BEST FOOD PODCAST James Beard Awards, Webby Awards

My Food History Wasn’t Lost. It Was Stolen.

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Nov 04, 2019
A few years ago, Tommy Pico, a queer indigenous American poet, and lover of junk food, set out to learn how to cook. He wanted to get healthier, but also, he wanted a food culture to replace the one that was wiped out when the federal government forced his ancestors onto a reservation.
 
Rather than turn to the past to connect with that culture, Tommy turned to friends to build a new one. His new book FEED, an epic poem, is the result of that journey. Tommy and Dan chat about the horrors of airport vegetarian options (pesto-basil-mozzarella with soggy bread smh), what it’s like when the food you grow up with is connected to trauma, and how queerness and looking to the future creates an opportunity to make your own legacy. Tommy also reads his poem, I See The Fire That Burns Inside You.
 
Sign up for The Sporkful newsletter for a chance to win a free copy of FEED, or buy a copy here! And check out the podcast Tommy co-hosts, Food4Thot.

Today's sponsors:

Interstitial music in this show by Black Label Music:

- "Acrobate" by Digi G Alessio

- "Fresh Air" by Erick Anderson

- "Kenny" by Hayley Briasco

- "Waltz" by Karla Dietmeyer and Olivia Diercks

- "Marimba Feels Good" by Stephen Sullivan

- "Can't Bring Me Down" by Jack Ventimiglia

- "Django On A Leash" by Jack Ventimiglia

- "Party Hop" by Jack Ventimiglia

Photo courtesy of Tommy Pico.

Transcript



Speaker 1:
This episode contains explicit language.

Tommy Pico:
I know what I'm good at and I know what I'm bad at. I'm bad at teaching and I'm bad at driving. That's pretty much it. No, but-

Dan Pashman:
Wait, there was one more thing on Food 4 Thot recently that you said you were bad at.

Tommy Pico:
Oh, caring for people.

Dan Pashman:
Yes.

Tommy Pico:
That's right. That's right. But anyway, so I attempted to be useful in other ways.

Dan Pashman:
This is the Sporkful. It's not for foodies, it's for eaters. I'm Dan Pashman. Each week on our show, we obsess about food to learn more about people. Our final live taping of the year is in New York in just two weeks you guys. My guest will be chef Angie Mar of The Beatrice Inn and hey, beer and wine are on the house. Seriously. More details later in the show. Get tickets now at sporkful.com/live.

Dan Pashman:
Tommy Pico is an indigenous queer poet. He loves junk food so much, he wrote an entire book of poetry about it called Junk. The opening line is, "Frenching with a mouth full of M&Ms. Don't know if I feel polluted or into it." For a hundred pages after that, Tommy extols the virtues of Funyuns, Cherry Coke, and Double Stuf Oreos, while using junk food as a way to talk about instant gratification, sex, and a bad breakup. Tommy's poetry mashes the irreverent with the profound. That's also his go to move on the podcast, Food 4 Thot. That's T-H-O-T. He and his co-hosts describe the show as NPR on poppers. Tommy starts each episode with something like this.

Tommy Pico:
Hello and welcome to Food 4 Thot, a podcast gabfest wherein a multiracial mix of queer writers gather around the table to talk about sex, identity, culture, what we like to read, and who we like to read. Food 4 Thot. A thot in the hand is worth two in the tush.

Speaker 4:
Oh my god. How, your mind?

Dan Pashman:
As Tommy entered his 30s, he realized he couldn't eat all that junk food like he used to. He started thinking more about the future and his health. After all on the Kumeyaay Reservation where he grew up, the life expectancy is 40. So Tommy decided to learn how to cook. That process is the subject of his new book, Feed. It's about a lot more than that too and we'll get to all of it, but when Tommy came into the studio, this is where we began. I'd like to ask you to read a little excerpt to get us going here, an excerpt from feed.

Tommy Pico:
Sure.

Dan Pashman:
Page 20.

Tommy Pico:
"Honestly, who the fuck keeps inviting pesto basil to this party?" I say into my tomato mozz breakfast sandwich that I only bought because I needed to eat something before drinking my green tea so I wouldn't vom in the airplane bathroom again. Which crook cook said it was okay to put balsamic roasted red peppers and sun dried tomatoes in every God damn sandwich? Thank you.

Dan Pashman:
Tommy, I just want to thank you for addressing this huge issue for bringing this to light finally because this is... I was just pissed off about this two days ago.

Tommy Pico:
I'm so glad.

