When I became the Education Coordinator for Multnomah County Animal Control in 1975, I tried to put us in touch with other institutions working with animals. The hardest one to persuade to come talk to us was the Oregon Primate Center. At that time they were trying to understand how to bring babies back from the edge of starvation after their systems were almost shut down. As usual, babies were dying of starvation across the world and trying to save them by feeding them too much, too quickly, or the wrong thing could also kill them.

So the Primate Center was deliberately starving baby monkeys nearly to death and then trying to bring them back. It was devastating to see. They were understandably defensive and emotional about it — even more than we were at animal control where we killed hundreds of unwanted pets every day. But they said, “Why should we talk to you? We’re SCIENTISTS and you’re just dog-catchers.”

By now the Primate Center has grown, found allies, and knows how to present itself. You can even enjoy vids about them. https://vimeo.com/469065837

But this post is not about primates. It’s about starvation. One primary function of government is to keep its people from starving. In the beginning there could only be people where food was at hand: fishing or hunting/gathering. When civilization became mobile, it was necessary to plan and cooperate.

We have already been told about “food deserts”, places where low-income stigmatized people without cars live and where there are no stores a person could walk to. They live on junk food from gas stations. I remember rationing during WWII where the government could only manage by telling a person how much of which kinds of food they could buy. In Valier at our only little store we are already seeing the results of low production and interrupted distribution networks.

Here by the Blackfeet Rez I like to bring history close by remarking that I was in Browning during the Sixties, when we marked the centenaries of the near-extinguishment of the Pikuni: the “Baker” or Marias Massacre, Starvation Winter, the extermination of the bison herds, the failure to provide commodities, the shrinking of the allotted lands.




Killing all the buffalo was explicitly intended to starve the People, to murder humans covertly. Of course, the ranchers wanted the grass as well.

What is much less marked is that of chronic malnourishment of the tribal children. I recall a survey in the early Sixties that was surprised when so many children had high levels of vitamin C. It turned out that vitamin C is a flavoring for candy. People were willing to buy candy. Charities and benevolent people thought giving kids candy was a nice gesture. They soon became accustomed to living on Korn Kurls and pop. Now at least some of them prefer jerky sticks.

When the first explorers contacted the Blackfeet, they reported the people were very large and handsome. They had one of the best diets on the planet: grass-fed bison meat including organs plus berries, roots, and other ground-produced food.

Change in diet changed the metabolism of the over-run individuals and had epi-genomic impact on everyone in the following generations. The gestation, early development of babies, and continuing maturation paths were all affected. Probably there is documentation somewhere. People who support tribal foods know this.

Commodity lunches were almost always chili with commodity cheese. I myself became accustomed to them and they were nutritious, which was a good thing. School is a major source of nutrition for children. No school, no food.

I had always thought of my family as middle-class but now that I know much more and remember meals more clearly, I realize we were lower- and working-class. My father was never a money-maker and he paid for the household on a reimbursable basis. That is, he gave my mother a little pot early in the marriage and renewed it after he got receipts from my mother for what she had spent it on. We probably couldn’t have coped without her taking covert jobs, but it was against his pride for her to be properly employed.

We ate a lot of creamed chip beef on toast, variations based on SPAM, something she called “Spanish rice,” and milk toast. We always had milk and bread and whatever she managed to can from UPick expeditions. There were no freezers. We didn’t think of drying except for prunes which came in gunnysacks from relatives still on the farm. Cheerios was a luxury — cracked wheat like “Little House on the Prairie” was the usual breakfast. This is not outright poverty, and it might even have been relatively healthy.

After WWII there was a lot of publicity about proper eating and my mother bought plates divided into three sections to keep the protein/starch/vegetable proportions right. She cooked like that for the rest of her life, though peanut butter sandwiches were basic for my brothers.

In the Sixties in Browning people were tall and skinny. This made them good basketball players if they got enough to eat. Today they continue to be tall, but often need the Mexican term “gordo” to describe each other. Diabetes is rampant, but then it is on the white side of the boundary as well. Sugar and flour are considered good food. Fat is demonized, though research is improving its reputation.

An underlying craving hard to identify, a wall of fog hard to dispel cripples populations that don’t get enough to eat. It interferes with school and work. We believe that famine should be averted and send basic foods like sugar, starch and oil to the Third World. But generosity soon became political, and for the mafia manipulating food is money. Since the major shipments of wheat and beans travel across oceans, transportation is one of the best manipulation opportunities. Corporate industrial food is almost an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. Forget cake. Let them eat plastic.

Starvation remains one of the most effective forms of genocide, and a potent source of riots. In “Brave New World” the class system is created by gestating fetuses in flasks given manipulated levels and kinds of nourishment that create people in “classes,” some of them too numb and dumb to be anything but slaves. Of course, if we did this in today’s reality, we wouldn’t nourish the best for “brains,” but for “beauty” because to us appearance — conformity to standards (long bleached spaniel-ear hair, for instance) — is everything.

If you google for “food politics” you may find as much info about pet food as human basic needs. The monkeys at the Primate Center are better fed than most people.


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Mary Strachan Scriver

Born in Portland when all was calm just before WWII. Educated formally at NU and U of Chicago Div School. Clergy for ten years. Always happy on high prairie.