I have always had a love for good food - fresh ingredients prepared well and with care. And communing with others in a shared feast.
Growing up in Michigan, we always had a large family garden. During the summer months, my parents also shopped at the local farmer’s market. On weekends, we would drive out to Lake Michigan and gather with my extended family – uncles, aunts and cousins at my grandparent’s large two-story white washed Victorian cottage. This historic Ottawa Beach haven with its Boardwalk dotted with Victorian cottages, forested sand dunes and fine sand beaches was my summer playground as a child.
It seemed like those summer days would last forever. My father would bring bushel baskets full of our garden bounty: heirloom tomatoes, cukes, yellow wax beans, little red new potatoes and the sweetest corn you ever tasted! Every dinner was like a thanksgiving feast and a celebration of the harvest. The screened in back porch with the long table was laden with a summer feast to feed the twenty or so relatives gathered on any given summer weekend. There was always a grilled organic meat from the local butcher. My family is of British Isles heritage so they do love their meat! The fresh summer vegetable repast was definitely the star on the table. The table-talk would always be centered around food and someone sharing their recipe and favorite way to prepare a specific food. These are fond memories for me and I see how that deep seed nurtured inside me grew and led me to my love of plants and passion for farming, medicinal foods and becoming an herbalist.
When I moved to New Mexico in January 1991, my first experience with food as sacred was when Larry Littlebird (who later became my beloved husband) took me to the Deer Dance and Pueblo Feast Day at San Ildefonso Pueblo, north of Santa Fe.
Waking up in the early morning, we drove my little black Honda that I had just barely unpacked from my cross-country migration and arrived in the predawn darkness at the Pueblo. There was a hush in the village, yet a feeling that something was coming. Like Christmas morning. I was instructed to be quiet and not talk. We were huddled close with others waiting together in a silent reverence in the cold winter morning for the deer dancers to arrive. Waiting in silence is something I would eventually learn was also part of sacred food and prayerful eating. Suddenly, there they were at the top of a hill – the deer, coming slowly down the hill with a rhythmic swaying back and forth. The mysterious deer dancers backlit with the pink opalescent sunrise sky.
I truly had never experienced anything as beautiful as this. It was ancient, it was now and it was alive. The spirit that is Holy and alive touched me deeply in that indelible moment. Tears of joy and gratitude trickled down my cold cheeks. It was such a wonder to be there and to be part of something that was so good and true – in the land and in the hearts of the people.
After watching the deer dancers who had danced in the Pueblo Plaza for a few hours, Larry said, “Let’s go to my relatives house to eat.” Boy, I was hungry after that intense early morning experience. We entered one of Larry’s relative’s house (I would later learn, Larry had relatives at all nineteen Pueblos!) and there was this long-long table set like a Thanksgiving table I was familiar with back home in Michigan. There were people eating and people waiting, sitting around the perimeter of the room. Women dressed in their traditional Pueblo dresses were busily serving piping hot bowls of red and green chile stew and saying to the people seated at the table, “Eat good, eat good.”
This caught my attention. “Eat good.” I had never heard that before. The tone of their voices was soothing and nurturing. The feeling around the table was one of deep gratitude. I was immediately struck by the quiet, not much chatter between folks. Just a “yum” or “ahh” here and there as people enjoyed the different Pueblo heritage stews and other delicious hand made preparations. Oh my, and those exquisitely wrapped tamales that looked like beautiful little party favors!
Over time I have shared hundreds of meals at Pueblo feast days and have been blessed to get to know many of my husband’s family and clan relatives. But my fondest feast day memory is of that first feast day at San Ildefonso. That day I ate at four welcoming homes. Each home softly and sincerely chorused that saying, “Eat good.” Toward the end of the day from sunrise to sunset, I began to realize this was not just about eating to satisfy one’s hunger or taste buds. What they were saying was eat until you are satisfied in your spirit. You will know the measure when you are full – when you are tuned into the blessing of this Holy food feast.
It is not about stuffing yourself and quickly devouring everything in sight. It is a prayer laid out before you.
These are the things that touched me that first Feast Day and many feast days to follow: The love in the room. The joy on the faces of the women and their laughter between one another as they cooked and served the People. Their generous spirits, not being in a rush or agitated but truly in the joy of being in service. The plenty on the table. There was no spirit of lack. The softness of the voices gathered. The colors of the food. The slow food taste as you chewed consciously in appreciation understanding the cycle of the food’s journey from seed to plant to harvest to prayerful preparation.
These days we now celebrate Holy food feasts in our home. And I find myself naturally saying to the people gathered around our table, “Eat good!”
Slow down, say a prayer of thanksgiving to Creator. It is good. It is blessed food. You are blessed. Bless the hands that have prepared this food. Now eat and take in the fullness of this blessing. Let it nourish you. Heal you. Sustain you.