Conscious connections: Felicia Cocotzin Ruiz on food and colonization (plus a Mesquite Pod Atole recipe)

Xica Nation recently had the pleasure of connecting with Felicia Cocotzin Ruiz, a Natural Chef, Massage Therapist, and Traditional Herbalist living in Phoenix, Arizona, to discuss food and  colonization.

Where does your journey into traditional cooking begin?  When did you connect with your calling?

My interest in indigenous/traditional cooking started when I was about 8.  I was in Taos Pueblo (New Mexico) with my family and remember watching a woman prepare piki.  I was absolutely in awe and wanted to know how to make it.  Most of my good food memories stem from our trips back home to visit family in New Mexico.  One of my Aunties had a traditional clay horno, a couple of my Uncles had huge plots of corn and beans, and it is there on family land that I started learning how to wildcraft herbs. So I guess my interest peaked at a young age, and it wasn’t until I was 22 did I start incorporating traditional plants into my massage therapy practice.

Felicia Cocotzin Ruiz

Was there a specific moment when you became conscious of the connections between food choices and colonization?

My mother started college on her 40th birthday, I was in 6th grade.  I have clear memories of that time as our home-cooked meals of beans and mostly vegetables, turned to the S.A.D. diet, as my mom was in school full time and did most of the cooking.  Just a couple of years later, my mother gained a lot of weight, my dad’s cholesterol numbers were horrible, and then my mother became diabetic and developed an auto-immune disease.  Our food was our poison.  In high school I slowly took over the cooking, and with trial and error, I learned how to cook meals for my family, first learning how to make a pot of beans.  By my senior year, I began questioning our food system even more because I saw so many people sick in our family and community.  I remember telling my mother that the artificial sweetener in the pink packets, that she and my dad had switched to, stated right on the package that it caused cancer in rats!  Well my parents now BOTH have leukemia, with my mother’s cancer now in remission, and my dad has since developed diabetes.  We will never know what the exact cause of the cancer was, but for me, their diagnosis was an example of how I did NOT want to eat because I was terrified of getting sick.

Are there any specific problems or barriers you encounter in the communities you work with in regards to promoting/sustaining traditional/decolonial diets?

Support. One of the biggest problems we are lacking within our communities is the support system needed to lift one another up to better health versus shaming them.  I’ve seen or heard people mock, even jokingly, family members or community members, friends and strangers, about eating healthier.  I’ve heard it said that to eat organic, local, healthy foods is a White person’s way of eating.  It’s OUR Original way of eating.  I remind people trying to change their diets to see their value and to find support elsewhere, even if it’s online.

What are some things folks can do to retake power over their health by returning to a traditional diet? Are there some basic steps folks can take to start their own personal journeys on the road to well-being?

When I share knowledge with friends, families, and communities, I stress the importance of making small adjustments in their diets versus making radical changes all at once.  I encourage them to learn how to make a pot of beans, drink more water, and eat at least one salad a day. Retraining your taste buds takes time.  I read somewhere that making a pot of beans was a revolutionary act.  I believe that wholeheartedly.

How can folks connect with you?

People can find me on Facebook, Instagram, or on my website,  I have ongoing classes and events in which I share knowledge on re-Indigenizing our diets to traditional medicine making.

Also see on Y0uTube:  Chef Felicia: For The Next Generation

Upcoming events

Decolonize Your Diet: Plant-Based Mexican-American Recipes for Health and Healing

DYDBookCover2“Plant-Based Mexican-American Recipes for Health and Healing” is the aim of the recently published book, Decolonize Your Diet by Luz Calvo and Catriona Rueda Esquibel.

To visit their website click here: Decolonize Your Diet

Purchase the book by clicking on the image or visiting the following link:


“Cuando brota el embrión del maíz, siento que se prolongan nuestros días, es nuestro corazón que germina y crece, es el pozol, es la tortilla,es el mundo, es la vida.”
(poeta mazateco)

Spirulina: A Mexica Superfood

Reblogged from: Tradiciones Sanas: Ancestral Approaches to Health and Wellness

spirulina-powder[1]“Original people all over the world have harvested and enjoyed algae and sea weed for centuries. Spirulina, making a strong comeback at health food stores in the United States, is one such ingredient. It was once harvested off rocks at Texcoco lake by the Mexica, who called it tecuitlatl or cocolin – Nahuatl for “rock excrement” and “water viscosity,” respectively. It was then prepared into patties, which were sun dried before consumption.

