Of Apache and Chicana heritage, Elena’s family has lived in the Taos, New Mexico area for many generations. Elena is the Food Center Manager for the Taos County Economic Development Corporation and is a cook and native foods advocate. She manages and provides tours of their commercial kitchen facilities and shares her special knowledge of local food specialties. Elena also assists on food permits and testing.
One of the things that I think has happened to Native people is that we’ve – and we all know this, we’re all moving away from the soil and the land and the water. And when we do that we start getting our food from grocery stores and we don’t know where that food’s been.
There’s so many things that we continue to find out about food that is so processed that it’s damaging us in so many ways. You know, the diabetes epidemic, heart disease, obesity, all those things, are a result of us stepping away from our land and our cultures and our community food systems.
So that’s really a very sad thing, when you look around your community and those foods that were such gifts, you know, from the creator that they’re just everywhere, you know, aren’t being used, and instead we’re eating things that are killing our people.
One of the things that we’ve seen is some of the old recipes and some of the people who have had this tradition of rich, really nutritious, really healthy food, are getting the opportunity to teach other people, so that the traditions won’t be lost. Because Native people traditionally utilize all those things that are available to them, all the herbs and all the spices that grow in the area. There’s that education that’s happening now, so you know, we’re relearning what things are edible in our communities. As you walk down the street, there’s probably three or four things that look like weeds to other people, but some of these elders and some of our older community members recognize those as, you know, a wonderful herb or a spice or something that you could incorporate with, you know.. and so we’re getting that back and that’s really exciting.
Also they’re so willing to share, you know, they recognize the gift they hold. They recognize the knowledge that they have to impart.
So all those things that we knew or we used because they were natural, there is that validity, you know. So that there’s a sense of pride again about our foods, you know that it’s not McDonald’s, so we may need to have to like be a little ashamed, there’s a pride returning to our communities about our food. A pride that we have the knowledge, a pride that if we went back to our foods that are in our community that we would reverse the health impacts, or the negative health impacts that we’ve had from all this processed foods.
The program that I work with, which is the Taos County Economic Development Corporation, is a program that’s basically devoted to keeping the traditions of food of a land-based culture alive.
What we have in our community is a commercial kitchen that’s a 5,000 square foot commercial kitchen, and we used that as an economic venue for food producers, native agricultural people and food producers so that they can gain some economic advantage.
We have approximately 45 full time food producers that are doing food as an economic endeavor, as a.. you know, they’re entrepreneurs, they have food businesses.
When you take our native foods and you prepare them in a way that meets, you know, the federal and state regulations, and you’re able to offer it to the world, we’re becoming an international food community, because we’ve got a lot of people coming in from all different cultures, and then in that search for the really great food, you know, our native foods have an opportunity to come. And they’re kind of brand new to the United States at large. And its something we’ve been doing.
There are absolutely markets. There are markets that are.. that are, you know, the food
chains are asking us for products. They want our locally prepared foods. They’re asking us. They came to us and asked us what do you have that we can include?
Smaller chains like, you know, Whole Foods and Wild Oats and Trader Joe’s and all these are some of those places where these foods are being retailed.
So what happens is in meeting those demands, one producer needs to produce more, you’ve got to get more people in there to produce your product. So if we’ve got 45 full time producers, and as their market grows, their workload grows, they need to have people come in and help them.
Now there’s this whole industry that we’re going to have to service, and with servicing that food industry, we’re going to have to have that support, you know, that the distributors and the brokers and the marketers. So those are all people. Those are all jobs.