I remember it vividly - I was at an urban farm work party and a young white woman had gathered the group into a closing circle. She explained: "We are going to do the unity clap, a tradition from the United Farmworkers. It's called "isang bagsak."
The phase translates into Tagalog as "one down." Essentially, "If one falls, we all fall." I had done this in Filipino cultural spaces before, yet it was a first to share with a group of white folks and a smattering of people of color. Together, we did the resounding clap, closing off with the woman's call of "isang bagsak!" Speaking with her after, however, I was dismayed that she was unaware of "isang bagsak's" origins. While she associated the practice with the UFW, she didn't associate the UFW with Filipinos. It was a quiet erasure.
Today is March 31, Cesar Chavez Day. Today is needed. It's not often enough that people of color - or labor unions or farmworkers - get a commemorative holiday, a biopic, a stamp. These stories need to be honored in ways big and small. It is right to celebrate and re-center farmworkers' struggles in the public eye.
Yet there is a missing piece in the popular narratives of Cesar Chavez. Although portrayed as a Chicano-only organization, the UFW was cofounded by Chicanos and Filipinos who chose to join forces despite the divisive tactics imposed by growers. This was a powerful choice. It gave rise to a multiethnic, intergenerational movement.
In "Not Just Sour Grapes," brilliant friend and writer Jen Soriano broke down just how the promising 'Cesar Chavez' biopic failed to represent historic alliances between Filipino and Mexican farmworkers. Her article (read it!) included a simplified timeline. Among the key points:
I grew up not knowing any of these three points, and only learned about Philip Vera Cruz, Larry Itliong, and more as an adult. We have a stake in the way these stories are told. We need more stories that break stereotypes of "apolitical Asians" and remind us that our elders were organizers, allies, and conspirators. Filipino farmworkers - along with other disenfranchised groups - put their bodies on the line for what they believed in. They were not bystanders to history.
To widen the spotlight is not to detract from Chavez's legacy. Instead, it reminds us that movements are made of people, and that when communities unite, they can build change.
I believe life can give second chances. I'll take mine in the form of two New Years.
The first day of 2015 really did feel like an initiation: back on the Big Island, I stood with my feet in the Pacific beside to two wildly wonderful women friends. That elusive feeling of "home" washed right through me, familiar as the salty current. With my feet now back on land, I'm preparing to welcome in New Year's #2, the year of the goat (or, as that four-legged caprine is called in the Philippines and Malaysia and Indonesia, the kambing).
Still, there is a past year to recap, much like years in review for 2013 and 2012. Life has channeled my energy away from posting this past year. Both this blog and my backyard garden are quiet and somewhat overgrown. But it feels good knowing there is this a place to return to once the season shifts.
2014 was a different kind of year. It was hotter, drier, and more turbulent than before. It peeled back the connections of food, climate, and the survival of our communities, and especially in vulnerable places like the Philippines. I was proud to step forward with the Filipino/American Coalition for Environmental Solidarity (FACES) as they joined with the growing and global climate justice movement.
2014 also was full of a rediscovery of Filipino foods, arts, and culture. I worked with an amazing team to put "public health" and "popup" in the same sentence, using a themed popup dining series called Sariwa! (Fresh) to connect Filipino foods and health (see: coverage in UC Berkeley's Eat.Think.Design and KPFA's APEX Express special).
2014 showed me just how our community is vibrantly exploring who and what we love, from Kommunity Kulintang's Manilatown series to the Filipino Food Movement's Filipino Foods festival in San Francisco. We are also building for the next generation, as I learned while cooking binatog with the amazing youth and families of the rising family cooperative Sama Sama.
It's impossible to encounter a field of chilies without picking some.
2014 was also full of colorful, vivid moments that will linger. Those moments of gleaning chili peppers with friends and harvesting olives brought a kind of elusive, focused peace that can be hard to come by in the city.
When harvesting olives, be sure to carry a big stick and bring lots of friends.
