My graduate work in both English (Native American literature) and Environmental Ethics (environmental philosophy) regularly
touched on modern problems in Indian Country. Diet is a major contender for research dollars, when one realizes that (in particular)
desert populations that used to practice a special form of beans and squash agriculture based upon the monsoon seasons and the
development of planting around shallow water ponds (charco). When a culture shifts, relatively rapidly, from a centuries' old lean
low-carbohydrate diet for the high-carbohydrate modern diet, diabetes and obesity problems result in much higher proportions than
in the general population. From this understanding, and from the works I've ready by ethnobotanist Gary Paul Nabhan
, I have to
applaud the next step in the White House Kitchen Garden: paying attention to the diets of American Indian children. Here is an article
from June 4 about the "Three Sisters Planting"
The plants that grew around this kind of charco, or rainwater pond, grew fast, and stored well. Gourds, squash, beans, corn, and a variety of other
plants, but it was a very spartan diet, combined with collected seeds, cactus pads and fruit, etc.
The event I've linked to includes this information:
"Three Sisters" is the Native American term for corn, beans, and squash. For the planting, Mrs. Obama and the kids knelt at one end of the
1,500 square-foot garden plot, and sprinkled Cherokee White Eagle corn, Rattlesnake pole beans, and Seminole squash seeds into the ground, so the
crops can grow in the traditional Native American way: The corn provides a structure for the beans to climb on, eliminating the need for poles; the beans
provide the soil with nitrogen that the other plants use; and the squash will spread along the ground, blocking the sunlight and preventing weeds from
growing. The seeds were from the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian.
I won't go so far as to suggest that anyone involved with the day's activities, with the probable exception of Mr. Keel, understood the drastic calorie
problem that faces Indian Country today. It isn't just that the most available foods are less healthy, or that USDA commodities that supplement school
lunches and food programs are high-calorie high fat and carb foods, it is that the people in question have such efficient digestive systems from desert
life that the moderns foods put their lives at risk. For more information about this, read ethnobotanist Gary Paul Nabhan's Coming Home to Eat
about the Renewing America's Food Traditions
project (Nabhan wrote the introduction to this book).