I’ve been thinking a lot about the word weed lately, and what it was that my ancestors ate. Finding pre-contact information on the Sinixt peoples is very hard, authentic and correct information is even harder. Often when natives people did write information down or agreed to be recorded or observed they often changed some of the details, omitted information, did something the incorrect way. I’ve been told that even today first nations peoples won’t share certain details, so much has already been taken, now it’s more important than ever to keep these details to themselves and within the tribes and off the record. It’s an effort to preserve culture and tradition. It also means that sometimes we lose some of the ‘real’ knowledge when our elders die and all we have to go off of is the wrong way a European anthropologist managed to record.
It’s also an act that creates a hierarchy of those privy to the correct details and those who aren’t. I often find myself at the furthest outer ring of access to this information. I am unrecognized by my tribe and I am white passing, middle class, off-rez, urban Indian with a college education. I have privilege and that modern day privilege means that most natives don’t think I am deserving of cultural privilege. What I learn I gain from books and ‘Uncle Google’ as we call it at Wisdom of the Elders. I am not alone though, even those who grow up on the reservation don’t always have access to the same cultural and traditional information. And when your reservation is made up of 14 tribes and your grandmother didn’t know what tribe you were descendants from until 7 years ago and as recently as 2017 your tribe was considered extinct, well, the odds aren’t stacked in your favor. It’s a lot to untangle. With the support of my peers and the elders I’ve meet at Wisdom of the Elders, NAYA, etc. I’ve learned and been encouraged to jump in, go for it, and not worry so much about the ‘right’ way. I’ve come to understand that I am the human form of Chinook Jargon, and that I am as authentic and true as that language and that my cultural heritage is going to resemble some of those same mash-ups, mispronunciations and intentional mistakes. And that this is all ‘authentic’.
When it comes to the word weeds I like to think my people are as tough as the weeds. And that this word, weed, is really just used to describe a plant in a location unsatisfactory to a human. Really, a lot of plants we call weeds are really rather useful, and if not to us to the other animals and plants surrounding us that we might rely on. So in this weeks first CSA share you’re gonna eat your green weeds. You’ll find that most of them are naturalized transplants from Europe. They aren’t ‘Native’ but I assure you, they are First Foods my ancestors ate. Some people might say, they ate those weeds because they were poor. And that might be partially true but I also think that the word weed has been used in such a derogatory way that in the past it helped distinguish social hierarchies and shame people into buying in to commercial vegetable varieties, distancing us from the land and sustenance living. Through it’s use, people were encouraged to spend money on specific types of foods and to stop foraging, stop teaching the next generation and to be more reliant on a economy, middle men, government all bent on making a profit, capitalism. I believe it was a method of disenfranchising folks.
I am here to decolonize this way of thinking, to challenge it through our diets, to explore this tangled web of history and how it shaped the very basic human need to eat. I hope you enjoy thinking about this, about what it took to develop strawberries from the tiny wild ones to the larger plump varieties we have access to today. We wouldn’t have those big plump ones without the little wild ones. Through eating, we are saving them, calling attention to them, saying we like them and want to preserve the older, more resilient and weedy strawberry variety. We don’t know when we’ll need those older genetics later, after cultivated strawberries succumb to a virus, pest or disease.
The four stages to prepping Burdock root, Wash well, Cut the tops off, Scrape backwards down the root removing hairs and outer skin, shred or cut Sasagaki, then soak in a cold water bath.
Part of the use of weed is also the unknown and fear that come with eating them. If you google some of these plants the authors will warn you against eating them altogether, or eating too much, or the wrong part. After digging into a variety of different weeds I have come to expect that my first search is going to result in a bunch of warnings before I find information support the use and consumption of these plants. Often these plants are widely used and even cultivated and domesticated for specific characteristics in other countries, such as Burdock Root in Japan. You can eat any burdock root, just some of it is gonna be tiny and hairy, or really bitter tasting, or just a lot of work for a little reward. Just like there is a white Camas that is totally safe to eat but since there is also a white flowered Death Camas the internet will just tell you to never eat ANY white Camas like flower and bulb. Which, I get it, better safe than sorry. But so safe that we are afraid of everything? There are several ways to test a plant to see if you are allergic to it. Rub a patch on your hand or wrist, if you get a reaction, don’t eat it. No reaction after 1 hr – 24hrs? Take a nibble, if your mouth gets kind itchy don’t move forward. No reaction, make a small meal, make a bigger meal, etc. until you just know you are good to go.
I get that I am crossing a capitalism and health industry line here. But just like peanut butter, strawberries, dairy, gluten, burdock root, just because I put it in your CSA box, if you are allergic don’t eat it and tell me so I can do my best to separate the foods you can eat from the foods you can’t. And the old adage, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing, that’s what all preventable dietary diseases come from: too much pizza = heartburn, too much salt and my chest feels crushed, too much alcohol can shut down your liver. But the reverse is true, to little salt during a hot day and your body will lack electrolytes, sweating all the salt and other trace minerals out.
Chopping Plantain, Burdock leaves and cracking open walnuts with our nut cracker (channel lock pliers)
You are CSA members of Good Rain Farm, or readers of this blog. You are bold and smart and adventurous. I hope you try something new and are safe and have fun doing it. Thank you for joining me on the journey to uncover and explore what the first nations of the PNW, but really all our Ancestors ate and together we’ll fight back against the industrial machine our food system as become, gaining back some of our food sovereignty!