And so what's ahead for 2015? I'm happy to share some new projects- I'm stepping in as the new Food+Agriculture co-editor for Hyphen Magazine. Perhaps the biggest personal milestone to come is finishing up the final stretch of a Master's in Public Health Nutrition at UC Berkeley, where I've been intent on learning how to better link traditional foodways and food knowledge to the field of public health.
I hope I can channel lots of kambing energy to tackle the year ahead. I remember from my one season living with dairy goats, just how they are born ready to run, even on that first day. They are intelligent and stubborn and hardheaded. Their voices are impossible to ignore. They can and will eat almost anything, whether poison oak, or the finest fall apples.
2015 promises to a big, bright year. I'll take all the sassy, stubborn, and steadfast kambing energy I can get.
- Doreen Fernandez, in "Why Sinigang"?
Last week marked National Food Day, an event to "bring Americans together to celebrate and enjoy real food and to push for improved food policies." This is a good day, but it is also a stark reminder that I live in a nation that spawned industrial agriculture, hundreds of food magazines, celebrity chefs, cronuts, series like Cupcake Wars, yet where we rarely lift the curtain to the realities of food.
Today has me reflecting on how language is a funny thing. Not so long ago phrases like "farm-to-table" didn't exist. The ubiquitous "foodie" wasn't a thing, and neither was the somewhat smug "clean eating." Before the rise of conventional agriculture and processed foods, foods were simply all those things, and more.
Food that is based on the seasons, land and place is traditional as can be. Yet using these new-yet-old labels often don't feel like the right fit when I want to talk about Filipino American foods. And why is that? Is it because what many now think is a "traditional" Filipino diet doesn't fit the profile - heavy on the meats, or with processed goods introduced by the American colonial period? Is it because vegetable-based dishes shouldn't sound like "alternatives" instead of, well, their own thing? What is a "foodie" about? In a time when hunger and inequity exist side-by-side with excess, is there a way to still celebrate pleasure?
I'm reminded of a conversation earlier this fall. In preparation for a culinary demo at Savor Filipino, I went out hunting for bittermelon and chilies at the Old Oakland farmer's market. That market feels like home. There you can find late peaches, grapes, and onions alongside produce that often cannot enter mainstream groceries but are staples in their own right: bulbous bittermelons, sweetish jujubes, dusky kabocha, and winged beans. Farm-to-table is the obvious destination for these foods. Of course these came from a farm somewhere. Of course this would make its way to a table, right?
On the way, I told my friend about the Filipino food demo I was planning for the event. Although I had some mixed feelings about the "farm-to-table" label, my chef co-presenter Dominic Ainza and I decided to use it anyway. We wanted to use it as an opportunity - not to bandwagon onto a trend but to reframe ancestral ways of eating as already in line with "new" food concepts.
She was thoughtful. "When I think of farm to table," my friend said, "Right away I think expensive. I think of trendy and costly, going out. I wouldn't think of home cooks and or of gardeners, but yeah, that's what it's about."
Dominic Ainza and I at "The Cook and Gardener" food demo
Living in the Bay Area, I've found that many people's first association with sustainable foods is tagged to high profile names like Michael Pollan or Alice Waters, and celebrated and costly restaurants. We rarely hear or see the workers of color whose intimate work make this a reality - in the fields, casting fishing line, and behind the kitchen door. Farm-to-table isn't much used to describe "ethnic" cuisine - unless, perhaps, it is turned into "upscale fusion" or taken out of context (see: $18 foie grass sunchoke tacos at __fill in blank__ new downtown joint).
Within the growing Filipino foods scene, I've sometimes heard our foods described as "fusion" when they include a locally grown or organic ingredient. I was struck that "antibiotic-free chicken adobo" was described as "innovated" for being antibiotic-free. Organic soy sauce was the "twist." I get it - sometimes we may need to point out intentional purchasing choices in order to lift them up. Sometimes, many times, it does cost more. There is also a pressure to use the buzzwords of the moment. Yet how is it that processed or chemically laden foods are now the invisible default, when they are the things our ancestors would recognize?
Before, we didn't need words like foodie, farm-to-table, fair food, clean or organic. If we could create our own language for how Filipino Americans relate to food today, I wonder what words we would use instead.
