Devon Mihesuah (Choctaw) is a friend and colleague since my days at the University of Kansas. She inspires me on so many levels. She’s one of the most prolific scholars and writers I have ever known. And a really great mom.
Devon is also a life-long athlete and one of the few NCAA Division I athletes in Indian country that can truthfully say that. She was the first woman at her undergraduate college to be awarded an athletic scholarship. Title IX sports changed many lives for the simple fact that women should be able to compete, too.
Devon has talked the talk and walked the walk, for the LONG haul when it comes to health, wellness and Indigenous foods. With her and her team, it’s a family affair. Here she is with her adult son and her partner in crime, husband Josh Mihesuah (Comanche).
On this space, I want to highlight her work on Indigenous Foods and refer you to two of her books that I love: Recovering Our Ancestors’ Gardens: Indigenous Recipes and Guide to Diet and Fitness and Indigenous Food Sovereignty in the United States: Restoring Cultural Knowledge Protecting Environments and Regaining Health. Recovering also includes case studies, a curriculum guide and really doubles down on the number of recipes that feature pre-contact ingredients. It’s why she recently won the Gourmand’s Best Indigenous Book in the United States.
These are just two of her books that I think are must-reads. If you are on Facebook, she runs @IndigenousEating with a big following and she’s a one women wealth of food information, recipes, gardens, health and she walks the walk everyday.
I previously shared some of her words and she generously (as always) replied to my ask back on January 2nd.
“Food is more than just what is on your plate. It’s about how it got there, who made it happen, how you feel about it, and appreciating the Natural World that created the ingredients. I was one of those kids whose parents had to go find them to tell them dinner was ready. I had access to creeks, fields, and woods growing up. Every family member we visited had places to explore, so I have always been aware of the Natural World, animals, how things grow, and how quickly the environment can be ruined. Always brought animals home, had many pets, and watched family garden. I’ve written about this many times, but the gardens I have now are patterned after my family’s gardens. A central theme of my first novel, Roads of My Relations, is the family garden that holds together generations of traumatized Choctaws through removal and its aftermath. You write what you know.”
Devon also wrote an article back in 2003 about changing our diets by focusing on pre-contact foods. She had a friend that read it, took the message to heart, and lost 125 pounds and that prompted Devon to keep going, with the two books mentioned above. Never underestimate your ability to change lives.
Devon coined the phrase Decolonize Your Diet and she lives it. She took heat from some corners of Indian country for being honest and writing about the dangers of frybread and other beloved and politically explosive things. A lot of people have gotten on that train, but I do think she was country when country wasn’t cool on that front.
I prodded her for more about her health journey. I think it’s important for us to hear from people who have done this for YEARS in addition to those of us (like me) who have fits and starts. Here’s one of her epic salads and what she said:
“I am a big fan of salads. Even as a kid I loved them. I played DI sports at TCU—tennis (the first female to receive a scholarship under Title IX) and Tae Kwon Do. After I got bored with that, I kept up running and still go 40-50 miles a week, plus weights, swimming, back-breaking gardening, and biking. I also raced sled dogs for 16 years and set the skijor record for the Flagstaff Nordic Center.
I love to eat and am mainly a snacker—I eat all day long. Am 5’10 and 132 lbs. I mainly eat foods high in volume (look up “Volumetrics”) and nutrition, but low in calories. Apples (one a day, sometimes more), oranges, pears, peppers to dip in hummus, no salt popcorn, gluten free pretzels, bites of 70% cacao bars.
Anytime I’m injured or realize I gained weight, I depend on salads. I only eat when hungry (drink diluted juice instead and really consider if you need to eat or if it’s a habit). So what goes into these salads? Everything in the produce section.
If it’s winter, I use organic canned stuff. You can still find kale, romaine, purple and green cabbage, carrots, Brussel’s sprouts, radishes, raw zucchini, pickled beets, mushrooms, dried and fresh tomatoes, green beans, red and yellow peppers, boobies (that’s what I called peas as a child), pecans, walnuts, sunflower and chia seeds, blueberries, dried cranberries, chickpeas, black beans, spinach, olives, dried dates, tomato and chipotle powder (my favorites condiments behind black pepper).
If it’s summer, I also use dandelion leaves, goosefoot, pigweed, and henbit. I loathe cilantro (it tastes like soap to me). Dressing is balsamic vinaigrette or salsa.
A few books to consider: Gaylord Hauser’s 1944 book, Diet Does It. He writes that if you want to lose weight, you can do so without going hungry if you fill up on every vegetable and fruit, plus wheat germ, brewer’s yeast (don’t use the powder—it tastes awful) and whole milk yoghurt. Also check out Clarence Bass’s 1981 book Ripped. Bass was a bodybuilder who had 2% body fat at age 41. He did this by eating enormous salads. He writes that it takes him an hour to eat a salad. I agree. I am the world’s slowest eater, so I can be entertained by a salad for a whole movie.”
Thank you Devon, for always being an educator and a supporter of folks trying to find their way.