"You are what you eat,” a philosophy that most likely originated in the early 19th century, was popularized in the 1940s and re-energized by the counterculture of the ’60s. It morphed, in the early years of the 21st century, into “You are where you eat” — the culinary war cry of the locavores, who aspire to eat only foods raised, grown, or wildcrafted within 100 miles of their homes — or 250 miles, in the case of desert dwellers like ethnobiologist Gary Paul Nabhan, who wrote about his year of eating locally in Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Food (W.W. Norton, 2001).

Internationally renowned Santa Clara Pueblo sculptor Roxanne Swentzell (who shows new work at the Tower Gallery at the Poeh Cultural Center over Indian Market weekend) joined that conversation in 2013 with the Pueblo Food Experience project, when 14 volunteers of Pueblo descent agreed to eat, for three months, only the foods available to their ancestors before the first Native contact with the Spanish in 1540. Swentzell took that locavore goal one step further: We are not only what and where we eat, she suggested; we are also what and where our ancestors ate. The Pueblo Food Experience grew out of Swentzell’s work with the Flowering Tree Permaculture Institute, a nonprofit she co-founded at Santa Clara Pueblo in 1987.

“I’ve been a seed saver for about 30 years,” Swentzell told Pasatiempo, “and I’ve been very aware of how crops are adapted to their environment. I had read an article that said it takes 20 generations for any species to adapt to an environment. Given that thought, I was fascinated with the idea that we humans, being like seeds, also adapt to our environments. And the way we move around nowadays, our bodies are constantly having to adapt to a new environment. Then I realized that Pueblo people are a very special case in that we are one of the few tribes that were not relocated. That means that we still have our genetic code to our environment intact. But the problem is we are not eating our local food; so even though we have location intact, our food is like we are living in a foreign country all the time. And our health is struggling. So I wanted to see if I could experiment with eating our traditional foods, foods we evolved with for more than 20 generations in the same location, and see what it would do for us.”