Dan Pashman:
Like I try to eat less meat than I used to, so I'm more on the lookout for vegetarian options. And yes, like if you're in an upscale enclave in certain areas of the country, like there are many wonderful vegetarian options, but it's still a total bleak nothing in most of the country, like in an airport or in the suburbs. I live far outside of the city now. There's a couple of restaurants that are like the vegetarian restaurants and they have some good options. But if you're just at any kind of sandwich joint or any kind of restaurant and you want something vegetarian, the only sandwiches they have are tomato, basil, pesto, mozzarella, and the grilled veggie, which always has roasted red peppers as you rightly say, which overpower the flavor of the other veggies and make it a crappy sandwich.

Tommy Pico:
And then the bun is like soaked in like some kind of vinegarette.

Dan Pashman:
Yes.

Tommy Pico:
It's really just to make up for the lack of flavor in whatever it is. But it's just like, I went to one in Vegas because a friend of mine and I went there for a weekend to kind of crack a script open. There was a vegetarian restaurant there and the most flavorful thing was the bread. It was disgusting. And people had recommended it to us. I had gone into this bookstore and these two queer weirdos were like, "Oh my God, are you Tommy Pico?" And I was like, "Yeah." But honestly, if you're queer and a weirdo and you work at a bookstore, that's pretty much the only way you know my name.

Dan Pashman:
Is that why you went into that bookstore, Tommy?

Tommy Pico:
You know, I just wanted to like... In Soap Dish with Sally Field and Whoopi Goldberg, there's a moment where Whoopi pretends to recognize her in a mall.

Dan Pashman:
Yes, yes, jut to make her feel better about herself. That's a great movie. I remember that, right.

Tommy Pico:
A little bit of that situation, but not really. They were like, "Oh yeah, you got to try this vegetarian place." I went there and I was like, "Oh."

Dan Pashman:
But yeah, I just want to thank you for speaking out about those sandwiches. So Tommy, let's get into Feed in a little more detail in depth here.

Tommy Pico:
All right, let's chomp in.

Dan Pashman:
I'd love to ask you to read an excerpt. First just to give listeners a feel for your work and also because I really liked the use of scent in this one.

Tommy Pico:
All right. Once I dated a dude who made scents for fun. "Unlike taste, which is largely innate," he said rising up from the foam bed in his Hollister skivvies in the Taaffe Lofts off Classon, "smell is more associative." When he made scents, he talked in metaphors and it made me love him more. "This one," he said tincture dropping onto a blotter, then offering it up to me like a prayer, "I call The Sky is Blue and Mom is Sad." His low barrel baritone, vibrating in harmony with the din of the A/C, him crackling through me. I brewed him a jalapeno infused whiskey a week before his birthday, but he dumped me on texts the next day. I drank the whiskey. Next planet. I say it's fine. I say some things need to be boiled in order to release their flavor.

Dan Pashman:
Tommy's new book is one long epic poem, kind of like the Iliad, but with a lot more eating. It does not have recipes, but it does have a series of scenes in his friend's kitchens and dining rooms, the friends teaching Tommy how to make different dishes, then sharing meals. Do you remember a moment, the first time where you cooked something and you were like, "Oh, I'm getting good at this?"

Tommy Pico:
Well, I feel like this sounds so basic, but like learning how to tell something is done by the way that it smells. You know what I mean? Like being able to smell and be like I think that's ready. People that always told me I'd get a sense of it and I didn't really believe them because it just didn't happen. I started to understand that unlike baking, the recipe is malleable to a certain extent. You know what I mean? Like, if I don't keep it in for five minutes or I keep it in for five and a half, it's not going to turn out all that different. You know what I mean? I'm not on a competition reality television cooking show where someone's going to be like, "This could have used a little bit more salt."

Tommy Pico:
Nobody's Yelping my mother fucking cooking, so that's fine that I could do more like writing, do it more instinctually than necessarily have to like be checking the recipe every two seconds and being like, "Oh, did I do that right? Did I do that right?"

Tommy Pico:
And in doing that, it allowed me to calm down because I feel like the idea of following a recipe and getting it wrong made me anxious. And so once I understood that it's not going to ever go that wrong, I calmed down a little bit, and in calming down, I started to maybe cook a little bit more associatively than I did just by the recipe itself.

Dan Pashman:
Tell me a little bit about the process of writing this book.

Tommy Pico:
I could only eat things that I made myself. I made sure to cook with people twice a week.

Dan Pashman:
These are the rules you impose on yourself?

Tommy Pico:
Yes. Yeah, it was a curriculum. I could only read food books. I could only watch food TV shows. I could only listen to food podcasts, Sporkful being one of them.

Dan Pashman:
Oh, thank you.

