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NMSU students to study food, culture in the Southwest during 2020 Sundt Seminar

Next spring, more than a dozen New Mexico State University honors students will spend their spring break examining the relationship between food and culture in the Southwest by visiting Native American, Latino and Anglo communities in Arizona and New Mexico.


Group working across a pond
New Mexico State University students work on Hawaii's Paepae o He’eia fish pond restoration during their 2016 Sundt Seminar trip to study the effects of climate change on coral reefs. Next spring, Sundt Seminar students will study food and culture in the Southwest. (Photo courtesy of Michele Nishiguchi)
Photo of woman showing a sea urchin to two people
New Mexico State University students Kelcie Gerry, left, Ismael Torres, right, and University of Hawaii graduate student Annick Cros look at a sea urchin at the Anuenue Sea Urchin Hatchery in Honolulu during the Sundt Honors College trip to Hawaii in 2016 to study the effects of climate change on coral reefs. Next spring, Sundt Seminar students will study food and culture in the Southwest. (Photo courtesy of Michele Nishiguchi)

The trip is part of the 2020 Sundt Honors seminar course, which is offered every two years by the NMSU William Conroy Honors College. Next semester, anthropology professor Lois Stanford, who was recently named to the college’s M. Eugene Sundt Professorship, will lead the course, which includes a trip during spring break to communities in the Southwest.

The course will focus on three related, critical questions: what is the nature of food sovereignty among Native American, Latino and other communities in the Southwest; how can lessons from these studies and regional projects support efforts to increase regional food security; and what is the relationship between food sovereignty and food security efforts, on the one hand, and the conservation of biological and cultural diversity, on the other.

“The class examines the food history and traditional cuisines of peoples in the Southwest, including Native Americans, Spanish and Mexican settlers, Anglo ranchers, and, more recently, Mexican national immigrants,” Stanford said. “In the prehistoric Southwest, food was grounded in place. Foodways (cultural, social and economic practices relating to the production and consumption of food) reflected long agricultural histories, ties to a homeland and seeds passed down by ancestors.”

Native American peoples in the Southwest, including the Tohono O’odham of Southern Arizona, the Hopi of Northern Arizona, and the Pueblo peoples of Northern New Mexico, developed ancient and permanent civilizations based on the subsistence production of corn, beans and squash, Stanford said.

“The traditional cultures based their respective cuisines and traditional dishes on food sovereignty, that is, the capacity to produce their own food and to maintain their cultures autonomously,” Stanford said. “Tribal peoples maintained a relationship with the land, plants and animals that allowed them to organize resources that sustained their communities over generations.”

Stanford said understanding the efforts of Native American, Latino and Anglo communities to restore food sovereignty, reclaim foodways and address health issues requires close study of specific community projects. Among the stops students will make during their spring break trip are the Native Seeds Conservation Farm in Patagonia, Ariz., and Native Seeds Seed Bank in Tucson, Ariz., as well as the Tohono O’odham Community Action, a nonprofit organization that promotes conservation of traditional food crops, traditional culture and Native American health.

Other sites students will visit include the Tucson Community Food Bank, Hopi Cultural Center and agricultural farms, and Acoma Pueblo. In Santa Fe, the class will visit the Tesuque Pueblo Farm, home of an indigenous permaculture garden and off-the-grid Tesuque Seed Bank. In Albuquerque, the class will visit Dragon Farm, a sustainable farm for students of Albuquerque’s South Valley Academy and surrounding community.

Other field trips include a visit to La Semilla Food Center in Anthony, N.M.

The last Sundt Seminar was taught in 2018 by biology professor Brook Milligan that included travel to Mexico. In 2016, biology Regents Professor Michele Nishiguchi took 14 undergraduate students on a field trip to a University of Hawaii research station on a tiny Hawaiian island to learn about the effects of climate change on corals, as well as the policies of managing protected marine reserves and the use of those reserves for education and training in both cultural and natural resource sustainability for local communities.

Previous recipients of the Sundt Professorship include Rani Alexander, whose class studied the collapse and resilience of the Mayan culture in Mexico, and Connie Falk, who traveled to Nicaragua with students to examine environmental challenges in that region.