From Bison Stew, Rosehips, and Commodity Food to Nutritional Therapy

I grew up on the standard American diet: high sugar, processed carbs, and lots of antibiotics sprinkled o

n top, but I can take my background all the way back to infancy. I was born via a C-section a month early, which gave me a bad start with gut bacteria.Within my first year, I had further issues, which led to the removal of my appendix, which we now know is a storage site for healthy bacteria.

By the time I was in high school, I was suffering with significant digestive problems, which led to an IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) diagnosis. I was a cheese-pizza-eating vegetarian, which didn't help things. My problems continued in college. I started at the Milwaukee Art Institute, but soon transferred to Sinte Gleska University on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, which had a strong art program.

Three things inspired me to find the path I walk now: bison stew, commodity food, and wild rose hips.

Bison Stew: I was invited to be a fire keeper, helping with a traditional Sun Dance. I worked for four days straight hauling rocks and didn't eat much during that time since it was disrespectful to eat around the dancers, who were fasting. At the end, there was a special feed for all the fire keepers featuring bison stew. I wondered how I would handle this as a vegetarian, so I took some of the stew and ate around the meat. Others saw what I was doing, and said, “Your body needs the meat.” I ate it, and I remember my stomach grabbing it and taking it in. So I started eating meat after that first nutrition wake-up call.

Commodity Food: I qualified for government-issued food commodities because I was low-income. One week I was going to get my box of free food – powdered milk, big blocks of fake cheese, old canned goods – and I looked around at the line of indigenous people doing the same. I knew who had obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure