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.
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, Ruizenplace.com. 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