Even with my rudimentary grasp of Filipino languages, I've found that they mirror deep relationships to food. A rainbow of words are linked to shades of ripeness, sourness, softness, or tastiness. Linamnam. Masarap. Mapait. Maalat. Matamis. There are names for the distinct stages at which to use a coconut, beginning from translucent baby flesh and ending with dried husk. Rice cultivars were grown from darkest purple to shell white, their biodiversity rivaling corn in the Americas and potatoes in Peru. Our place names mirror seasons and the harvest. I always circle back to this memory, that my mother is from Pangasinan - literally, "the land of salt."
These edible words are reminders that food is at the soul of Filipino culture, and that within this original knowledge, land and tradition meet. They may not be new or trendy, but they are reminders of what once was and what can be.
| | | | | |
I've been away for awhile. Even my mom noticed. She asked me to post an article so she can read something new. The last time I wrote was in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. It was back when this goldenrod squash plant was just a seed, dry and still in its paper packet. By now the aftermath has turned into recovery efforts and bracing for the future storms. The seeds are turned to golden squash, ripening towards a future harvest. Life continues. Yet where, exactly, did the time go?
The best kick in the pants came in the form of a call from an Al-Jazeera America reporter just after my birthday. She somehow found this blog and requested an interview to talk about the rise of minorities and women in farming. I had plenty to say...but felt, somehow, embarrassed and inappropriate, even. What could I say? Thanks for finding my blog...which has lain fallow for 6 months? Thanks for asking, but I'm the wrong person? I don't have a lease to show, my soul thirsts in the city, and yes, I need a better game plan because my nails are now (disturbingly) dirt-free? How do you explain what it means to not fall asleep in that same wonderful tired way at night?
So I talked about the drought, of folks' of color and complex ancestral ties to agriculture, and the stark financial reality of business. Those are all real, formidable, even respectable barriers. The media may have us fall in love with alluring stories of the next generation of farmers. Yet old and young alike also struggle to stay afloat while facing big, deep problems that are changing the world for all of us (climate change! drought!). We see a rennaissance in food education, yet long-standing garden programs are also chopped by school districts.
Some bright young things go off to Silicon Valley to build (often useless) apps and make 6-figure salaries, while other bright young things go off to other valleys to build soil yet in the end, may be unable to sustain themselves or the labor of love they poured sweat into. Life, it turns out, is beautiful. It also isn't fair.
There are real barriers to a life of the soil. Yet...the traces of cynicism in my voice scared me. It sounded like a cover to not fully try and perhaps fail gloriously. Age has tempered idealism. At 30, I am not who I was at 23 or 27. I am more in the material and pragmatic realm. This past year I've been amazed at the imperfect blessing of health and dental coverage. I don't wash my laundry in a bucket and hang it to dry on trees anymore. I floss regularly. I have a closet that holds several pieces of "work clothes" that you can't do real work in. I am lucky. And now I am doing a truly detestable MIllenial thing, humble-bragging or whatever on social media.
The reporter was kind yet relentless. She asked what the dream would look like, and how much it would really cost to get there. She told me that the 30's are the best yet (I said "thank you"). And she asked what was keeping me from a life that included farming. By this point I decided she was not a real reporter at all, and instead must be some ordained voice from the Universe, asking the unsightly but real questions we hide from ourselves like dirty socks under the bed.
So what's a 30-year-old to do? Hopefully, something like the picture above. It was taken in 2011 while I was in training as an apprentice at the Santa Cruz CASFS Farm and Garden program. Nearly every morning, before breakfast, I would awaken early, journal, and stalk beautiful things in the garden.
I still remember this little bee. Heavy, wings and fuzzy body covered with liquid, it clambered slowly over a leafy landscape. Although temporarily unable to fly, it was still intent on getting wherever it was that it needed to go, albeit at a slower pace.
There are no words to comprehend the scale of devastation. Feeling helpless, my housemate and I scanned through the BBC, CNN and Philippines news stations, watching concrete and steel buildings flattened by wind, waters engulfing farmland and roads. We watched the rising toll of the missing and the dead. Everyone we knew with loved ones in the islands waited with a lump in their throats, reaching out through Skype, email, Facebook, text and even Twitter for status updates.
