. The group’s director, Lucio Usobiaga, was worried about the high salinity of the soil in the chinampas and the possibility of contaminants in the ground and water. He read about Dr. Rodriguez’s work and asked her team to come take a look. Using a special compost of citrus rind, Dr. Rodriguez’s team was able to reduce the level of pollutants in the soil by 99% in just a few months and the high levels of salt were almost entirely erased. From there the team started installing biofilters in smaller side canals (called apantles) to provide clean water for irrigation. Again, the results were incredible, with 99.9% of pollutants filtered out. Dr. Rodriguez is now leading a project under Mexico City’s new
government that will install those same types of biofilters across the city’s rivers and streams at points where gray water and industrial waste are illegally dumped into the canal system. “The biggest problem for me is the illegal dumping. I see this is a health issue, even more than an environmental one,” says Dr. Rodriguez, “These pollutants are absorbed into our systems little by little. They won’t affect the first generation maybe, but they will the second and third.” Other groups are working to increase ecotourism in the area and promote awareness of its importance and its threats. Cadena himself is offering boat tours to visit his farm that include a traditional meal made from what he grows on his land. De la Chinampa a tu Mesa, Yolcan and others also offer tours. Yolcan’s work with local chef superstars like Enrique Olvera and Eduardo García has cast the culinary spotlight on what is essential Mexico City’s backyard. A growing global consciousness about eating locally and sustainably means that chefs and restaurants in the area are retraining their eyes toward these nearby farms, and that means the public is too. Today’s chinampas, despite their struggles, are as beautiful as they were 2,000 years ago, a bucolic landscape where the buzz of Latin America’s second largest city is barely audible. Unlike crumbling ruins or a collection of ceramic artifacts in a museum, the chinampas are a living, breathing connection to the city’s past, one that must be protected if it is to survive another 700 years.
Snow Crabs ii CONTRIBUTOR ILLUSTRATION
Omar Tate Alexandra Bowman
With charm ridden white smiles slapped upon our faces We threw on our First Down, wintered jackets Laced our boots and into them Tucked our layers of pants ends Low Into our tallest socks The news told us that there was no school But we didnâ€™t need no news, the windows told us so Swaths of stark white snow blanketed our city scape As far as our eyes could see Tall as us -- yay high Too much for book learnin and the most ever More than any of us had seen in our lifetimes We clamored to the table for breakfast For hot grits and butter We scarfed it down our throats leaving patience behind
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Snow Crabs iii CONTRIBUTOR ILLUSTRATION
Omar Tate Alexandra Bowman
Our garlic was dry, powdered Came in a jar. The top was Green and split -- two sides One for spoonin, one for shakin melted butter and some garlic A bit of salt and maybe Some dried parsley, then Add some lemon juice Some bite We snapped the legs from the body White flesh blooming from the jawn Warm and wanting We dipped the ends into the butter We sucked on the delicious combination Of fat and flesh Savoring each piece as an only A first and a last If it was cooked right You could snap the shell perfectly And the crab came easy Nice, intact and whole Red, pink, orange, and white Soft and sweet and salty We mastered the craft of crab eating The cracking, the pulling, the butter The slurps, pops, smacked Lips, grease, hands, and palms Hunched over, necks down, plates
Farming While Black In Upstate New York, Leah Penniman is reshaping ideas about land stewardship. In this excerpt from her book, Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land, Penniman calls for the decolonization of our relationship with seed and crops. CONTRIBUTOR
