"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."
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...