Amaranth, a health trend 8,000 years old that survived colonization, is being promoted by Indigenous women in North and Central America, sharing their ancestral knowledge of a vitually indestructible plant that's booming in popularity as a health food today.
Since the 1970s, amaranth has become a billion-dollar food - and cosmetic - product. Health conscious shoppers embracing ancient grains will find it in growing numbers of grocery stores in the US, or in snack bars across Mexico, and, increasingly, in Europe and the Asia Pacific.
As a complete protein with all nine essential amino acids, amaranth is a highly nutritious source of manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, iron and antioxidants that may improve brain function and reduce inflammation.
“This is a plant that could feed the world,” said Tsosie-Peña.
For her it also has deep cultural value. She is part of growing networks of Indigenous women across North and Central America who have been sharing ancestral knowledge of how to grow and prepare amaranth. Seed exchanges, including those in New Mexico and California, are part of a larger movement to reclaim Indigenous food systems amid growing recognition of their sustainability and resilience in a time of climate crisis and industrialized agriculture.
“Supporting Indigenous people coming together to share knowledge” is vital to the land back movement, a campaign to reestablish Indigenous stewardship of Native land, and liberation of Native peoples, Tsosie-Peña said. “Our food, our ability to feed ourselves, is the foundation of our freedom and sovereignty as land-based peoples.”
In 2010, the New York Times published an article about the looming threat of superweeds – weeds which have developed to be resistant to Roundup - including amaranth. When sprayed on a field, Roundup is designed to kill all plants except Monsanto’s genetically-engineered Roundup Ready crops. But, somehow amaranth has survived – just like it did during the Spanish conquest (when it was banned).
You can grow it in Hispaniola, you can grow it in northern New Mexico and the mountains of Guatemala, they say. You can even grow it in arid climates like Arizona. And a single amaranth plant produces hundreds of seeds.
For many Indigenous farmers in Guatemala and the United States, growing amaranth has provided a degree of economic independence, but it has also offered a route to food sovereignty.