After a worrying history, some tribes finally have the ability to rethink "commodity food" | Folk Food

2021-11-24 05:47:22 By : Ms. Vicky Lin

News and commentary on the U.S. food system.

The Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) of the United States Department of Agriculture is both popular and criticized. Now, the seven tribes have the opportunity to bring more fresh local traditional food to their communities.

Frozen ground beef in the Indian Reserve Food Delivery Program at five Sandoval Indian Pueblos FDPIR warehouses in Benalillo, New Mexico (Photo credit: Andi Murphy)

When every powwow was cancelled in 2020 and the indigenous celebrations moved to a Facebook group called "Social Distance Powwow", Jon Shellenberger noticed a sharp increase in online sales of his T-shirts, which came with lunch Universal black and white labels for meat and peanut butter, concentrated flour and egg mixtures, which once covered canned commercial foods.

People from many different tribes began to share T-shirts. For a while, Yakama artist and archaeologist Shellenberger could not print enough T-shirts.

Jon Shellenberger modeled one of his shirts from Native Anthro. (Photo courtesy of Jon Schellenberg.)

To outsiders, it seems strange to wear this kind of bitterness on the chest. The graphic on the label says "U.S. Department of Agriculture inspected and passed," which is not entirely appetizing. But for those who grew up in commodity foods commonly called "commods" by Native Americans, the nostalgia they evoke made the $20 shirt especially popular.

"[Commodity food] is very close to my heart," Schellenberg said. "They are the cornerstone of native soul food. Our relatives are not always rich, but they make food with love [using commodity food]. I think a lot about our grandmothers, our mothers, and our aunts. In COVID During the period, [commodity food] can resonate more with people because we care more about the people we love than ever before."

This is a point of view. Others see commodity food as part of the long-term legacy of the US government that undermines indigenous food sovereignty. This critical point of view appears in the artist's work in response to indigenous life over the past half century.

"[Commodity foods] are very close to my heart. They are the cornerstone of local soul food. Our relatives are not always rich, but they make food with love (commodity food)."

The work of Muscogee Creek and Citizen Potawatomi artist Daniel McCoy, Jr. has another perspective. In the "Insulin Massacre", he depicted a psychedelic nightmare scene in which candy, junk food, commodity food and syringes revolve around two overweight locals. This is a comment on the addictive nature of highly processed foods in the United States and its impact on Native Americans.

John Hitchcock used a variety of printing methods to layer toy Indians, targets, and war equipment on the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) label, which has been edited as "Crusade", "Terminal" and "Progress" ". In these prints, the Comanche and Kiowa artist questioned the quality of commercial food after losing their grandparents to cancer.

"I ate that kind of food when I was a kid," Hitchcock said. "The saturated fat content of the food itself was very high at that time, which has a great impact on our health problems today."

Screen print of John Hitchcock. Left: "Pork" (2003), published by Hybridpress. Right: "Cash Cow" (2004) published by Egress Press, University of Edinburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo courtesy of John Hitchcock)

Commodity food comes from an Indian Reserve Food Distribution Program (FDPIR) of the United States Department of Agriculture. Their legacy includes government control, poverty and health disparities, as well as creativity and local resilience.

Now, the FDPIR program is undergoing an important transformation. In recent years, the tribe has acquired a wider variety of fresh food—far beyond the limited amount of commodity food on Schellenberg's T-shirts. A small number of tribes have recently been authorized to control the food provided through the program and the people who produce it because they are committed to achieving the food sovereignty of the community.

Commodity food and FDPIR are often seen as the latest manifestations of the violent and unequal historical relationship between tribes and the federal government.

The program started in the 1970s and has no clear connection with the notorious rations provided by the government to the tribes because they forced the tribes into designated areas-usually far away from home and unpopular land-and deprived them of their traditional hunting life Ways, gatherings, eating. The rations include ingredients such as flour, beef, coffee and sugar that are unfamiliar to the tribal people. Some food was rotten and moldy when it arrived. Many indigenous people suffer from malnutrition, disease and hunger.

Commodity food and FDPIR are often seen as the latest manifestations of the violent and unequal historical relationship between tribes and the federal government.

