WHAT’S IN YOUR KITCHEN PANTRY? If you answered quinoa, green beans, or potatoes, you have, perhaps unbeknownst to you, been eating Native American heritage. “They might not know they have indigenous foods in their cupboard: might be canned corn, canned beans, squash,” says Brian Yazzie, a Twin Cities-based chef and food activist from the Navajo Nation, of his YouTube channel’s at-home viewers. But thanks to the ingenuity of indigenous farmers, who domesticated these crops over millennia, much of the world relies on Native American staples when times get lean.
Like most American chefs, Yazzie canceled his in-person engagements for March and April. So he is bringing Native food directly into community homes. Yazzie has moved much of his operation online, offering how-to videos and one-on-one remote classes for home cooks looking to learn about indigenous American cuisine while turning their pantry staples into a feast. And he’s teamed up with the staff of the Minneapolis American Indian Center’s Gatherings Cafe to make and deliver meals to Native elders in the Twin Cities area. “Being an indigenous chef and being able to use my skills and network to help those who are in need in this time is keeping me sane,” Yazzie says.
Most of us are so busy with jobs, school, and caretaking responsibilities that extended time at home with our loved ones once seemed like an unattainable dream. Self-isolation, resulting from the coronavirus crisis and government orders to shelter in place, however, can bring with it the silver lining of getting to reconnect with those we live with.
But social distancing, as Dr. Asaf Bitton writes, is not a snow day. While staying at home with loved ones comes with a silver lining for some, it is understandably fraught with the anxieties of a massively disruptive global crisis. Most of us are grappling with fears of illness, worries about income, exhaustion from caretaking, and uncertainty of what the next day — let alone the next year — could bring.
These fears, plus good ol’ fashioned stir-craziness, are enough to strain even the healthiest of family or roommate dynamics, often leading to conflict. Bread-and-butter fears about having material resources while sheltering in place, and the strains of juggling caretaking responsibilities with paid work, can further strain even the healthiest of home dynamics.
As governments across the United States are requesting, or mandating, their residents to “shelter in place” to help prevent the further spread of the novel coronavirus, acute anxiety grows exponentially one group in particular: our neighbors without housing.
Many U.S. residents have already lost their jobs, or risk future job loss, due to closures in the food, entertainment, and travel industries, as well as instability in the gig economy, which augures future financial hardship for millions. But, at very least, those of us with stable housing can follow guidelines to avoid crowds and public spaces for the duration of the outbreak to keep ourselves and the most vulnerable safe. For the nearly 900,000 homeless individuals across the United States, “just stay home” isn’t possible.
Having a strong community is one of the most important factors in our mental and emotional health. Loneliness or social isolation increases our risk of depression and anxiety, and it can even make us more vulnerable to physical ailments, increasing our risk of heart disease by 29%, and stroke by 32%.
Usually, maintaining strong community bonds is as easy as taking a walk to the neighborhood bar, calling up a friend for brunch, or attending your weekly church service or bookclub. With public health officials around the world recommending most of us avoid large gatherings or even leaving our homes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, those normal social outlets are now out of reach. There is no playbook for a pandemic, and it’s normal to feel anxious, scared, or lonely in response to the uncertainty of the current moment.
EVERY YEAR FOR DECADES, SCIENTISTS at the Hiroshima Prefectural Agriculture Gene Bank have planted a small patch of hattanso rice. Its stalks are spring-green and spindly, its grains stubby, with a white core of endosperm visible in light. Hiroshima’s rice fields are fecund with Hattanso’s descendants, which farmers sell to sake brewers in dozens of prefectures across Japan. Hattan no. 35, which crop scientists bred in 1962, has hard grains that can withstand the polishing required for high-quality sakes. Hattan-nishiki no. 1 and 2, bred in 1984 from a cross between Hattanso and Nishiki rices, has medium-sized grains yield light sakes with an earthy tang.
Outside of the Agricultural Research Station, however, one variety of rice is conspicuously missing: hattanso itself. The cultivar hasn’t been used in sake production for decades.
WHEN COLIN KHOURY WAS SIX years old, he committed an act of civil disobedience. It was Southern California in the 1980s, and real estate companies were hungry to turn the remaining farms and wilderness bordering Los Angeles into shiny new developments.
Barely out of kindergarten, Khoury was firmly against the developers. His love for landscape was tactile, childlike; he’d comb the sun-drenched earth around his home for wild plants, popping their juicy leaves into his mouth. His mother regularly found herself calling poison control. So when six-year-old Khoury saw a developer’s banner planted on a plot of land overlooking a craggy depression, he chucked the sign right into the canyon. “I was doing my own activism,” he says with a laugh.
A TYPICAL DAY FOR MONICA Tromp might include scraping tartar off 3,000-year-old human incisors. “It’s basically like being a dental hygienist for the dead,” says Tromp, an Affiliated Researcher at New Zealand’s University of Otago, about her work studying ancient Pacific Islanders’ diets.
The hot, humid climate of places like Vanuatu, an archipelago 1,100 miles east of Australia, makes it notoriously difficult to find archaeological plant and animal remains. So for the past several years, Tromp has turned to an unlikely treasure trove of culinary data on early Pacific Islanders’ diets: the calcified plaque, called calculus or tartar, left on ancient human teeth. Now, in a new paper, Tromp and her fellow researchers have solved an agricultural mystery that has puzzled archaeologists: the migration of the banana.
IN VICTORIA, AUSTRALIA, AN ANCIENT labyrinth of waterways snakes across a once-volcanic landscape. This is the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape, a vast aquacultural system the Gunditjmara Aboriginal people, who still call this country home, began constructing 6,600 years ago. Parts of the system are still in use today.
Ask locals about Budj Bim, and you’ll invariably be directed to Uncle Denis Rose. A Gunditjmara elder, Rose, who has lived here most of his life, cares for the complex as Project Manager of the Budj Bim Sustainable Development Project. His knowledge of this country and its history has earned him the honorific “Uncle,” a term of respect for Aboriginal elders. Bring up the title, however, and he’ll demur. “I don’t refer to myself as that, no,” Rose says. “I’m in a little bit of denial about my age.”
Whenever I read a self-help article that advises women to “put yourself first,” or “cultivate self-love,” I want to throw my laptop out my fourth floor apartment window in despair. (I don’t actually do it, of course, because laptops are expensive.)
Often, these seemingly empowering pieces of advice come with subtle directives about what we should think, be, and do. Love yourself [because that’s how you can get a man to love you]. Spend time doing something nice for yourself [like exercising so you can lose weight so men will love you]. But the truth is, loving ourselves in a world that is constantly judging us—for our bodies and our bank accounts, our relationships and our sex lives—is hard.
Few other occasions present a greater challenge to self-love than Valentine’s Day.
SOMETIMES, WE CAN ONLY UNDERSTAND history from above. That, anyway, seemed to be the outlook of historian James Hurley and pilot Joseph Hays when, in 1968, they flew a plane over Brooklyn. They were looking for the remnants of a village founded 130 years earlier, the free Black community of Weeksville.