Bhí eolas acu ar dhála a sean: Remembering Ancestral Health and Indigenous Food Sovereignty in Ireland

I’ve been attempting to write a book for the last 12 years, and the more I have reasearched the material, the more my thesis has evolved. It’s always been about food, a topic I’ve not stopped studying since I was attempting to defend myself as a 16 year-old vegan against the naysayers of the not-so-vegan-friendly 1990’s. I was religiously dogmaitic with my vegan faith, but in studying the diets of Indigenous people, my faith was shaken to the core. It took me years after a book arived on my shelf called “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration” to actually act on what I had intellectually accepted. Slowly, steadily, I accepted the undeniable virtues of wild salmon, free-range eggs from the local farm, occasionaly Bison (I still wouldn’t eat a cow). And then I took the plunge into raw milk, liver, and anything else that our grandmothers swore by. I soon joined the “real food underground” with a heard of chickens and a couple milking goats, working at the local orgainc farm, organizing activist conferences on Food Soverignty and traditional health.

This all brought into focus the issues of Land and Water and how these fundamental elements of our lives have intersected with history and economics. Food was not longer food. Food was politics. Food was class. Food was power. Some food was medicine and some food was poison. Food was culture, survival, decolonization, and the resurgence of Indigenous Peoples. So, needless to say, I’ve set many a rough drafts aside. But now in my bones I can feel that this is the year where I must express what has been brewing in my wee brain over this past decade. I thought I could just write a diet book, but it apprears I’m actually at war with an Empire. Lucky me.

To be sure, many a book has been written on food and food politics. Many are wonderful sources that I myself will rely upon, and certainly I do not care to re-invent the wheel of the food politics book to fit some marketing trend. I don’t intend to look for a commercial publisher. But I do have a particular lense with which to view these issues which I feel will be of benefit to all decolonizing Peoples and has become a driving force for me: the historical experience of my own indigenous Ancestors, the Gaels of Ireland and Scotland. (I also intend to translate this book into our language, Gaeilig, when I’m actually fluent in the coming years. I was born a settler-colonist in Oregon FYI)

So here, I’m am going to get the ball rolling by laying out my premises to the best of my ability. It is my hope that what I put forward here will eventualy become common, public knowledge that can me acted upon. And I acknowledge that the facts of the matter have stirred up controversy as the implications are profoundly unsettling. Yet I am now confident that I have both science and deep traditional wisdom on my side. Constructive feedback is always welcomed as far as I’m concerned. I expect many revisions and refinements:

Premise 1: The traditional diets of Indigenous Peoples are by no means “primitive” and in fact embody the “advanced” fulfillment of human nutrutional needs, meeting the genetic expectation of the human genome in regards to the fulfullment of genetic expression. This truth runs counter to the colonizing view of the world, which falsely spread it’s “civilizing” values and way of life to the detriment of all life on planet earth. Against this delusion, all facts demonstate that the “civilization” being spread was and is causational of wide-spread malnutrition.

Premise 2: Not all “Civilizations” and not all “Indigenous People” are equal. This is not a debate about semantics, but instead a genuine inquiry into the “cause and effect” nature of any human society’s relationship with the place they inhabit, seen through the lense of genetic expression over the course of generations. I do not equate “Domestication” with “Civilization” and question the historical determinism and consequent world-view which imposes the spectrum of “primitive-to-civilized”. There are complexities at play that defy modern dogmas and certain orthodox anthropological biases. Therefore, allowance for complexity as opposed to semantic legalism is of great benefit. I will do my best to write clearly with all of this in mind.

Premise 3: Basic nutritional “laws” can be deciphered from cross-cultural studies of traditional Indigenous diets. This must be contrasted with the general malnutrition of “modernized” diets to understand what was stolen with the imposition of colonial orders.

Premise 4: The bioregional appropriateness of any settler-colonial food system must be called into question with the attempt to apply these rules, in deference to the indigenous ecology of a given place. Restoration of Indigenous food systems may or may not include the continued production of non-indigenous food sources. Both detrimental effects of “invasive species” and the general benefits of increased biodiversity should be wisely considered.

Premise 5: The effects of out-of-balance ecologies and the “normalization” of widespread, systematic malnutrition are a significant cause of suffering in the here-and-now and need not rely on ecological “doom and gloom” scenarios for justification. The present and historical levels of suffering are enough to compel action. But yeah, it’s getting worse.

Premise 6: Food systems cannot be understood without coming to terms with the historical developments of colonialism, capitalism and the forces of neoliberal globalization. Malnutrition is a class issue, furthered by the imposed ignorace of ongoing colonial education systems which mis-educate students for the commercial advancement of industial-capitalist food producers and the pharmaceutical industry.

Premise 7: An education surveying all Ancestral diets is needed to demonstrate the desirability and profound benefits of decolonizing diet. The history of the colonization of Ireland presents a clear narrative as to the detrimental effects of the deprivation of Ancestral food ways. The colonial biases of many academics, from medieval to modern times, has obscured the uniqueness and positive historical realities of food systems in Gaelic Ireland. Similarly, the utterly traumatic devastation of the imposed food system under colonial rule continues to be trivialized.

Premise 8: Human beings are capable of living perfectly healthy lives without any sign of malnutirition on a diet of exclusively grass-fed raw milk alone. This has been objectively demonstrated in modern times. The primary food of Gaels for the majority of our multi-thousand year existence on our Island has been exclusively grass-fed raw milk, generously supplemented by other profoundly nutritional foods. Indigenous dairying cultures can also be found in Africa and Asia, which likewise demonstrate superb health. The domestication of the cow may actually date well into what is now called the “paleolithic” era. Gaels maintined an indigenous pastoral culture, co-existing with wolves, on a forested Island who’s rivers teemed with Salmon and Lamprey for thousands of years. Evidence for a seemingly unprecedented ecological relationship between “domesticated” and “wild” should be fully appreciated for how unique it may have been.

Premise 9: The restoration of Ancestral Health and Indigenous Food Sovereignty requires a deep and realistic understanding of the human body, it’s relationship to the society our bodies inhabit, and that societies relationship to the land-base which it depends on. This technical exploration can be applied to any place on the planet. I intend to make this exploration in relationship to Ireland, while contextualizing our situation with other places throughout this Planet.

Premise 10: Rather than a personal “life-stlye” choice, the intergenerational impacts of diet, malnutrition, and colonialism should be the focus of decolonizing food systems, with the aim of healing the damage done. The Epigenetic view of bodily restoration should be at the center of our endeavour. Applied, intergenerational, epigenetic restoration through the revival of Ancestral food ways is possible.

And I won’t mention how much it perturbs me to be writing this all in English. So back to my Irish Language studies.

Slán go fóill.