Spirulina contains enormous amounts of beta-carotene, chlorophyll, calcium, iron, protein, and the fatty acid GLA (gamma linolenic acid), among other nutrients. And, due to its cellular structure, its nutrients are very easily digested by the body. For example, some reports estimate the protein digestibility of spiriulina at 85% (compared with about 20% for beef).”

Read more here:

Breastfeeding is Food Sovereignty

Story courtesy of Well Bound Storytellers and Vision Maker Media’s Growing Native blog

breastfeeding food sovereignty

By Ann Seacrest

Years ago I was honored to visit with some of the elders on the Yavapai reservation in Arizona.  I listened to their stories of being taken from their homes as young children, being criticized by their own children who are regaining a sense of their Native ways, and dealing with the challenges of their grandchildren, who are facing a high suicide rate.

Their stories penetrated my heart. Growing up near the Sisseton/Wahpeton Dakota Reservation in South Dakota, I have come to respect Native cultures. I want to help Native mothers who want to breastfeed their babies.

Perhaps MilkWorks can find a way to take inspiration from the Native American Breastfeeding Coalition of Washington and partner with Native women in Nebraska or South Dakota to encourage, support and lend a hand.

A Little History

Breastfeeding is not unique to humans. All 4,000 species of mammals produce milk designed specifically for their infants. The first mammary glands evolved some 160 million years ago to provide nutrients and protective factors.  Human infants have surprisingly few physical abilities in their first six months of life. Yet one of their most vigorous instincts when placed on their mother’s chest – moments after being born – is an ability to lift their heavy head, open their mouth, and latch to their mother’s breast. The dream of every newborn!

Unfortunately, we have done much to interfere with this very natural, but complex, protective process that is designed to ward off illnesses, inhibit inflammation, heal diseases, provide nutrition, promote brain growth, and help a human infant learn how to trust others. What a big order for this substance called mother’s milk!

Mothers make milk because they give birth to a baby. The baby suckles and milk is removed, which makes more milk. When removal stops, the milk goes away.

The World Health Organization recommends that human infants have no other foods or liquids than human milk for the first six months of their lives, with breastfeeding to continue once solids are introduced for at least two years.

Indigenous cultures incorporated feeding at the breast as part of the natural cycle of womanhood.  Babies were born, and they were carried and held close to protect them from wild animals and other dangers. Mothers went about their daily lives with their babies strapped to their bodies –safe and secure.  Breastfeeding for several years played a strong role in spacing pregnancies, protecting the health of both mothers and their babies. Only in very isolated indigenous populations does this practice continue to this day.

From the beginning of life, infant feeding has been influenced by religious, political and economic factors. Historically, if a mother could not feed her own baby, another mother, or a wet nurse, would feed her baby.

Breastfeeding was virtually abandoned in industrialized societies by the 1960s because of multiple, complex factors. Women entered the work force outside the home and were separated from their babies. Mass immigration led to poor living conditions, high maternal death rates and crowded urban environments. Baby doctors took the place of grandmothers in passing down feeding wisdom. The Space Age was fascinated with commercially made food products, and human breasts became part of girlie magazines, isolated from their role as a feeding tool.

Human milk, a complex bodily fluid that evolved over centuries of adaptation to diverse living situations, was replaced by processed cow’s milk, altered to provide necessary nutrients. (It is fascinating to note that about 75% of indigenous people are intolerant to cow’s milk.)

Isolated indigenous populations continued to breastfeed their babies.  But people who were moved to urban areas, such as the Ojibwe in northern Minnesota, or indigenous children that were sent to boarding schools, faced issues that interrupted breastfeeding.

