Cooking the Native Way

2020 A Voice in the NELA Wilderness Christopher Nyerges Columnists Editions January

A Voice in the NELA Wilderness

by Christopher Nyerges

We’ve all heard about how the indigenous people of Southern California lived off the land. Yet, a myth seems to persist that the diet of the past was a survival diet of bland acorns and squirrels. Nothing could be further from the truth.

As indigenous people have begun to tell their own stories, a fuller picture has emerged of a diverse and healthful diet that would be the envy of contemporary people just about anywhere.

You can find many of the these stories – accompanied by beautiful photos and tantalizing recipes – in “Cooking the Native Way: Chia Café Collective.” The book is written by 10 longtime educators in Native American food, traditions, beliefs and anthropology: Barbara Drake, Daniel McCarthy, Deborah Small, Leslie Mouriquand, Cindi Alvitre, Craig Torres, Abe Sanchez, Lorene Sisquoc, Heidi Lucero and Tima Lotah Link. Readers in Northeast Los Angeles may already be familiar with the some of these native people from their teachings at the Southwest Museum, Franklin High School and other local venues.

In a story by the Mother Earth Clan – comprised of Drake, Sisquoc and Alvitre – the writers share the clan “rules to live by,” which are guidelines for cultural survival and sustainability. Among the rules: All things are sacred and all things are alive. Respect your elders by listening and learning. Always be truthful. Always give before you take. What you do will come back to you, good or bad.

The section in the book on “Places” introduces readers to the Southern California locations where the authors teach, with fantastic and uplifting photos of their workshops.

But the heart of the book is the “Recipes” section. Readers learn about the key plants used by native peoples, where to purchase them or forage for them in the wild and how to prepare them into delicious dishes. Readers are also given the details of why these traditional foods are so good nutritionally.

Published by Heyday books in Berkeley, “Cooking the Native Way: Chia Café Collective” is enjoyable to read, a pleasure to look at and full of tried and tested recipes. It invites readers to learn and appreciate, to live ethically, to cook creatively and eat well.

Nyerges is the author of “Foraging California,” “Extreme Simplicity,” “The Self-Reliant Home,” and other books.

For information on his books and classes, go to