Haiyan, known in the Philippines as Yolanda, is the worst typhoon in recorded history. Our generation is witness. Although storms happen every year in places like the Philippines, they are getting worse, signaling our new climate reality. Perhaps it's sadly fitting that the typhoon ends at the start of U.N. climate talks. Philippine delegates are bringing their heartfelt urgency to one of the most promising - and failed - international processes to curb global greenhouse levels.
"What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness,” said Naderev “Yeb” Saño, lead negotiator for the Philippines at the climate talks. “The climate crisis is madness. We can stop this madness. Right here in Warsaw. Typhoons such as Haiyan and its impacts represent a sobering reminder to the international community that we cannot afford to procrastinate on climate action.”
Through all the madness I have taken slivers of hope at how people are expressing care, concern, and prayers. In times of crisis, we recognize that deep sense of responsibility to one another.
As groups organize ways to address the deeper issues resulting in tragedies like Typhoon Haiyan, this is a time to make our dollars count for immediate support. Below is a (non-comprehensive) list compiled through various community members in the SF Bay Area. I personally prefer to send support through grassroots organizations and I urge you to do your own research. I've also summarized a message from a friend and colleague, Lloyd Nadal, that was on point:
2) Be compassionate about what's happening. Remember that many are still waiting to hear from loved ones.
3) Learn why this was the largest typhoon in history.
Ways to Send Support
Akbayan Call for Donations, Medical Volunteers https://akbayan.org.ph/news/371-a-call-for-donations-and-volunteers-to-help-the-victims-of-typhoon-yolanda
Ayala Foundation, Laging Handa Fund http://feedthehungryphil.org/ayala-foundation-inc/
California Nurses Association. RNRN's goal is to send teams that can respond effectively to problems of dehydration, sepsis, a lack of access to clean water and lapses or lack of proper medication due to the storm. http://www.nationalnursesunited.org/blog/entry/national-nurses-mobilize-for-philippines-relief-effort/
Catholic Relief Services is accepting donations online.
De La Salle University - Disaster Management Response Program http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/philippines-disaster-response/
Gawad Kalinga http://www.gk1world.com/ArticleViewer.aspx?ID=61578
NAFCON w/ Visayas Primary Healthcare Services http://nafconusa.org/programs/
Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) explains on its website that it has emergency teams in Cebu.
TIGRA - Transnational Institute for Grassroots Research and Action. Relief and resilience efforts, https://www.causes.com/v2actions/1763233-donate-to-tigra-transnational-institute-forgrassroots-research-and-action
Unicef is accepting donations online as part of an emergency appeal.
West Bay Pilipino Multi-Service Center will open its doors starting today at noon as a drop off point for anyone interested in donating food and medicine, www.westbaycenter.org
Bay Area Filipino/Americans on relief efforts, KQED: http://www.kqed.org/radio/listen/
FACES on climate justice, resiliency and relief: http://hosted.verticalresponse.com/513921/55feb49310/1583503680/a56f41e556/
Sadness is the salt that gives happiness its taste. - Mahmoud Emam
Salt happens. It pervades our waters and diet and bodies. It flavors our language: Taken with a grain of salt. Salt of the earth. Worth your salt. Don't spill the salt. Salt brings life to food, heals wounds and relieves sore throats. It transforms the harvest into pickles and salmon into sweet jerky. It even sees us to the end of life - salt embalms the dead. What is it about salt that is both poetic and common?
There's an easy-to-miss turnoff on the Hwy 1 that blurs into forest and becomes a trail beside the sea. This place possesses a vast and lonely beauty. Nothing about it soothes the senses or offers comfort or softness, yet somehow that coast and its nameless waves restore the spirit. Hope glimmers there like salt caught in the rocks.
