Juan Estevan Arellano

Nowadays there is so much confusion about what is “sustainable,” “organic,” or “natural” food, that as Indo-Hispanos, we sometimes forget our own ancestral models that have worked historically and make more sense. One such concept that has fallen by the wayside as we embrace and debate such abstract concepts as “food security” and “food democracy” is the philosophy of convide, or the sharing of food among neighbors.

Indo-Hispano (Chicana/o) communities have been sharing water and food since time immemorial. The sharing of the water comes from the concept of equidad, or equality, as stated in the Quran, and is an ethical practice known as repartimiento.

Therefore, repartimiento and convide are two basic values that have made our communities sustainable over the past 400 years here in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado.

Convide – from the concept con vite; that is, “with” and  “alive” – is an idea that has allowed our communities to survive and thrive when it comes to eating healthy food. Even the Slow Food Movement, the presumed brainchild of Italian journalist Carlo Petrini, has embraced the concept of convivium.

Here in the Rio Arriba, when the women made something special, be it biscochitos, tamales, a special caldo or guiso, the whole community would aprobar or taste the food; no one would go hungry. The same would happen when an animal was butchered; everybody shared un pedacito, a piece of meat. The day of the matanza was a day of fiesta. This was the ultimate convite, and prefigures by centuries the same ideas of the Slow Food conviviums. For the matanza, everyone had a specialty: The chichorranera/o was the one who made the pork cracklins, and women usually made the chile colorado de matanza (when it was pork); the tortillera was the maker of the tortillas, etc.

Then there was the hueso guisandero that people shared to make caldo (soup), when times were really bad, to at least flavor the spring water that was infused with wild edible herbs and boiled soft tubers.

The New Mexico Acequia Association was involved in a food project, a local food assessment in four watersheds including the Embudo, which includes the communities on the ríos Picuris, Santa Bárbara, El Valle and Ojo Sarco, all the way down to where the río Embudo empties into the Grande. The three most important concepts you will hear from the elders for strategies for survival are: repartimiento, convite and working en cooperación. The best example is the acequia, a truly worker-owned and democratically governed cooperative.

By sharing resources, be it water or food, and cooperating in labor, the people here were able to sustain themselves with high altitude grass-fed beef that summered up in Tres Ritos munching on the upland grass meadows.

The local food included local chile, both green and red; corn, which people used to prepare a wide range of traditional cuisine from tamales to posole. Local “Spanish” wheat was used to make flour, which was then made into the lenten pastry favorite, panocha. This is made from sprouted wheat seeds, which are dried and then ground on metates into a flour. The traditional food included fabas, lentejas, and all types of meat: beef, lamb, goat, pig, and chicken, all produced by the families or neighbors, as well as wild quail, turkey, pigeons, deer, elk, and at one time, buffalo. The diverse cuisine of the Rio Arriba included different recipes for the use of fish including freshwater eels from the Río Grande. The regional manito cuisine presented a nutritious set of food varieties.

And this is only the beginning of what was produced “natural y con la ayuda de Diós,” naturally and with the blessing of God. To this saying, the people often add an additional phrase expressing the interconnection of people to place: “para nos, para vos y para los animalitos de Dios,” (for us, for you, and for God’s animals). With fe (faith) in the land, water, and all creation, we survived by adopting and following these ethics of repartmiento, conviviendo y cooperando.

Conviviendo, helping each other as community, instead of simply “sustaining” to save and then invest somewhere else, is what has blessed us with “una vida buena y sana y alegre” because we have followed the simple philosophy of sharing the water, food and work and that has made our lives festive.

All these made the people resilient, or as we say “correoso,” meaning flexible; that is, “cuando no hay lomo de todo como” (“when there is no loin, I’ll eat whatever there is”). Correoso means one is able to recuperate from whatever life throws at you, be it a hailstorm that destroys all the crops, or a frost. It makes a people resistant, combative and difficult to overthrow. One has to be flexible and elastic to survive in times of crisis, correoso.

Juan Estevan Arellano is a writer and researcher focusing on traditional agriculture and irrigation practices. He is the translator-editor of the book Ancient Agriculture, and of many articles in both Spanish and English about the rural traditions of northern New Mexico. He and his wife, Elena, raise heirloom fruit, vegetables and wild greens in the Embudo area along the Río Grande.