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  • Ian Thompson

Upcoming Book on Indigenous Choctaw Food

Traditional Choctaw foods are just as flavorful, just as deep, and probably healthier than any other cuisine that is popular in the United States today. They should be. Choctaw cuisine comes out of a sacred relationship that our ancestors maintained with the plants, animals, soil, and water of the Choctaw homeland (present-day western Alabama and eastern Mississippi) for over 500 generations. To them "wilderness" was a foreign concept. Our ancestors were at home on the land, and they knew how to work with it to produce the food and other products that their families needed to live. After supporting the Choctaw people for 15,000 years, the land was just as fertile as it had been to start with. That was true sustainability.

After the Trail of Tears, Choctaw people were prevented from managing the land. In Mississippi and later in Oklahoma, the land was severely damaged when Euro-Americans took over. The Choctaw community's health and well-being were damaged too. Today, Native Americans suffer from diabetes, obesity, and stroke at a higher rate than any other part of the American population. These deadly diseases were almost unknown to our ancestors, who lived on a traditional diet.

All over the world, and in our own household, contemporary Indigenous people have experienced an amazing improvement in health when we return to our own traditional diets. These diets are based on a timeless knowledge for living with the land and with each other. Today, some of this knowledge is maintained by elders; tragically, some of it is sleeping because of the trauma of colonization.

We both grew up with some traditional Choctaw foods. For the last 10 years, Ian has been gathering pieces of knowledge about the Choctaw foodway from conversations with elders, from studying deep Choctaw language, from reading hundreds of old interviews, reports, and archaeological studies, and by experimenting. Thousands of hours of passionate work have come together in a book that is like no other. In about 250 pages and 175 images, it explorers how our ancestors developed a society and a cuisine; it follows the yearly round in the traditional foodway, introduces the most common ingredients in Indigenous Choctaw food, explores the hand-made implements that our ancestors used to transform these ingredients into food, presents recipes for more than 80 Choctaw food dishes that have no European ingredients, and gives tips for adapting them to a modern kitchen. All of this information is brought together with Choctaw language, traditional knowledge, and deep culture. The final chapter looks at the many ways that cutting edge developments in food, land management, and sustainability are finally catching up to what the Choctaw ancestors were doing centuries ago.

The book is currently being formatted for print. It should be coming out in 2018. Published by Choctaw Nation, at no profit to the author, it has been done as a labor of love towards community. The intent is to present information that can empower people who are interested in working to reawaken the parts of Indigenous Choctaw food and culture that are sleeping.

Be on the lookout for"Choctaw Food: Remembering the Land, Rekindling Ancient Knowledge", a book hopefully coming to a venue near you soon!

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