The first pilgrimage - each time is a pilgrimage, never just a trip - was on a chicken-skin-raising, windy winter afternoon. I went with a dear friend who knew that place and also knew, intuitively, that harvesting salt and seaweed could help to heal and gather the spirit. We drove seven hours that day to share just four hours on the rocks, but it was enough. The second was in June, when I brought my parents visiting from the Philippines. Their hair tossed by the wind, they bravely and half-reluctantly followed the winding trail as I insisted we keep going, to find one bright seam of salt we could symbolically gather from together. My mother's province is Pangasinan, which literally translates to "The Land of Salt" (asin means salt). We were cold and tired, yet I felt half-superstitious this trip could strengthen the wavering bridge linking our two worlds.
The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears, or the sea. - Isak Dinesen
Just before the fall solstice, I returned to the point once more in search of the small pools we had spotted in the spring. After a long sunny summer, the pools were now thickened and crystallized, the surface cloudy and still. We fell into a quiet meditation, wielding dinner spoons to separate flakes from water and scrape crystals from sandstone. Curious, I dipped a finger into the water and tasted it. It was nearly unbearable, an entire ocean concentrated into a brine that brought tears to my eyes.
The bag of salt from that day still sits in my kitchen, untouched. Next to it rests a pouch of red clay sea salt I've carried for years from the Big Island, and a large-grained salt from Pangasinan. I tell myself these are to be used for guests, for celebration or for gifts. While our household liberally uses boxes of store bought Kosher or sea salt, I hoard these talismans, these traces of another place and shared moments under the sun.
Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all. - Nelson Mandela
My promised land is not one of milk and honey, but of salt. It is the substance of my mother's home province, and a point off the map on Hwy 1 where I remembered how to come alive. In some inexplicable way, this last pilgrimage also helped to recover my creative salt. It reminded me I am worth my salt only when I return to things that refuse to be abandoned, to heed an inevitable pull to the kitchen and the blank pages of my journal.
We write, cook and salt to affirm a place in the universe. Our lives can be scrawled or simmered, set in loaves or stanzas, recipe or verse. They sing the same words in different languages: I am here, I am here.
Happy Filipino American History Month!
I spent the past weekend up north with Movement Generation's ecological leadership retreat. I am still taking in the depth and breadth of that space, the people, and unexpected places that the gathering awakened (and recreating the delicious recipes...). One afternoon by the freshwater pond, we were asked to reflect on right relationship - our relationship to the future, as ancestors in a time of ecological crisis. My reflection came as a letter:
I am waiting for this pen to move, to be stirred by imagination. But I am having a hard time. I can barely imagine my own unborn children, or what the future will look like in 10 years, let alone your face. Yet somehow I believe I will meet you and learn from you as my teacher, in the next world.
Someone once told me of another way to understand DNA - as descendants now ancestors. Strands of me will live through you. They are waiting to be born. Right now my grandmothers write this letter to our future through my hands.
Our people have this word: balikbayan. It's used to describe Filipinos visiting the homeland, and as a brand name for those cardboard care packages sent to the Philippines. What it really means, though, is to return to the land. To homeland, because land is home.
My generation's story will sound like a fairytale to you. We have realized that we have been away from home for too long. This distancing came with a price. We have become sick - homesick. Its an illness that spans hundreds of years.
Our homesickness touches everything - the air, water, plants, animals, and soils.
But instead of naming the disease, many of us were told we had to create new diseases to cure the old ones. The cures would be expensive. They could cost us everything. Sometimes we were told it was our fault if we were sick, and that we deserved it. Worst of all, sometimes we became used to this terrible disease.
In this generation, we each had to become more than we already are - which is what we already are. We had to become doctors without going to medical school, learning new ways to heal. We had to become midwives, attending to the birth of a new world out of the old one.
Granddaughter, for some reason I am certain of you. When I remember you, you give life its compass, a throughline within uncertain waters. I know you will survive because my own ancestors survived. Through 500 years of colonization. Through enslavement and cultural erasure, through forced migration and assimilation.
If my only ability in our age of extinctions is to relearn being balikbayan, I've fulfilled a responsibility passed on from the past. We are here to renew life. In a changing world, we must use our remembering as a weapon and a salve.
Granddaughter, I hope we will meet soon.
"So, where is your farm?" I am sometimes asked. "I don't have one," I reply.
