Many have claimed that the obesity and diabetes prevalent on the reservation stem from the abandonment of traditional foods procured from desert farming and gathering. As a result, many of the attempts to reduce the diabetes epidemic are based on the return to these traditional foods. However, I do have serious doubts that the feasibility of sustainable traditional agricultural.
When speaking with Sterling at his dry farming tepary bean field, he mentioned the modest yields that come from each stalk. With restrictive soil nutrients, low acreage, and modest yields, how is there supposed to be a mass return to traditional “healthy” foods? The undersupply would mean that only those dedicated to (and with the means of) procuring the traditional foods would benefit from the production. Next, the financing and infrastructure for proper irrigation of land is not in place. For example, the Arizona Water Rights Settlement Act of 2004 allowed for the San Xavier district to allow the construction of a farming project or receive the cash equivalent in lieu of the project. The cash was taken. This is indicative of the need for capital for other projects rather than the production of traditional foods. Most importantly, I think the distinction between “commodity food” and junk food needs to be made. The rampant diabetes epidemic within the reservation is not the product of Bashas lettuce, apples, or tuna. “Western” food has not caused these health conditions, but the endangering consumer preferences seem to be the largest contributing factor. Instead of focusing capital on low yield production of traditional foods, I strongly believe that the captial should be used to promote healthy consumer choices. Furthermore, the Tohono O’odham tax code could be changed to heavily regulate and disincentivize consumers from making those unhealthy choices. To me, the bottom line is simple: just because it isn’t traditional doesn’t mean it’s unhealthy. The poverty issues supporting the diabetes epidemic may not be the only problem, but we can’t expect low-income households to spend half of their daily wages at the Desert Rain Café.