Ancestral Preparation of Grains
From as early as I can remember, I have been alongside my grandmother and mother, always the eager helper, ready to absorb all I can learn about food, cooking and preparing meals for a family while living in poverty. And when I say family, I don't mean parents and a kid or kids. For most of my life, family meant extended family all in one apartment. Parents, grandparents, kids, grandkids, cousins, uncles and aunts; the composition of our home was multigenerational and extended beyond immediate family. This was not unusual to me and in fact I often miss it still; feeling the absence of the many elders and peers in the home. Don't get me wrong, it had its many challenges as is common with any group, family especially, that I don't miss! But overall I consider the multigenerational makeup of my homelife growing up as a deep value added to my life.
Most of my family immigrated to the United States from an island in the West Indies called Barbados. My mother and father and the generations before them and so on an so forth were homesteaders. They didn't call it that. They called it life. They didn't take a permaculture design certification course or a homesteading workshop. They didn't spend years reading homesteading D.I.Y. books and have online support groups for homesteading. There was no online! They grew their food, fished, raised goats, pigs and chickens, had compostable toilets before they were called compostable toilets and both made and consumed fermented foods regularly without even calling it fermentation.
My family came to this country for a "better life". A better life then, like now, is synonymous with what dominance culture defines a better life to be and it was not a simple life connected to the land like they were living. For many black folks who are ancestors of slaves, living a life close to the land became tainted with shame. Why? Because their way of life was co-opted by the colonizer under the framework of slavery for the acquisition of wealth and creation of a dominance culture that still exists to this day. The institution of slavery created a deep schism, fracture, in the bedrock of black lineage and culture. A relationship that once was the foundation of our way of life became something many black folks post slavery want to distance themselves from as it felt too close to the work of slaves forgetting the power this way of life connected us to. So when my family left Barbados in search of a "better life" it meant seeking all the things that would get us on the other side, away from simple living and towards college degrees as many as you can get, a high paying job with a high ranking title and expensive clothes, jewelry, car and possessions. It meant living in a city and "advancing" the way capitalistic dominance culture defines advancing. If that wasn't going to happen for them, my parents and grandparents, the elders in our family, then they would do everything within their power to assure it would happen for us the next generations to come.
Here's how dominance culture creeps into us under the guise of something "good" (advancement, success, accomplishments), all the while fragmenting us from our source of true power, sense of self and purpose that reside in the wisdom of these practices that connect us to earth, to our ancestors and to the rhythms of nature.
Dominance culture doesn't want us to have access to that wisdom, that power. Dominance culture wants to tap that source dry and keep those cut off from source in a cycle of distractions only meant to keep us fragmented, controlled and oppressed.
Instead the time and space these forgotten ancestral practices once took up in our lives have now been replaced with swipes on our screens as we scroll through endless social media apps, the number of unread emails in your inbox and the seemingly never ending to-do lists we all appear to have running in the back of our minds at all times. This is the energy, the pace of dominance culture. Its go-go-go, ungrounded, "can't stop, won't stop", always plugged in, always inundating us with information to zap our energy, fry our energy, split our energy; leaving very little to look at being with food as anything more than a burden. We've forgotten to cook, forgotten what real food is and instead eat "food-like products" and often pride ourselves on that truth seemingly unaware of what we've lost. There's that veil of illusion!
This pace is unsustainable and out of balance with nature; resulting in an increased impact on the health and wholeness of not only us humans but all creatures', straining our relationships with each other and our earth. Interrupting the pace of dominance culture isn't something that can be accomplished in a weekend long immersion program, a yoga retreat, a year of travel or finishing a best selling book on the topic. Unlearning the pace and practices of dominance culture requires work. Some good old-fashioned effort. You need to show up and make the choice to actively begin questioning those "beliefs" you think are yours but are in fact seeds of the oppressor and shift your lifestyle practices to seek alignment with nature. This can be explored many ways and begin anytime.
What does that pace look like for you?
What would have to change for that pace to take hold?
What would you have to let go of to enable that pace to become lived?
What would you have to make space for so that this pace can take root?
This is not about researching what's trendy and then copying it. This is not about putting on a show. This is about your relationship with Earth and you doing your part to slowly shift the currents away from the toxic pace of dominance culture through interrupting its hold on your life. Start somewhere and give yourself time to allow this new practice, and the pace that comes with it, to become habit before integrating another. Like the wisdom that comes from journeying with the Elk; PACE yourself!