At times the response is simply, "Oh." Or, "Why don't you get one yet?" Or, especially if the questioning is from relatives, "Then why did you spend all that time doing that organic farming thing?" which I translate as, why didn't you do something sensible with your time...but at least now you're back from gallivanting.
I get where the questioning comes from. But I also get it when I catch a wistful tone from those who share half-whispered dreams. Of being unsure how they got to where they are now, of feeling misplaced, of questioning their current job or city or town. Of not being 100% sure what that change would look like, but knowing there's this thing nibbling at the corners, and it isn't satisfied with crumbs.
A hunger for connection is a powerful motivating force. For me, two seasons of farming were driven by an early calling since childhood, a desire to physically practice reverence, and to learn the basics of what ancestors up until two generations ago knew how to do. It opened up new goals, while closing off other possibilities.
In my current reality, at times I feel a tension bordering on sadness. My rural soul half-hungers in this beautiful city, so alive with stories and sound yet where green life must find its way pushing up through sidewalks, on rooftops and inside planter beds.
When I am quiet enough to listen, though, lessons from the farm are still there to be harvested. And I'm using them to help through tumult - that period of necessary growth between 27-30 commonly known as Saturn's Return:
Lesson: Break Open. The tiniest seed has the potential for tremendous growth. It requires breaking the shell and leaving behind smallness. Reaching true adulthood is not the smooth journey I thought it would be, just as germination isn't the end of ever-accelerating change. The next step is to harden off and to leave the greenhouse for good. It means planting roots into the harsh reality of the field, and to endure and grow through the forces of wind, air, rain, pests, disease, and blazing sunlight.
Lesson: Plan for Harvest. Plans inevitably change and adapt, but there is no harvest without a plan. Plan well, like your hunger depends on. Feed it unrelenting care and persistence. Take stock, get real with what is and isn't possible, and wipe the slate clean of crops that didn't give a good past yield, even if they were a pretty idea at the time.
Lesson: Face the Broken Places. These past two years have surfaced the uglies and the neglected places. Its lifted the curtain on obsolete habits, on the rusted and decayed things no one else can move out. While some things can be appreciated or even repurposed, for most its time to thank them for past use...and then take them out for recycling.
Lesson: Make and Take Your Own Medicine. Plant medicine is labor intensive. It takes growing the plant, followed by multiple steps of harvesting, processing, straining, and jarring. Shortcuts fool no one and lead to a lesser product. If Saturn's Return is about taking stock of what hurts and is in need of healing, its also realizing there's no doctor, pharmacist or medicine in the house, simply yourself.
Lesson: Flock. Exposing your foundation to all the elements can be lonesome. It has to be. But there is still a need to pause for warmth and companionship, even if its not romantic partnership. I have leaned so much on others in this phase, and especially on those who have survived the arc of their Saturn's Return into stronger, surer and brighter versions of themselves.
I used to think Saturn's Return was woo-woo crap, but now that I'm in the thick of it, I can't stop talking about it. Natural cycles are the greatest teacher. There, we see constant change, see maturation, decline, and decay. We are a part of these cycles, and the small wrinkles that begin around our eyes, or the gray hairs that creep in, are only small external signs of vast, internal changes. I didn't even go into the many other farm metaphors, whether pruning (prioritizing), composting (death and transformation), or pest management (enough said).
Looking back at my first season, its no coincidence that many of the women were also between 26-31. These women weren't drifters - they came with a deep sense of purpose and questioning, some looking to make lasting change in their life trajectories, others to add on skills to heal their communities. All had put the pause on commitments - on jobs in nonprofits, as teachers, therapists, fundraisers, gardeners, in roles as partners, caregivers and mothers. Long-term relationships ended or were tested. While some are now working on farms or food justice related work, others have integrated the season in profound ways, gone on to school or to earlier work with a different reference point.
There's lots of info about Saturn's Return out there, some better than others, and so I'm not including any here. The curious can simply Google and click away. Or better yet: why not ask folks where they were in that period between 27-30?
