The Sacred Indigenous Food That Can Level Up Your Self-Care

Photo by Jacob Dyer on Unsplash

I have been a reluctant biohacker for close to a decade.

Living with a chronic illness — in my case, type 1 diabetes — means that for years I’ve paid hyper-close attention to any signs and symptoms of deficiency, disfunction, and deficit that appear in my already challenged body. Then I try, with my distinctly non-scientific brain, to remedy that deficiency without punching yet another hole in the wall, as it were.

To be perfectly honest, I spent the better part of a decade punching holes in walls. The road of health is paved with trials and errors. It’s a challenge, to say the least, which has led me down more “superfood” rabbit holes than I can count.

What finally started to click with my body a few years ago was shifting my understanding of superfoods and super-nutrients from plant-based to animal-based. Goji berries and baobob and maca and kale all turned out to be non-starters, at least for me and my constellation of health needs.

After learning about ancestral living, however, the most miraculously effective superfoods to grace my body turned out to be animal-based fats.

I did not take this shift lightly. I spent no small amount of time in my early adulthood following a vegetarian diet based on environmental and animal rights concerns; then, like many folks who face a massive health crisis, committed myself to what I thought would be a miraculous vegan diet for the better part of a year.

I can’t comment on the environmental sustainability of eating an animal-based diet, only to say that what matters most to me is that my animal-based products come from people who raise the animals with care, respect, and attunement to nature.

That is, after all, my goal. To treat my body with care, respect, and attunement to nature. When your body breaks down so badly that constant medical intervention is unavoidable, one starts to become much more interested in the natural order of things.

Emus have been part of Aboriginal Australian culture in the same way that buffalo are part of Indigenous American culture. These native cultures used every part of their sacred animals: meat and organs for food, oil for nutrition and healing purposes, bones and sinew for tools, skin for shelter, hides for warmth and clothing.

These animals were known as sacred beings to the indigenous peoples because they provided everything needed to survive. This symbiotic relationship featured prominently in religious and spiritual practice: the emu features prominently in the Dreamtime, which is the Aboriginal understanding of the world, of its creation, and its great stories. To Native Americans, the buffalo was an intermediary through which they could speak to their Great Spirit, and by which the Spirit often spoke to them.

Animal products, to these cultures, were gifts from Earth Mother and the divine. And those animal fats were their superfoods.

I started out my health journey by going thoroughly plant-based. I went vegan; then I went raw vegan. I was convinced that animal products would disrupt my already disrupted hormones, so I stopped wearing leather and wool for awhile. I had never been more committed to anything, because I had never been more scared. Scared for my health, scared for my future, scared to do whatever I had been doing before, which had caused such a massive health crisis in my body out of the clear blue sky.

As it turns out, I got very little — the absolutely minimum — of guidance from the medical professional who diagnosed me. So this plant-based diet represented my commitment healing my body when no one else — not even the medical profession — could support me.

I became ever more sick. My body became inflamed in ways I’d never experienced before; I became an insomniac. My digestion, menstrual cycle, skin, and mood all began to fall to pieces. I stuck, as hard as I possibly could, to my plant based lifestyle.

It took years to even consider the other end of the spectrum, which is animal-based eating. I was convinced that the nutrients, enzymes, and antioxidants I needed were in the vibrant colors and living fibers of raw plant foods. I could not imagine otherwise; animal food was, of course, dead flesh. How could that be the healthy choice for my ailing body?

What I hadn’t considered were the cultures that for millennia have worshipped animals as sacred, and utilized animal products in every aspect of living: nutrition, shelter, functional tool making, spiritual connection. As I modern woman, perhaps I thought that I was so far removed from those ancestral communities so as to have nothing in common with them, not even the makeup of our human bodies.

I was wrong. The support that my body necessitates is well provided by sustainably raised, respectfully harvested, and mindfully manufactured animal products. These are animals, after all. To not pay them the respect they deserve for providing healing foods and products for us would be wrong-headed, abusive, and selfish, disregarding the symbiotic relationship that denotes mutual benefit.

I make my commitment to these animals by purchasing only from companies that have the most rigorous quality, testing, and animal welfare standards. Thankfully, this is accessible enough by researching and communicating with the companies to whom you are paying your hard-earned money.

Indigenous Australians thrived in some of the harshest conditions on earth. They had an exceptional understanding of “bush medicine,” a sophisticated pharmacopoeia of traditional medicinal knowledge and practices.

One feature of Aboriginal medicine was the importance they placed on emu fat. It’s easy to see why the emu was a sacred animal to this culture, as it has such unique qualities in its oil. The male sits on his cluster of eggs for 54 days without getting up to eat or drink; his nutrition is stored in his life-sustaining fat.

Modern research shows us what Aboriginal medicine has known all along: emu oil is the highest naturally occurring source of vitamin K2 MK-4, which is a nutrient that turns out to be missing from our modern diets and is critical for optimum cellular function. Completely formulated by Mother Nature.

The discovery of vitamin K was worthy of the prestigious Nobel Prize in Medicine. In 1943, the Danish biochemist Carl Peter Henrik Dam, for his discovery of Vitamin K, shared the honor with American biochemist Edward A. Doisy, for his discovery of its chemical structure.

Just a few of the functions Vitamin K2 MK-4 has in our bodies:

  1. Necessary for myelin production and is neuro-protective
  2. Immune system modulator
  3. Reduces systemic inflammation
  4. Necessary for mitochondrial ATP production
  5. Reduces mitochondrial dysfunction

I now use emu oil almost daily, using it topically on my skin and nutritionally by swallowing capsules with meals. My signs and symptoms of inflammation — including chronic skin, menstrual, and digestive issues — have all cooled off significantly, a gift upon which I cannot put a price. My health journey began to take a turn for the better when I opened myself up to the wisdom of indigenous ancestors, and availed myself of the healing properties of animal-based and ancestral living.

When facing a health crisis, the question is: how to support the body that is under duress? What can I do to support my ailing body? Ancestors of indigenous cultures have looked to the humble animals around them for bodily support in the harshest of conditions. That makes me think that they are sacred, too.

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Robin Cressman

Robin Cressman

Artist, writer, beach walker. Just happy to be here. Sign up for my newsletter!