On the other hand, the FDPIR program was launched when the Food Stamps Act was authorized. This provides an alternative to the food stamp program for indigenous people living on rural reservations, which requires participants to shop in a grocery store, which requires a full day of travel to get in.

Today, more than 25% of Native Americans receive some type of federal food assistance, and FDPIR serves 276 tribes across the country. In 2019, more than 83,000 people participated in the program at a cost of US$153 million. In the past four and a half years, the type and quality of food provided through the program has fundamentally changed.

"Decades ago, that open food market was not that strong," said James Abraham, director of the community nutrition program at the Southwest Regional Office of the Food and Nutrition Service of the United States Department of Agriculture. "As a result, we had to sign contracts with third-party buyers who almost exclusively purchased and packaged for the USDA."

Abraham said that if the owner of a small canning company hears that the USDA intends to buy tons of canned carrots and peas, the boss will reach an agreement with the USDA and complete the order.

As the U.S. food market becomes stronger, and there are industrial powers on both sides of the market, the food available to the U.S. Department of Agriculture has also changed. Abraham added that in recent years, FDPIR users have been able to use more types and brands of food.

This shift is evident in the five Sandoval Indian Pueblos food distribution programs in Benalillo, New Mexico. The warehouse looks like a grocery store, with a shopping cart and two cash registers at the door, as well as a range of fresh, canned and shelf-stable foods.

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In the 1990s, warehouse manager Mark Sequist said that everything in the store was canned, except for cheese and butter, which were frozen. "All our meats are canned, all our juices are canned. We didn't receive any fresh produce or anything like that at that time," he recalled. "Now we have frozen meat, such as roast beef, a pound of burgers, a pound of bison, pork chops, whole chickens, chicken breasts."

Sequist spends a lot of time storing fresh produce such as broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, lemons, grapefruits and grapes in large refrigerators.

Sequist supported the refrigerator door with his body and opened a one-foot-long rectangular cardboard box containing a piece of golden American cheese. This thing is legendary among Native Americans. It is not like any American cheese sold in a grocery store. It is also not like Velveeta. It's just different. It melts easily and adds saltiness to tacos and sandwiches.

Stop "commodity cheese" in the food distribution plan in the Indian reserve of five Sandoval Indian Pueblos FDPIR warehouses. (Photo credit: Andy Murphy)

Sequist shared his own nostalgia. "This is one thing we've been looking forward to making; beans, green peppers and tortillas [with cheese]. When my grandma was cooking nearby, one of the good things she often made was that she would be like a tortilla Same as using commercial cheese in tortillas... You can’t beat it.”

Although the cheese remained the same, as the tribe grew, the plan changed more.

Historically, the U.S. Department of Agriculture selected and purchased food and transported it to a warehouse operated by the tribe. The tribe has no control over what is available or where it comes from.

This situation began to change in 1989 with the establishment of the National Indian Reservations Food Distribution Program Association (NAFDPIR), which was composed of a group of tribal representatives who acted as advisors and advocates for the tribe, enabling them to allow the Federation to control People hear their voices. The program.

"The organization was established to strengthen the community between FNS (food and nutrition services) at the national, regional and tribal levels," said Mary Greene-Trottier, NAFDPIR chairman and member of the Spirit Lake Country. North Dakota.

Greene-Trottier says it all started in 1996 with the purchase of ground bison for the tribes in Dakota and the western hills. "That was an award program. But fresh produce is an overall goal. It's like,'Why can't we eat fresh food?'"

After that pilot, and after cooperative efforts between tribal organizations operating food warehouses, the plan began to change in important ways. Now, Greene-Trottier and some tribes are exercising more control over the plan. This was achieved through the Indian Self-Determination and Educational Assistance Act of 1975 (also known as Public Law 93-638 or "638" for short), which is a parliamentary bill authorizing federally recognized tribes to provide government for their own communities service.

These community services (medical, education, and some basic community services) are promised to the tribe through federal fiduciary responsibility. This is a policy developed from the relationship between the government and the tribe for more than a century. The government agrees to protect the sovereignty and autonomy of the tribe. It was awarded in exchange for millions of acres of tribal land or signed in a treaty.