I am lucky to have come of age where "local" was a way of life. In Hawai'i, ʻāina is land. Nurturing the land is to mālama ʻāina. I remember those who continued traditional practices - from pounding poi, to gathering limu, to fishing - as practicing daily acts of resistance. It seemed to challenge the privatization of land, the toxic industries destroying aquifers, the influx of imported foods. Witnessing the struggles of people in their own homeland humbled and inspired me to understand my Filipino roots. I wondered, what is our way to mālama ʻāina? What is that relationship when in another's homeland?
So when I heard of Gigi Miranda's workshops on healing through food and land-based practice, I couldn't wait to hear more. Based in O'ahu, this Pinay sister generously shared stories from her path and on choosing to go "ʻāinatarian" (note: coined by Faith Pascua, a young Ilokana poet/student and her ipo (sweetheart) Noa Helelā, a young Kānaka Maoli poet/student).
KK: What inspired you to connect to food and healing? Do you relate your Pin@y roots to your food work and if so, how?
GM: Itʻs who I am, how I was raised and how I live. I reconnected to my roots and continued my ancestral traditions. Seeing my father die at 59 years old from heart disease, diabetes and a host of other conditions as well as my own healing journey, it was not only food but a healing from the disconnection from our ancestral lands, in our practice and way of life.
The drastic changes, demands, and stress of trying to raise our family of seven kids, incorporation into a Western diet and lifestyle, and a loss of our culture, was detrimental to his and our family life. So many of us have loved ones suffering from heart disease, diabetes, cancer, hypertension and other conditions.
Connecting to Pin@y roots is in my culture, language and traditions. I was raised growing our own food, fishing from the ocean and preparing our own meats as my ancestors have done for thousands of years.
KK: What's a dish or ingredient you identify with?
GM: Munggo guisa and fried fish, my Nanayʻs roots. Pinakbet, my Tatayʻs roots. Fresh pounded paiʻai by my Kānaka sista farmer friends. Fresh niyog/niu/coconut (my maternal ancestors roots) that I love making into healing ʻĀinatarian foods!
KK: What do you see as crucial issues - and opportunities - around food facing Pin@ys, Asian/Americans, Pacific Islanders, and all communities today?
There is just one, food relationships. It is in our relationships in our food and how we make our food choices and practices in our familial understanding and relationship to the land that affect ours, our communityʻs and ʻāinaʻs health, no matter who or we are. It is not only about food. itʻs about our culture and way of life.
In Hawaiʻi, Hawaiians and Filipinos have some of the highest health rates of chronic illnesses. The traditional belief and practice of mālama ʻāina (taking care of the land) that sustained Kānaka Maoli for 2,000 years has changed over foreign contact and with current U.S. occupation to a Military Industrial Complex.
Land rights and access for Kānaka Maoli and sustainable land practices for Hawai‘i’s settler population remain a determining factor of health girded in historical struggles and colonial relationships. It is the direct impact on the health and livelihoods of the indigenous and settler populations. The main economic unit of the ʻohana that cared for their ili in their ahupuaʻa and okana has changed. It is now the main economies of militarism, tourism and GMO companies that are the toxic landscape in the health, livelihood and culture of the people, ʻāina and our food.
The State of Hawaiʻi imports 80-90% of its food. There is less than 3,000 acres of certified organic farmland, while the military occupies an estimated 245,000 acres, GMO companies own or lease an estimated 40-60,000 acres spraying over 70 different chemicals daily with development always a threat to our ʻāina.
Certain ethnic groups with noted health disparities are employed in service jobs and supporting the State of Hawaiiʻs infrastructure. The price of a median home is $450,000, average rent has doubled in the last 20 years while 37% of the homeless are of Kānaka Maoli ethnicity and 39% of the prison population.
Yet slowly but surely communities are reconnecting, healing the land and themselves. The sovereignty movement grows in our food, our land, our communities and consciousness. Shifts to more sustainable, local living economies and efforts to mālama ʻāina in preventing further “health” impacting development or expansion happens in every thought, every moment and every day as kupaʻāina.
Visit Gigi's Facebook page: Whole Plant Based Cooking and Living