Three hundred generations ago, during the hungry moon of a long winter, the people of this land were dropping from starvation. The Haudenosaunee people, original and rightful human stewards of much of the ground that we now call “New York,” had no food to eat. Sky Woman, divine grandmother of the Universe, clothed herself as a beggar and came to the people, palms outstretched in supplication, asking to be fed. The people, generous of heart, cleaned the last seed and chaff from their baskets and fed Sky Woman. So touched by their abundant hearts, and true to the sacred law of reciprocity, Sky Woman honored the people with a gift. She offered to the community her three daughters— corn, beans, and squash—so they would never be hungry again. This small bundle of seeds contained a story of harmony, of three crops in synergy: the beans to grab nitrogen, the corn to grow tall and provide stability, the squash to shade the weeds. These three crops would combine to provide complete nutrition: proteins, starches, fats, and vitamins to the people. Over the next 8,700 years of genetic and cultural stewardship, these crops were named Sustainers of Life and maize herself named Mother of Life. The First Peoples of the West shared their gift with indigenous people across the planet. Maize came to Africa before the Portuguese and spread to all corners of the continent in under 500 years, becoming Africa’s most abundant cereal crop and one honored in sacred ceremony. The First Peoples of the West also freely gave their gift to the white colonizer, who disregarded its sanctity and turned that maize into a weapon against the givers. Maize was appropriated, exploited, commodified. Torn away from her sis-
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ters, beans and squash, maize was forced into a monoculture that would rape the soil of its carbon, driving climate change, driving hurricanes in Puerto Rico, Haiti, and Texas, and wildfires in California. She was distorted into high-fructose corn syrup that was pumped into veins of our people living under food apartheid, driving diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and making it 10 times more likely for Black and Brown people to die from poor diet than from violence. The USDA used her to justify policies of farmworker exploitation, pesticide exposure, child labor, legalized neo-slavery under the guestworker program, exile of Black farmers from 12 million acres of our land, and NAFTA-driven forced migration of Mexican farmers from their homes. They interrupted her lineage with GMO strains replacing native varieties, and terminator seeds blocking new life. Sky Woman weeps with us for the appropriation and distortion of her sacred gift. We ask ourselves what it would mean to decolonize, to re-indigenize our relationship with seed and with crops. In my book, Farming While Black, we strive to honor the Indigenous communities who originated many of the crops we now cherish as Black people. For example, African rice (Oryza glaberrima) was domesticated between 2,000 and 3,500 years ago in West Africa, independently of O. sativa in East Asia. Along the “rice coast” of Senegambia and Guinea, the Wolof, Mandinka, Baga, Mende, and Tenne farmers developed sophisticated technologies for production and processing. The Carolina rice industry was built on the skills of enslaved Africans. These Black American farmers created embankments, sluices, canals, floodgates, and dikes almost identi-
cal to patterns of West African mangrove rice production. Their labor created a planter aristocracy wealthier than any other group in the British colonies. Consequently, the enslavers ramped up the forced importation of African farmers directly from the rice-growing areas of West Africa who possessed knowledge of the cultivation techniques, yet withheld credit or respect for these farmers. Oryza glaberrima, also called Merikin Moruga Hill Rice, was brought to Trinidad by Black soldiers who fought for the British in the War of 1812 in exchange for their freedom. The soldiers were relocated to Trinidad, where they brought their favorite upland cultivars of rice. Gullah chef Benjamin “B. J.” Dennis prepares Moruga Hill Rice with coconut milk, reviving the practice of his forebears. Of the recipe, he says, “It’s up to us to tell our own story correctly. I feel our ancestors actually guide us and ask us to tell the story. And it makes my heart happy, chasing my ancestral roots through food.” Yet Black farmers are rarely credited for their contributions to rice production. The “denial of African accomplishment in rice systems,” as Professor Judith Carney writes in her book Black Rice, “provides a stunning example of how power relations mediate the production of history.” African rice farmers also made profound contributions to the musical and linguistic culture of Black people. Ironically, the song “Amazing Grace” was written by 1700s rice slaver Captain John Newton, who later repented of his participation in slavery and appropriated Senegambian musical style to create this song, which retains centrality in Black communities today.
Be careful where you step. Always be aware. If these bite you, you will die. Words to live by and keep you alive. â€“Origin Foraging in Siwa (pg. 18)
A J O U R N A L O N F O O D O R I G I N S A N D C U LT U R E .