Sunday, August 18, 2013

On Having Buffalo for Dinner

"Back in the day, when the Lakota were strong people, there was no such thing as a fat Indian."

Twice this week we've had buffalo for dinner, the first time up at La Fonda in Santa Fe during the IAIA scholarship dinner and auction, and then last night just because we could do so -- with a steak from the market.

I have to confess, we like buffalo meat. Not only does it taste better than beef, it is seemingly much "cleaner" as well. Some of the Pueblos around here are breeding and raising buffalo with the intention of returning more of them to the range. Given the number of cattle that are currently range-raised in this area, returning buffalo to the high plains should be a no brainer -- though I'm not altogether sure the high plains of New Mexico were buffalo range back in the day. If they weren't they should have been. Or they might have been. Or they could have been.

I'm sure some of the ranchers in these parts would get a bit tense if someone started running buffalo instead of cattle on their range. There is a heavy weight of myth and fancy to overcome, after all. Buffalo were exterminated as pests in the 19th century, but more than that, they were seen as devil-beasts, scary creatures that couldn't be tamed. And they were food and clothing and shelter for the Indians. Which was even scarier.

Their return is seen as romantic by Anglos, not so much by Indians. To Indians, the buffalo are the natural residents of the plains, like all the other animals that have lived there since before time began, but they are not romanticized icons. The natural world is to be honored and respected. But honor and respect is not the same as Anglo "worship." When the Divine is everywhere, there is no dividing line between oneself and divinity and the world of nature. It's a continuum.

The buffalo, however, as a major resource for human survival on the often hard-scrabble and harsh high plains, had and have a special place of regard among Indian Peoples. (Note: by and large, Indians call themselves and one another "Indians" when talking among themselves. "Natives" or "Native Americans" is generally reserved for discussions between Indians and Anglos -- who are generally called "whites.") And so the return of the buffalo is a major project for quite a few Indian tribes.

The film trailer above is for "Good Meat," a rather remarkable story of a Lakota man suffering from severe overweight and diabetes who sets out to restore his health through restoration of a way of life and a food source that more closely resembles that of his ancestors rather than the highly refined and enervating lifestyles and foods that are so common today.

One of his primary objectives is to replace the meat in his diet with buffalo, and to restrict other foods to those which he knows are historical and/or healthy. Together with an exercise regimen that -- again -- more closely resembles the lifestyle of his ancestors, he is able to bring his weight down significantly and to control his diabetes.

It's almost miraculous. So much so that his doctor is astonished.

Then he backslides, and his health goes to shit again and his weight balloons.

So much for the experiment in reviving the old ways for health purposes.

Diabetes is rampant among Indians, and it is almost always attributable to lifestyle and diet. Ms. Ché is an Indian -- I think I've pointed this out from time to time -- and has suffered from diabetes most of her life (though she wasn't diagnosed until she was in her 30's). She saw "Good Meat" when it was broadcast on the PBS station here, and she was quite taken with it. However, she was not convinced that she could duplicate the success depicted in the film -- for one thing, because she wasn't much of a hunter and would not be likely to have access to buffalo meat more than very rarely. Other "natural" foods for Indians might be hard to come by as well.

So she wasn't sure... and when we found buffalo meat at the Smith's store down the road, she was taken aback by its breathtaking price. When I said, "Let's get some," she shook her head, "No. Not yet. Not at that price." It's close to three times the price of beef at retail...

But we went up to Santa Fe on Tuesday for the IAIA scholarship dinner and auction. The dinner included a skewer of buffalo chunks... along with chicken and polenta and nice, fresh vegetables. It was really a very nice meal for a hotel banquet. Somewhat "themed" for the Indians in attendance, but not so much as to alienated the Anglos. We discussed the buffalo meat... she said, "I suspected it was buffalo before they told us, and it was...good. Very good. I'd eat more of it."

I agree.

So yesterday, I picked up a buffalo steak at the Smiths, and we cooked it for dinner after appropriate ceremonies of honor and respect for the life of the animal that provided us with such a nice piece of meat.

It was small, this steak, less than a pound, but it turned out to be just right for the two of us.

It was exactly the flavor and texture of the buffalo included in the dinner at La Fonda on Tuesday, and it was good.

This morning, Ms Ché checked her numbers as she does every morning, and behold. They were down -- significantly -- from those of the previous week. Indeed, her numbers would be considered within the normal range of a non-diabetic. She smiled, and I said: "Well, there you are."

She said, "It was the buffalo, wasn't it?"

"That and some other things, sure."

We're headed up to Santa Fe a little later for the final day of Indian Market. There will be plenty of frybread on offer, but maybe there will be a skewer of buffalo chunks as well...

We'll see....;-)


  1. Yikes! Stay away from the fry-bread! THAT could not be good for one who teeters on the edge of diabetes. And it certainly isn't "traditional" Indian fare.

  2. We're kind of overwhelmed by Indian Market.

    We've been to various events during Market Week in the past, including this year, but we've never been to the weekend market itself, partly due to schedule conflicts and partly due to the crush of people we've heard about endlessly.

    So we went today, the last day, thinking the crowds might not be so dense.


    Lord, after circling and circling (at under 2 miles an hour) we finally found a parking place beside the Roundhouse (the State Capitol of New Mexico) that miraculously opened up. Then there was the hike to the Plaza, not that far to be sure, but far enough, especially for not-so-spry elders.

    Bam. We're a block from the Plaza and the crowds densify to the point we're walking on the street (one that wasn't closed to traffic) and the crowds are getting thicker and thicker the closer we get to the Plaza, until it is just one solid, seething mass of people. My doG.

    So. We take deep breaths and plunge in. We know some of the artists and others we expect will be there, but how do you even find them in the crush? After a bit, we realize it is all chance, because a lot of the artists who expect to see their friends during Market are astonished when they actually do see them.

    We just go with the flow, but very quickly we get separated and lose track of one another for hours. I'm on the phone with other friends in New Mexico and California during all this, but Missus Ché's phone is on the charger at home.

    I buy a photo taken at Pueblo Bonito by a San Ildefonso Pueblo photographer. He and I chat for quite a while about our Chaco Canyon adventures, and he's thrilled I've actually been there at night, something he has yet to experience. Yet another case of my oldest and dearest friend I've just met. Only in New Mexico.

    I wander around amid the crush, and surprisingly enough, I do encounter several of the artists I know, and we greet each other warmly, smiling and laughing at the fact that I actually found them at all. Pure accident, I'd say.

    I sat on a bench with another geezer who said he'd returned to Santa Fe, where he'd grown up, after 30 years in the military. Wanted to know where I lived. I told him, and he was delighted I was another "local boy" -- I didn't tell him we'd just retired to NM from California last year.

    Met quite a few other artists today as well, some of whom I intend to keep tabs on -- whether I'm collecting any of their works or not.

    And yes, there was frybread, lots and lots of frybread. It seemed like every booth had someone eating a huge round of frybread sprinkled with cinnamon sugar or they were demolishing an Indian taco -- which is built on a platform of frybread.

    Interestingly, though, the most popular food by far was roasted ears of corn, which practically everyone in the crowd was carrying around gnawing on.

    I didn't find any buffalo on a stick, but it doesn't mean it wasn't there.

    I met up with the Missus late in the afternoon. She said she'd been looking for me for quite a while but had forgotten which shirt I was wearing and was looking for the red and blue diagonal pattern one. I was wearing the brown and gray stripe. Ooops! We laughed, had a late lunch/early dinner at the Plaza Cafe, visited a few more booths, and moseyed.

    Neither of us had seen more than half of the booths, food or arts.

    Now we're tired...