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Cooking up change
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Cooking up change

Chelsie Begoody (Public Health, ’21)

As a Diné woman from Burnside, Arizona, Chelsie Begoody (Public Health, ’21) never appreciated how delicious and nutritious blue corn mush could be. Since compiling a cookbook for the Southwest Colorado Area Health Education Center, she’s discovered fun ways to integrate Indigenous foods into her daily routine. Nine months after graduating from Fort Lewis College, Begoody is proud to introduce the first edition of Hózhó Meals: A Resource to Promote Indigenous Flavors.

Cookbook cover with a blue plate of colorful corn.

Hózhó Meals is a spinoff project initiated by SWCAHEC, which serves as a link between citizens of Southwest Colorado and local healthcare organizations. To better understand the services offered in neighboring communities, Begoody connected with Indigenous farmers, cooks, and dietitians from around the Southwest.

“When I started college, I couldn’t believe how little I knew about the bigger struggles of Native peoples, knowledge that I think should be included in school curriculum,” Begoody said. “And after taking nutrition classes in college, I realized I didn’t know the benefits of eating well. I kept thinking, why haven’t I learned this yet? Now, I try to encourage cultural competency, being more sensitive to the whys and dropping the stigmas. For me, this cookbook project opened the door to better understanding food sovereignty.”

For the past two years, this localized healthcare collaborative has screened patients for social needs, like food, utilities, transportation, and housing quality. Begoody and her colleagues noticed that food is a consistent need in Southwest Colorado and, more specifically, in Native American populations. Their findings underscore nutritional impacts on health and well-being.

“I try to encourage cultural competency, being more sensitive to the whys and dropping the stigmas. For me, this cookbook project opened the door to better understanding food sovereignty.”
— Chelsie Begoody (Public Health, '21)

“Sovereignty means having complete autonomy for ourselves, but it is sticky,” Begoody said. “It feels like a myth to me right now. But there are positive changes in overall wellness in our Native American communities. There is a resurgence around Indigenous farming with more community members growing their own food again. We’ve started rethinking ideas around food, becoming a self-sustaining people again.”

Begoody said she found her job as the Community Health Programs Associate at SWCAHEC through Jennifer Lowell, chair and associate professor of Public Health at FLC. She added that FLC opened doors to explore careers she hadn’t considered. Now, she works to help others realize the power of public health education by creating visuals that reveal the “pipeline” for how to pursue healthcare careers. One new route, for instance, is FLC’s new Nutrition degree, which wasn’t available when Begoody was a student at FLC. But her professors inspired her to take the courses offered and pursue certification as a registered dietitian when she is ready.

“I really look up to all my Public Health professors, like Tapati (Dutta, assistant professor of Health Sciences), who I see as a powerful woman of color in a space that’s predominantly white,” Begoody said. “I remember her giving me a confidence boost when she said that I do belong in these positions and that I do have a voice. That’s the power of the professor relationship.”

Chelsie Begoody in her graduation cap and gown, stands on a rock in front of a blue sky and the snowy La Plata mountains
In her role as the Community Health Programs Associate at SWC Area Health Education Center, Chelsie Begoody (Public Health, '21) compiled a cookbook featuring seven Indigenous recipies.

Begoody’s college journey began in 2011, with classes taken between Coconino Community College and Diné College. She says FLC helped her get to the finish line in 2021.

“I didn’t want to go to college, but it helped me explore ways that I could help my community,” Begoody said. “It helped me look at the bigger picture of what policies and changes I could make in my own community.”

She’s already making an incremental change back home when she visits her family in Flagstaff, Arizona, where she moved in the second grade. While they are proud of her efforts and grateful for the tasty meals she prepares with love, Begoody said behavioral change is hard, and their adoption of healthier food choices is slow.

“We grew up eating boxed meals and shelf-stable foods,” Begoody said. “I’m that generation of student that didn’t grow up on the reservation or around that lifestyle of agricultural practices; that fell when my great-grandmother passed away.”

A juniper tree in the desert with a blue sky.
Juniper trees grow on mesa tops and ridges and produce berries that are used in cooking. The branches of the juniper are also burned, leaving behind an ash called Bit'eesh, that is used in traditional Diné dishes, like the blue corn mush recipe found below.

When Begoody picked up the Hózhó Meals project last fall, she wanted to revitalize some of those traditions around food. She considered only including pre-colonial recipes but quickly realized those wouldn’t be available to everyone.

“I wanted to make a cookbook for anybody to be able to go to the grocery store and find the ingredients,” Begoody said. “Not many people have the knowledge or time to spend all day looking for a rabbit or a certain shrub. I wanted to introduce these flavors in ways that aren’t too prep-heavy and are accessible and affordable to all.”

From bison meatballs to wild rice pilaf, the seven featured recipes include nutritional highlights, cultural insights, and reflections on how eating traditional foods makes people feel.

“We’re more than frybread and NDN (Indian) tacos,” she said. “We have our own unique flavors that are also good for us.”

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