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Mesquite Gathering

Dec. 3, 2007

by Gay Chanler

I celebrated the New Year twice in 2007. The first occasion was on January 1st, in the tradition of the western world. In the second instance it was July first, when I was a guest in the Seri Indian village of El Desemboque, a desert community on the east coast of the Sea of Cortez in Sonora, Mexico. There, the New Year begins with the start of the wild mesquite pod harvest, in early July. I had come to witness and record the celebration and the harvest in preparation for launching the Fire Roasted Mesquite Presidium.

mesquite

The Seri New Year celebration is linked with the harvest because mesquite is one of the most important traditional staple foods of this hunting and gathering people. Rich in protein, minerals and other nutrients, it was a significant part of their healthy, natural, Native diet. Today, however, as the traditional diet erodes from the onslaught of packaged, processed, non-traditional foods, and children are growing accustomed to sodas, chips, and commercial sweets, there is a dramatic deterioration in health. Many Seri suffer from diabetes and its side effects, and restoring mesquite to their regular diet would make a significant difference in preventing this problem.

The goal of the Mesquite Presidium is to sustain this food tradition and keep it viable by generating income from selling the surplus flour not consumed in the community. The nutty, sweet, gluten–free flour is already gaining popularity in the United States, and interest is growing in Mexico. Marketing part of their mesquite harvest to Mexican neighbors and communities across the US border promotes not only economic gain, but also a cross-cultural exchange that will bring recognition to the value of their food traditions in a larger world.

Teaching us their mesquite harvest and roasting practices, and sharing their tortillas, atole, and tamales with us, infused the New Year celebration with enthusiasm for the Presidium project. In this New Year, fire-roasted Mesquite flour from Seri is coming to market. Look for it at the Center for Sustainable Environments, Prescott College’s Crossroads Café, Tucson Botanical Garden, and the Smithsonian/National Museum of the American Indian’s Mitsitam Café.

Read more about the Seri Fire Roasted Mesquite Presidium on the Slow Food USA website and the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity website.

Mesquite pod flour is also on the US Ark of Taste. Click here to learn more.

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