New Mexico is a magical place; that’s why it’s known as the Land of Enchantment. (Although my friend who grew up there refers to it as the Land of Entrapment.) Even the airport hints at the character of the state: colorful and arty souvenirs, a meditation room, and– these days– lots of Breaking Bad t-shirts.
In October, I attended the Growing Food and Justice Initiative Gathering in Taos.
I haven’t written much about work on this blog, but this conference was so tied to a sense of place, I’d be remiss not to mention it. And I’m considering renaming the blog to reflect my food justice work. But I digress.
GFJI brings together food justice activists who are concerned with racial justice and spiritual reflection. It was hosted at the fierce, indigenous and Hispanic-led Taos County Economic Development Corp, which has a massive incubator kitchen, a mobile matanza (slaughterhouse), greenhouses, and teaching gardens. I attended a workshop on the acequias movement. A practice of cooperative water management passed down from Spanish colonialists, it has been effective for centuries in a desert setting. Water usage is determined by time and allotments instead of volume and price. But corporations are buying out shares– often for use elsewhere– seeing water as a commodity rather than a public good. There is a local struggle between traditional, sustainable practices and “modern,” extractive usage. We also heard from notable farmer and climate change activist Winona LaDuke, who spoke of our collective addiction to energy (and like addicts, we do unspeakable things to maintain the habit). She shared a haunting story of South Dakota after a recent blizzard, riding in on horseback amongst tens of thousands of dead cattle. And she devastatingly referred to South Dakota and Appalachia as “national sacrifice zones” for energy production.
There was also replenishing dancing and singing with the Taos Pueblo folks. And there were other workshops from people around the country, not as relevant to this blog.
The first morning, I had breakfast at the counter at Michael’s Kitchen Cafe and Bakery. It’s one of those local spots with regulars and chatty staff. I wanted my green chile fix. Grown along the Rio Grande in the Hatch Valley, these chiles are rich in vitamin C and have a distinctive, earthy flavor and heat that is unique to their growing region. I had the breakfast enchilada, with scrambled eggs, smothered in a meaty green chile, with a side of beans. There was also a sopaipilla (fry bread) served with cinnamon butter. One evening, a few of us had decent margaritas at Adobe Bar, a cozy venue with live music and a local favorite. Both were walking distance from El Pueblo Lodge, a sweet, dog-friendly hotel in the center of town.
The kitchen staff at TCEDC also served delicious food. One evening, there were chicharrones prepared outdoors over a propane stove. There was a wok-like disk for cooking, apparently welded from a retired piece of a tractor, an example of ingenuity common in the area. Another evening we had a feast of locally produced and donated meats (bison, pork, beef, lamb) with sweet, roasted root vegetables. The last day, we sampled some of the items that graduates of the incubator kitchen class developed for commercial production: sticky buns dotted with green chile, chocolate chip quinoa cookies, a butternut squash soup– all delicious.
I took a detour on the way back to Albuquerque and stopped at Carson National Forest. After an intense weekend, all I wanted was to walk around and hear the rustle of the wind in the leaves. Up in the mountains, there was already snow on the ground. There were pine trees all around and the leaves on the aspens were bright yellow.
I stopped at La Montanita Coop in Albuquerque to pick up a few foods that are trickier to find on the east coast: green chile, blue posole, blue popcorn, Mexican oregano. The prepared foods were quite good too: I had a tasty and reasonably portioned breakfast burrito that morning and brought a citrusy kale salad and green chile and cheese tamale to the airport. In the meantime, food will continue to bring me back to this place.