Name: Felicia Cocotzin Ruiz
Location: Rio Verde, AZ
Education/background: Natural foods chef and traditional healer
Business name: Kitchen Curandera
Tribe: Xicana with Tewa lineage on mother’s side
What led to your passion for indigenous foods?
Having grown up eating many of our traditional foods, I also saw how many of them were disappearing from our lives as the standard American diet became more prevalent. During that time I saw my mother and other family members fall ill and I believe much of the causes to be food related. So, after selling my restaurant in 2010, I decided to look back at my indigenous lineage to see what traditional plants I could reintroduce back into my own diet and it was from that decision that my passion became my work.
Why do you think it’s important to make traditional foods accessible for Natives?
I know firsthand how our foods can be lifelines back to our identity. And because my story is not unique, I know there are other indigenous people who can gain a sense of belonging after being disconnected due to colonization. Similar to language, if they are not used/eaten, they begin to disappear–and I don’t want to see that happen. I also want to see Natives feel empowered by deciding what they want to eat versus being told what to eat. It’s very empowering to eat foods that in some cases, were forbidden to eat.
What is the importance of an indigenous diet for a healthy lifestyle?
A healthy lifestyle looks different for every person, however, I would say our traditional foods can contribute to overall health for many individuals as many of them are not overly processed or full of preservatives or chemicals. There’s much value in eating foods that are whole, natural, and local.
What other ways (besides your business) are you involved in the education, restoration and accessibility of traditional Native foods?
I do my best to lead by example by growing, foraging, and eating our local foods. I am also on the board for Sean Sherman’s exciting non-profit, NATIFS, in which education and hands-on training is at the forefront.
How can community members be involved and support the cause of restoring and protecting indigenous food systems?
We have projects, non-profits, community gardens, and more in every state. Decide what you want to focus on and go from there. If you don’t know where to begin, start out by buying traditional foods grown and prepared by Native-owned businesses.