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Feeding Our Future: Putting Native Foods Back on the Plate

Commodities undermined the local food system, says Reader. “If someone’s handing out free food you become more dependent on that and there’s less of a reason to produce on your own.”

And there’s also less reason to participate in traditional ceremonies. To get ready for the rain ceremony, for example, the Tohono O’odham spend three weeks harvesting the saguaro cactus fruit. It’s hard work, and it’s hot work out in the desert. The fruit has to be scooped out and boiled down to a syrup, which is then used during a four-day ceremony to call the monsoon rains.

“If you’re not planting your fields you don’t care quite as much if the rains come,” Reader says. “And if you don’t care as much if the rains come, you’re unwilling perhaps to do all of that hard work to bring about the ceremony. At the same time you saw a decline in the food system you saw a decline in the cultural vitality within the community.”

Jennifer Juan and her husband,