Chap.1. The Traditional Tohono O'odham Food System

The foods of the Sonoran Desert have sustained the Tohono O’odham for countless generations. From foods harvested in the wild to those that have been cultivated for centuries, these foods are delicious, nutritious and the roots of the O’odham Himdag – the Desert People’s Lifeways.  For many centuries, the Tohono O’odham and their ancestors combined a series of ecologically-adapted strategies to produce food in the arid lands of the Sonoran Desert.






















The three parts of this traditional Tohono O’odham food system were:




 Ak Chin Farming – Using the flood waters that accompany the summer monsoons, thousands of acres were planted with nutritious crops, well-adapted to the short, hot, growing season.  Many of these foods were eaten fresh and preserved for use throughout the rest of the year, including tepary beans, “60-day” corn, and O’odham squash.


• Harvesting Wild Foods – Throughout the seasons of the year, the Sonoran desert provides a wide variety of wild foods. The Tohono O’odham collected, preserved, and stored of desert produce. Forraged plants included cholla buds, saguaro cactus fruit, mesquite bean pods, prickley pear and acorns. Once dried or processed, wild foods could be eaten throughout the year.


• Hunting – The animals of the desert also provided an important source of nutrition.  The hunting of rabbits, deer, javalina and other desert dwellers would supplement the foods grown in O’odham fields and collected in the desert.


The combination of flood-based farming during the summer rains, collection of wild desert foods, and hunting provided the O’odham with a rich and varied diet.  In addition to providing healthy foods, all of these activities (and their cultural aspects such as traditional dancing) promoted high levels of physical activity and fitness. The traditional food system supported a local economy, maintained the people’s physical well-being, and provided the material foundation for Tohono O’odham culture.



Chapter 2. The Loss of the Tohono O'odham Food System


Chapter 3: The Impact on Health                Chapter 4: O'odham Foods and  Diabetes


Chapter 5: Native Food Sovereignty

How to cite "A Short History:   Reader, Tristan. "Chapter 1 The Traditional Tohono O'odham Food System," The Tohono O'odham Food System: A Short History. Version 2 (2012) Source: Tohono O'odham Community Action (TOCA) and date accessed.

Introduction to Tohono O'odham Foods


Terrol Johnson, Tristan Reader, Co-founders of Tohono O'odham Community Action