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Keitlyn Alcantara studies foodways as tools of empowerment

Hands with brown skin holding pale seed pods over a plastic container partially filled with gray, round seeds.

Lauren McAllister of the Plant Truck Project removes okra seeds from dry pods in the greenhouse at Hilltop Gardens on the IU Campus. Lauren has been involved with the Healing Gardens at Hilltop, which Keitlyn talks about in the interview. (courtesy of Keitlyn Alcantara)

“As I started to think more about theories around food, and it’s a thing that we do every day without fail, and it really shapes the way that we interact with one another, it shapes the way we interact with our environments, the ways that we create networks of relationships–being able to name it has given it a power to be able to use it to tap into ways to think about social relationships in the present and propose alternatives.”

This week we’re devoting the full show to my conversation with Keitlyn Alcantara. She's an anthropological bioarcheologist at Indiana University-Bloomington, who studies foodways as tools of empowerment. 

We talk about her research into Mexican foodways during the Late Postclassic period. Using bioarcheological methods, she studied the diet of a community in Mexico who had resisted the Aztec Empire, before Spanish colonization.  She was curious about the role that food sovereignty might have played in their ability to resist conquest, and about how contemporary foodways in the community may be influenced by the past.

We also talk about cooking workshops she organized with Latinx middle school students from immigrant communities in Nashville Tennessee, and what she's learning about the powerful role food can play in connecting us with our origins.

Keitlyn Alcantara started her faculty position in the Department of Anthropology at IU in the fall of 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. After a trip home to Mexico in the winter, she was inspired to start the Healing Garden at Hilltop project, as a space for herself and others in the community to spend time in the garden without the usual expectations found in community garden spaces. A description of the Healing Garden includes this passage: 

“We work together with the garden to unlearn practices of white supremacy (urgency, perfectionism, homogeneity, hierarchical decision making, defensiveness) and create space for multiple ways of knowing, relating to land, and relating to one another.” 

Keitlyn gives credit to Lauren McAllister of the The Plant Truck Project for contributing to this work. We touch on this, and more, in our conversation on this week's episode of Earth Eats. 

Music on this Episode

The Earth Eats theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey.

Additional music on this episode from Universal Production Music.



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