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Bringing back our food traditions and heritage – Stories from the National Conference for Women in Sustainable Agriculture

One of the workshops I was able to attend at the 4th National Conference for Women in Sustainable Agriculture was “Organizing for Food and Diversity.” The presenters were Jennifer Vazquez and Stephanie Badsoldier Snow from the Meskwaki Food Sovereignty Initiative and Community Farm, Jessica Soulis from the Iowa Food Systems Council, and Laura Kleinman from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture.

This is the story and perspective of the indigenous food movement as seen through the eyes of Stephanie Badsoilder Snow.

Left to right: conference participant, Jennifer Vazquez, Stephanie Badsoldier Snow. Photo courtesy of Meskwaki Food Sovereignty Initiative.

Left to right: conference participant, Jennifer Vazquez, Stephanie Badsoldier Snow.
Photo courtesy of Meskwaki Food Sovereignty Initiative.

Snow described her experiences and knowledge about how access to food has changed over time for the Meskwaki Nation. She explained that “. . . we are part of everything. We are no better than any plant or animal, and thus we have a deep respect for everything that is in the environment.” Her people were created from the red earth, as described in the origin stories. “Physical bodies are actually borrowed and when we pass, we will return to the earth,” she explained. “We want to respect our bodies, too. We don’t want to fill it with overly processed things.”

In the modern-day experience and introduction of a cash economy, people have been taken from a condition of wealth to a condition of poverty. There has been a change in familial wealth, including relationships and community. The condition of wealth was different; it was a holistic sense of wealth. Wealth was created in experiences, in a full life, and was not about whether one had money or not. The views of the ‘outside’ system changed the way people thought about food and how one obtained it. It became, what Snow called, a ‘status marker’, where people thought they were better off if they could just go buy their food rather than growing or hunting it.

With a cash economy, people also developed a disdain for homegrown and hunted foods. However, Snow explained, “We are seeing another shift in terms of our attitude of how we get our food. There is a realization that you can gain something economically by having your garden.”

Photo: Joshua Sales, courtesy of Meskwaki Food Sovereignty Initiative

Photo: Joshua Sales, courtesy of Meskwaki Food Sovereignty Initiative

She strives to help people understand the meaning of terms like ‘organic’ and ‘sustainable’, with the goal of changing the way people think about food quality, health, and traditional foods. She explains that she is thankful to have been raised by her elders because she grew up with the knowledge that food can be medicine. She strives to bring back that knowledge: “Bringing back our traditions and heritage as far as food goes, which is healing.”

“There are four parts in all of us,” she explained, “The physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional. We know that if we are eating good, healthy, clean food, our brains work better. Therefore, our mental and emotional states are better. That is all tied in with our spiritual side. All of these components tie us back to Earth.”

Learn more about the Meskwaki Food Sovereignty Initiative on their Facebook page.