Ancestors, food systems and total co-existence in health
Updated: Mar 3
The kincentric¹ ecologies of our ancestors and their ability to understand and hold relationships with each other and the environment is something that has always fascinated me and underpinned my work.
When comparing our old ways to current lifestyles, I’m saddened to see the knowledge gaps within our communities, in fostering a relationship with our natural environment and ancestral foods, and how this contributes to our deteriorating health.
The old ways of regenerative land cultivation practices ensured healthy ecosystems that grew the most nutritious fruit and vegetables, nurturing healthy communities. Now, the majority of our foods come from mono-cropping plantations, nutrient empty soils; sad lands that are craving the connection to us just as our bodies crave connection to them.
Many First Nations peoples in diaspora lose their connection to their native foods, developing poor gut health that affects our mental health, adapting to global fast-food cuisines with little time to consider healthy food choices. Highly processed food support frameworks continue to drive down purchase prices from farmers: a greedy approach that leaves many of our homelands in continuous poverty.
As a Pasifika Cultural Dancer, Samoan Chocolate Maker and Environmental Activist, I have spent years passing down cultural knowledge connecting our movements to natural elements. Hoping to support our relationship with the environment, tune into our bodies and ignite the responsibility we have to look after natural resources. Our ‘hula hip’ movements support better digestion and through dance we see our shapes and curves as beautiful, our thick legs strong and powerful and our hands graceful and fluid.
Though it is one thing to embody and represent nature in our movements, the relationship with food to nourish our family’s bodies is a severed cord in disarray, hard to connect.
Though it is one thing to embody and represent nature in our movements, the relationship with food to nourish our family’s bodies is a severed cord in disarray, hard to connect. We can be shamed and mocked by our own community about healthy food choices while watching our children develop curable diseases, like type 2 diabetes, watching our elders pass away well before their time. In March 2020, with broken hearts we watched our father pass away from a lack of understanding of how these chemicals in our foods, the addictive sugars and preservatives were affecting his body.
How bad does it have to get for us all? When will we put the connection between land and our bodies as a priority? How do we re-connect when we are so far away?
Research your ancestral food before European settlement and introduce a vegetable/herb/spice food each week to make the change sustainable. Consider the ancestors of these plants, take time in preparation of them and acknowledge the hands that these foods have passed through to arrive in your hands. In my household, when we shop for foods we go with our ancestors, choosing food that speaks to our DNA.
The genealogy of foods, the journey of food and the times that you should eat various foods can offer you a gathering and eating practice that reveals the eco-systems around it. You will recognise the lack of food sovereignty in many countries while giving yourself an understanding of food medicine and what foods are failing you.
If we can understand our contribution to creating positive food systems to uplift our communities, support food sovereignty and our environment, we are doing our best to move towards total co-existence with simple intentional adjustments.
*The Living Koko Common-goals series speaks with Lia Pa’apa’a (@PlantBasedNative), who documents her journey of reclaiming ancestral foods in a conscious way.
¹ Indigenous people view both themselves and nature as part of an extended ecological family that shares ancestry and origins. It is an awareness that life in any environment is viable only when humans view the life surrounding them as kin. The kin, or relatives, include all the natural elements of an ecosystem. Indigenous people are affected by and, in turn, affect the life around them. The interactions
that result from this ''kincentric ecology'' enhance and preserve the ecosystem. Interactions are the commerce of ecosystem functioning. Without human recognition of their role in the complexities of life in a place, the life suffers and loses its sustainability. Indigenous cultural models of nature include humans as one aspect of the complexity of life.
Source: Salmon, Enrique. (2000). Kincentric Ecology: Indigenous Perceptions of the Human-Nature Relationship. Ecological Applications.
Fipe Preuss is a Samoan entrepreneur and Marine/Environmental Activist. Co-founder of Living Koko a no waste cacao/chocolate manufacturing space that supports rural economic opportunities in her homelands. Fipe is also a teacher of Hawaiian Hula and Ori tahiti with Nuholani Polynesian Dance School
“...foods connect us to our ancestors, our history. It has an ability to trigger the most powerful emotions. Knowing our foods gafa (genealogy) can support a respectful relationship with it and ourselves."