In this post we will explore an ancestral food practice and sacred food ritual that invites a shift of pace into your life. This practice is one of the responsibilities I was given by my gram when helping her in the kitchen; preparing the grains. It wasn't simply taking a scoop of rice from a bag, popping it into a rice cooker and "setting it and forgetting it". My gram would set me up with this little chair that served as both my little kid chair and the house step ladder. She would bring a large bowl of rice to the sink that had already been soaking in water either overnight or throughout the day. The water was often cloudy and no matter how many times she had told me before she would remind me, through demonstration, how to wash the grain by hand. This process was not quick and involved being repeated over and over and over again; draining the bowl of water in between each washing by mindfully tilting the edge of the bowl into my palm slowly. The palm often transformed into many tools to be used in the preparation of food. There was not a lot of fancy equipment in our kitchen growing up and that was ok because as long as you have a good knife, wooden spoon or stick and your hands you had what you needed to feed your family. So as we stood by the sink massaging the grain, imprinting it with our love and then drained the cloudy water drained through the palm of my hand, the palm would catch any straggler grain from falling into the sink.
I can remember really disliking this responsibility, mostly because I found it difficult to do efficiently with little hands serving as sifts for the water to drain while keeping the grain in the bowl. Early on it never worked; I always ended up with grain in the sink! But over time, after many practices with my gram, along with the growing of my hands, increase in my strength and dexterity, I was able to efficiently and effectively drain the water by hand without much, if any, loss of grain into the sink. Yay!
My grandmother didnt tell me that this process of soaking and washing repeatedly helped to break down the phytic acids and complex sugars in the grain and cleanse the grain from impurities to make them more digestible for the body. What my grandmother did tell me is that this is the way to prepare rice. Period. We didn't need the colonizers love of using science to validate the ancestral wisdom we already knew. She and I both knew why we prepared the grains this way. That knowing came from what our bodies told us about the food and what our ancestors living and breathing through us shared with our hearts as we prepared food. That knowing came from within us not from an external "credentialed" scientific source that bestowed knowledge upon us. This internal knowing was and still is connection to our real power. As we got older and lived in this country longer and began eating more of the American diet, the instruction remained the same, but the explanation began to shift to this practice being the old way to prepare rice. She could feel, as could I, these practices slipping away in the pursuit of the illusion of "a better life".
I've said it before and will say it again and again and again; food is much more than what we chew, swallow, digest and excrete. Food is a portal to one's wholeness, healing, lineage, wisdom and transformation. Food is love and we are an embodiment of divine love that is fueled, nourished, supported and guided by the magic that resides in real food prepared using the old ways. Journey with your food; recognize its life, prana, chi, ashe, energy. Whether it be plant or animal based all real food connects us to its life. That life is take into us to sustain our life. This is the full circle and what it means to be in rhtymn with, not over, nature.
A N C E S T R A L * P R E P A R A T I O N * O F * G R A I N S
- Grains (e.g. cornmeal, polenta, rice, quinoa etc.
- Water (to first soak grain overnight and wash by hand repeatedly until the water runs clear
- Kombu or Splash of starter from ferments
Soak grains overnight or first thing in the morning until dinner. Add a splash of ferment juice or kombu. This breaks down the hard to digest parts into easier to digest parts.
After soaking wash the grains, draining in between washes until the water runs clear.
Prepare grains as usual.
That's it in a nutshell.
S A C R E D * F O O D * R I T U A L
Before preparing the meal begin by grounding the body bringing your awareness to the place where your body meets the earth. Take a few breathes into the earth and when ready begin getting organized to prepare your meal. Feel free to be barefoot, play music, light incense, whatever invites not only grounding but joy. Let your space where food is prepared be a joyful one; even if that joy is not externally expressed but held within.
From the moment your body makes contact with the food you are preparing consider the life-force energy that resides in all real food AND within you! Feel that connection feed each other through every touch of your hands to the grains.
As you massage the grain, gently, and wash it until the water runs clear envision those who will be partaking in this meal and ask that this meal nourish them. Let the messages of love and gratitude be spoken within the mind and heart and out of the mouth if so inspired. I, like my grandma, often "speak to myself" when its really us speaking to our ancestors while preparing food.
When the water runs clear and its time to cook the grain as usual continue to practice with every addition of seasoning or legumes to the grain and every stir of the spoon. When the grain is prepared and ready to serve do the same thing as you eat. With every bit savor, journey with, listen to... with every bite be grateful and embody gratitude. Knowing that each blessing energetically imprinted into your food which then became apart of your body. Nothing lost. Apart of. Whole and healing through the lens of food.
You have this one life; don't rush through it, midwife it. The word midwife simply translates to mean "be with". Its one of my favorite words. Be with your life by inviting these practices into your life that make it so much more delicious.
Thank you for listening/reading and let me know what your experience with this practice is like, I would love to hear from you!
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