Five fresh fruits and vegetables in the refrigerator in the FDPIR warehouse in Sandoval Indian Pueblo. (Photo credit: Andy Murphy)

The community has used the 638 authorization to replace government services in a variety of ways. For example, the Touba City Health Care Company and the Santa Fe Indian School are operated and funded through contracts by the Indian Health Service and the Indian Education Bureau, respectively. In addition, many tribal police departments operate on the basis of 638 and have signed contracts with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to carry out daily police work in the Indian country. But it has never been used for food production until now: a new part written into the 2018 Farm Bill established a demonstration project and $3 million for tribes to manage and purchase food for their own communities through FDPIR.

"For the Food Program (FDPIR), the tribe received 638 authorization for the first time," said Irene Parker, director of the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative at the University of Arkansas School of Law.

Parker sees this transition as an unprecedented recognition of tribal sovereignty. "This is a strong congressional recognition of the tribes who feed themselves as we have done for hundreds of years. The road is really long."

Eight FDPIR tribes were awarded 638 contracts in a $3.5 million self-determination demonstration project, including the Oneida Nation/Menominee Indian tribe in Wisconsin, the Lake Superior Chibi Belt in Wisconsin, and the Chibi from Little Traverse Bay. Indian tribes of Wisconsin. The Lumi Nation in Michigan, Washington State, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Alliance (ANTHC) in Alaska, the Chickso Nation in Oklahoma, and the Choctaw Indian Mississippi Tribe in Mississippi.

The contract not only enables the tribe to choose and buy their own food, but they can now purchase food from local and tribal-owned food companies. The initial contract is expected to last for three years.

In the US Department of Agriculture’s press release, Stacy Dean, Deputy Undersecretary of Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, said: “The US Department of Agriculture is fully committed to supporting the restoration of indigenous foods, enhancing the capabilities of indigenous agricultural economies, and improving traditional foods. Indigenous health. This FDPIR demonstration project is an important part of this work. We are seizing this opportunity to make long-term improvements to FDPIR by learning more about the nutritional needs and preferences of tribal communities."

"What better way to help our own communities [than] buy and source fresh and local. There is nothing fresher than [tribal-produced] their own food."

She said that Parker’s group, the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative, and other advocacy organizations such as NAFDPIR, the Indigenous Food and Nutrition Resources Alliance, and the Inter-Tribal Agriculture Committee are looking for more opportunities for tribes and FDPIR in the 2023 Farm Bill.

"What better way to help our own community [than] buy and source fresh and local things," Mary Green Trottier said. "There is nothing fresher than [tribal production] their own food."

Ultimately, these changes to FDPIR may change the perception of some of the leading voices and activists in the Native American food movement, who have often criticized and demonized the program in the past.

According to the 2017 U.S. Census American Community Survey, nearly 27% of Native Americans live in poverty. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's own mapping and research, most of the Indian country is located in areas that have been identified as "food deserts." In some of the most remote rural areas of Indian reservations, some people do not have running water or electricity, so they need to store canned food.

John Hitchcock, Crusades, screen print 15"x20" (2003). Published by Hybridpress. (Photo courtesy of John Hitchcock)

For these reasons, Greene-Trottier says that she is always careful to ensure that she does not humiliate anyone's access to food, even if she tries to change the food itself. "I was taught to never make fun of other people's food," she said. "Using it as a platform is an insult to our tribal community."

The artist John Hitchcock had a similar moment of reflection. In a recent conversation with an art museum visitor, he was angrily asked why he chose to use commodity food labels to symbolize fear and panic. As he began to explain, the visitor interrupted that he and his family were still eating these foods and were dependent on the procedure.

"It reminds me of the real situation," Hitchcock said. After a pause, he added, "I still have my grandmother's merchandise recipe [from the Comanche tribe]." With a smile in his voice, he added, "These things are greasy because she always It’s next to the stove."

Andi Murphy is Civil Eats’ 2021-22 Indigenous Food Researcher; she is a multimedia journalist and the creator, host and producer of the award-winning Toasted Sister Podcast, which is about indigenous food Show. Read more>

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