Young girls lost contact with their grandmothers, who taught them the ways of being a woman. Extended families were now isolated in individual homes. Urbanization led to higher rates of poverty and exposure to western diets high in sugars and processed foods.

The exact diseases that breastfeeding helps to prevent – diabetes, obesity, ear and respiratory illnesses, and hypertension – skyrocketed in urban indigenous populations around the world.

When mothers stopped breastfeeding, low income women could not pay for formula.  The federal government stepped in and gave low income women free formula, conveying an attitude that formula must be better than breastfeeding.

Today, breastfeeding rates are highest among well educated, higher income women who are not given free formula and may feel more empowered to make their own decisions about how they feed their babies.

Positive Outcomes

A 2007 meta-analysis of 9,000 research studies conducted by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found that infants who are NOT breastfed have significantly higher rates of acute infections, eczema, asthma, obesity, diabetes, childhood leukemia, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

Mothers who do not breastfeed their children have higher rates of breast and ovarian cancer, as well as an increased incidence of type II diabetes.

Kanesatake, a community in Mohawk territory in Canada, found that only 32% of their babies were breastfeed at birth. (In Nebraska, 80% of all babies are breastfed at birth for some period of time.)

They determined that mothers chose not to breastfed for the same reasons that non-indigenous mothers cited:  sore nipples, uncertainty about their milk supply, returning to work or school, lack of information and a lack of family support.

The community realized that infant feeding behaviors are deeply rooted in a set of cultural values and that interventions needed to reflect their traditions. They hired a grandmother who knew the young mothers and cared for their children.  She provided accurate information about breastfeeding from an oral tradition and gently involved the whole community in supporting breastfeeding mothers.

Breastfeeding rates gradually increased and mothers in this community are now providing support to each other to improve the health status of their babies and their people.

An Ojibwe traditional educator summarized breastfeeding by saying that “Breast milk is a gift and a medicine a mother gives her child.” We know that in order to help all mothers provide this gift and this medicine we need to create a community of support.  Family members, employers and health care providers need to value breastfeeding and provide accurate information and support services that meet the needs of all mothers.

Breastfeeding is real food for babies.  It provides the best nutrition, helps a baby feel safe and secure, costs no money and results in no environmental pollution. The issue is reaching mothers and their support systems to adapt breastfeeding practices and beliefs to women’s lives in the 21st century. A daunting task, but one that is well worth pursuing!

Links with Additional Information:

Editor’s Note: ”Breastfeeding is Food Sovereignty” photo of Camie Jae Goldhammer (Sisseton-Wahpeton), MSW, LICSW, IBCLC courtesy of the Native American Breastfeeding Coalition of Washington. Camie is the founder and chair. You can buy the shirt and other cool items at their store.

Ann Seacrest, BA, BSN, IBCLC, RN is a registered nurse, board certified lactation consultant, mother of four children and the Executive Director of MilkWorks, a non-profit community breastfeeding center in Lincoln, Nebraska. MilkWorks provides a wide range of services for breastfeeding mothers. No mother is denied services based upon ability to pay.

Article forwarded by Anayanse

Seeds of our Ancestors, Seeds of Life

Winona is an internationally renowned activist working on issues of sustainable development, renewable energy and food systems. She lives and works on the White Earth reservation in northern Minnesota. As Program Director of Honor the Earth, she works nationally and internationally on the issues of climate change, renewable energy, and environmental justice with Indigenous communities. In her own community, she is the founder of the White Earth Land Recovery Project, where she works to protect Indigenous plants and heritage foods from patenting and genetic engineering. A graduate of Harvard and Antioch Universities, LaDuke has written extensively on Native American and environmental issues. She is the author of five books, including Recovering the Sacred, All our Relations and a novel, Last Standing Woman

Decolonize Your Diet

Decolonize Your Diet will walk with you as you reclaim your culture by sharing recipes, cooking techniques, and discussions of ingredients. We believe that food is medicine and we share information about the health benefits of ancestral foods, herbs, and teas. We encourage you to talk to your elders, relatives, and traditional healers in your community to learn from their wisdom and knowledge. We honor cultural knowledge by contributing what we know. We encourage you to do the same.”