Stop eating ‘dead food’: Traditional sustenance and gut health | Ha-Shilth-Sa Newspaper

Stop eating ‘dead food’: Traditional sustenance and gut health

Port Alberni, BC

Chef Ximana Nola Mack of Nuxalk works with traditional foods that she grew up on. Highly sought after, Chef Nola was invited to cook for the Prime Minister of Canada. She was a guest at the Island Indigenous Foods Gathering on March 21-22 and delivered a presentation on how traditional foods, medicines and alternative recipes can be used to heal our gut and improve the overall wellness of Indigenous peoples.

Ximana Nola Mack started off by saying that she was raised up in a smokehouse, learning how to prepare and care for traditional foods by her elders.

She is proud to tell people that she is Nuxalk and Carrier, with her mother coming from Bella Coola, and her father from Fort St. James.

“My Nuxalk name ‘Ximana’ means bright light woman,” Nola shared.

Mack, a graduate of culinary school, noted that in a world cuisine course she took North American Indigenous food is not represented.

“I’m trying to make that change,” she said, adding that she’s working on developing First Nations recipes and menus.

The young chef not only owns her own restaurant but also caters and teaches about traditional Indigenous foods. She became emotional when she spoke of opening her restaurant in 2019, which she named after daughter, who died not long before the opening. Her daughter was born in 2017 with some health challenges.

“I want to show that her life is meaningful and had purpose,” Mack shared.

And so, the restaurant in downtown Bella Coola is named Phoenix Spirit Cafe.

At first, Mack says she served what people wanted.

“Poutine, fried food, garbage food – I was embarrassed,” she shared.

And then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Still grieving the loss of her daughter, Mack was working 18 hours a day and living off of restaurant leftovers, pastries and sugary drinks.

“My health was going downhill – hair loss, skin issues,” said Mack.

She turned to an empowerment coach to begin healing and said she started to learn to love herself again. She made the decision to stop eating what she calls dead food.

“Dead food is processed food where everything good and nutritious is killed by processing,” she explained.

Mack turned to traditional foods – bone broth, eulachon grease, soap berries, fish and game meat. Foods that are fresh and alive.  It wasn’t long before she saw her skin clear and her hair thickened.

Chef Mack teaches about live and dead food. At the presentation she shared a platter of delicious fruit leather, made of berries, rose hips, nettles, maple syrup and a few other simple, natural ingredients.

Besides culinary school, Chef Mack credits her elders, including her mother-in-law, for teaching her lessons passed down from people that lived in the 1800s.

“I call myself the Medicine Chef,” she smiled.

She urges people to cook with organic, natural ingredients. To use things like freshly ground flours, healthy fats like ghee (organic butter with milk solids removed), herbs and natural sweeteners.

“You want to extract all flavors from natural ingredients,” she explained.

A follower of Ayurveda, an ancient Indian system of medicine based on the idea that disease is caused by an imbalance or stress in a person's consciousness, Mack recommends that people take the free Dosha Quiz online to learn more about a natural diet that suits their specific needs.

The first step in Ayurveda is to heal the gut and that starts with a hot cup of water first thing in the morning.

“Your gut wants the warmth,” said Mack, adding that people can flavor their water with fresh lime, lemon or ginger.

Mack is taking Ayurveda and Indigenizing it.

“I’m pretty sure our food was science back then,” she said.

“I teach this because we all need to know who we are

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