The Importance of Our Food Relationship with Donald Moore

"I'm going to share my food story, which is made up of experiences from the two worlds I live in. I am Yurok and Hupa. I come from the villages of Turip and Cho-Kik, which are located along the Klamath River in Northern California. Food has been a part of my life in every way, whether it be gathering acorns at a young age or tending to my growling stomach today in college. My mom was a single mother who raised my sister and me by herself, and we grew up poor for the majority of our lives.

While my mom was going from job to job, I remember being at my aunties house a lot. I remember eating a lot of not so good food throughout my life. I remember eating Happy Meals multiple times a week because that's what was most easy and cheap. Don't get me wrong, my mom can cook, and I mean SHE CAN COOK. I can remember the meals that she would cook during that time, I remember eating a lot of mac and cheese, other kinds of pasta and carbs because that was all we had.

I didn't realize it at the time, but we were on food stamps. I only know so because when my sister and I talk about food and hunger, my mom always says, "You know your mom was on food stamps most of your guy's life, right?". Like many natives, I also grew up on commods. If you don't know what commods are, it stands for commodities, which is food that is provided by the government that issues to native communities for low-income families.

One thing about commods is that they tend to lack nutrition and are usually high in fats and sugars. I'm beyond lucky to have the extended family I have that took care of me and fed me when needed. I am also extremely grateful for programs like Food Stamps, WIC, and commods because, without those, I couldn't imagine what my life would be like, or what my mom would've had to go through. My mom eventually went back to school and got her masters at age 28, and a few great opportunities arose, and we were able to get out of that hole. We began to eat out less, and we now cook almost every night.

One major change that I slowly realized was that we began to eat a salad before EVERY meal, and there appeared to be vegetables in the course. It's not that I don't like salad, it was just a new transition, and I now love it. Another food hardship arose during my high school years. I then lived with my dad in Hoopa, which is one of the reservations in the area. There was only one grocery store at the time, and it was costly and didn't have any local foods. Anyway, it got shut down due to a rat infestation, and there was no store in the valley for almost three years.

The food was expensive when it was there, but now there was no food at all in the valley. The next grocery store was 20 minutes away, but it was the same exact store as the one that was shut down, expensive. This Hoopa area is in the outskirts of the main Humboldt County area, so it's an hour's drive to get into what we call town where there are more options. More options are cool, but not when you have to drive 1 hour each way, with gas being over $4 in California.

The only other option for food in Hoopa is the mini-mart gas station downtown. The best they could do for the time was to expand the gas station into a grocery store, and you think that's going to be any better? No. Last month actually, they rebuilt the store, which is now a local tribally owned grocery store. I would say the name of it, but I don't know how to say it, since it is Hoopa and I can't speak Hoopa, only can speak Yurok. These hardships lead to the other world I live in. The lack of food and stores in Hoopa would make it seem like the whole valley is starving and have zero food. Although probably over 50% of the valley is food insecure, zero food and starvation is not the case.

We have both the Trinity and Klamath rivers that run through our land, which lead to the Pacific Ocean, so salmon is our cornerstone. Salmon is everything to our local tribes, even though we are constantly fighting Central California and Southern Oregon big farmers for water. Other seafood and fish we eat are clams, Dungeness Crab, lamprey eel, and green sturgeon. We are also surrounded by game such as elk and deer. Foods such as acorns, tanoak mushrooms, and blackberries are also valued. Every single one of these foods that we gather and the hunt is considered sacred and valued with respect.

The word respect in this context is extremely layered, but what I mean by this is taking what you need, take what was presented to you, and to share/give out a majority. My parents were taught and engraved into my brain to not smoke or drink when gathering these items as it's not right and is disrespectful. When gathering or harvesting a surplus, we share with others, specifically elders. I go straight to my grandma when I get a deer, or have lots of salmon and stock her freezer. My grandpa and grandma's time is spent being young and able to provide traditional foods for themselves, so it's only right for me to provide.

My grandmother is impoverished and is someone who literally relies on food stamp money and traditional foods. When it comes to killing deer, there's something that we believe in, which is when you get your first deer, you are not to eat it, but to give it all away to people close to you. So, when I killed my first deer, I wasn't allowed to eat it, I gave all of it away. There will be times when I've caught over 50 salmon in one night, so instead of keeping it all, I would keep maybe 5 or so, freeze them, then give all the rest away, because I don't need that much food, and others may.

Freezing and canning are also something we heavily rely on solely because of those reasons. Canning is why I can eat salmon in Colorado, canning food can make food last for a long time. When it comes to this side of my life, I look like a gatherer and provider rather than a buyer and consumer in my everyday world. Food is very different in each world, wherein I'm spoiled and rich, and in the other, I'm troubled with hunger, which leaves me lost. This brings me to where I am today, in college, and hungry. These past two years have been hard for me when it came to food. The only options that I was exploring were Sodexo, eating out, or running off a fixed, complicated budget at the grocery store. I miss being able to go into the fridge, grab something healthy (or not) and eat whenever like I could stay at home.

Still, there have been times here where I've watched people eat and didn't eat for another 24 hours. It wasn't until I joined the Good Food Collective that I heard the term "food insecurity" and learned what it meant. After being an expert on it, I diagnosed myself as food insecure. I also realized that if I'm food insecure in this environment, half of my community is extremely food insecure. Since joining the team, I have been better about my health, food, and where that food is coming from, though.

This is something I am now extremely passionate about, especially since it impacts my home and people. This summer, I'm doing an internship based out of Sacramento, but located at home that pretty much wants me to implement a Good Food Collective in Hoopa. I will be working with gardeners, farmers, and the community to provide food that can benefit the ones in need by serving local traditional food.

Food is something that my community loves and needs. I've seen from after ceremonies that food brings happiness. I've seen a 1-year-old, go to town on deer jerky and the parents smiling. I've seen my dad's daylight up when I bring home a salmon for him to cook. I can see in his eyes that he is proud that he taught me how to do so, and I return the favor. I can see the whole community come together as one and fight for their salmon against big southern farmers. I can see, but more so feel my people cry for help. Food keeps us alive and healthy. These are the experiences I've had with food, this is my food story." - Donald Moore

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