Tommy Pico:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. In that I wanted to build not only a language around food and a new vocabulary for the book, but also just to share other people's food stories because I didn't really have any growing up. I'm from an Indian reservation outside of San Diego. My nation, like our whole food history was estranged from us and taken away. And so there are so many ways of cooking food that are just lost, like traditional ways of cooking food that are just lost. And so I wanted to create. I wanted to have almost like a new ceremony. I wanted to have a new language of food to replace something that had been lost. It wasn't lost, it was stolen.

Dan Pashman:
So for Tommy, while learning to cook was partly about getting healthy, he had deeper reasons too. One scene in his book takes place around a dinner table with friends. I asked him to read from that section.

Tommy Pico:
I says to them around the table, I says, "I don't have a food history." If the dish is "subjugate an indigenous population," here's an ingredient of the roux. Alienate us from our traditional ways of gathering and cooking food. Kumeyaays moved around what would be called San Diego County with the seasons, the mountains, the valleys, the coast, not much arable land or big game, so we followed the food wherever it would go. Then the missions, then isolated reservations on stone mountains where not even a goat could live. Then the starvation. Then the food distribution program on Indian reservations. Whatever the military would throw away came canned on the back of trucks. The commodities, the powdered milk, worms in the oatmeal, corn syrupy canned peaches, food stripped of its nutrients. Then came the sugar blood, the sickness, the glucose meter goes up and up and up. I says to them around the table, I says, "I don't have food stories." With you, I say, "I'm cooking new ones."

Dan Pashman:
Tommy says, growing up, he mostly ate fast food during the week. Then on the weekends...

Tommy Pico:
My parents cooked for funerals all across San Diego County. There are like 13 reservations I think in San Diego County, which means it has the most Indian reservations of any county in the United States, but they're all very, very small and kind of broken up on purpose. And because there are a lot of funerals in Indian country, I mean my first memory was being at a funeral, they were busy a lot.

Tommy Pico:
So they would do prayers and sometimes cook too. And it was like we'd probably be at funerals almost every single weekend.

Dan Pashman:
Sorry, just so I understand. This was like their job or it was sort of something that they did...

Tommy Pico:
It was something that they did. My father was a tribal chairman of the reservation where I'm from. My mother was in the church choir and they were both at the volunteer fire department. They were very, very, very community-minded. They were very much like what's best for me is what's best for us, or what's best for us is what's best for me. It was a little tribal society.

Dan Pashman:
So what kinds of things would they cook for the funerals?

Tommy Pico:
Whatever they could make that was more or less quick and that they could prepare for lots and lots and lots of people. So it was basically like just lots of spaghetti, some stew with beef in it, macaroni salad, potato salad, green salad. I remember peeling potatoes at midnight for a breakfast the next day. So it would just be like fried potatoes and lots of scrambled eggs and stuff like that. Just like a catering.

Dan Pashman:
Tommy says this catering wasn't so much food as celebration. There were so many funerals. It was more like triage. I guess I'm curious like those foods that your parents cooked, what level of connection do you feel to those foods?

Tommy Pico:
I don't. That's a thing. They were there to sustain people, but they weren't there to nurture them. You know what I mean? It wasn't like something that would be... It wasn't something precious that was passed down. It was out of a necessity.

Dan Pashman:
Was there any food that you had growing up that made you feel connected to your parents and grandparents and ancestors?

Tommy Pico:
Well, yeah, there's one that remained, and it was an acorn dish that my mother knew how to cook. It's called [showee 00:13:06]. We would go harvest acorns in the mountains and I'd crack them and crush them into a powdery meal. You put water into that and you let it set. And then you would put it in the fridge for a little while to make it congeal or something. I'm not actually sure what the process-

Dan Pashman:
And then you would eat it like that?

Tommy Pico:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dan Pashman:
I imagine it kind of like the texture of like Farina or Cream of Wheat. Is that right?

Tommy Pico:
A little bit, yeah.

Dan Pashman:
Okay. But cold.

Tommy Pico:
But colds and very, very bitter.

Dan Pashman:
Coming up, Tommy builds his own food history by turning his attention to the future. Stick around.

Dan Pashman:
Welcome back to the Sporkful. I'm Dan Pashman. Thank you to everyone who came out to our live tapings this past weekend in DC and Richmond. Those shows were a blast. Now our final live show of the year is in New York. It's just two weeks away and it's going to be really special for a couple of reasons. First, my guest will be chef Angie Mar of The Beatrice Inn. She's made her restaurant a hit by following her own path. Bon Appetit describes her new cookbook as a giant FU to every other cookbook. We'll discuss exactly what that means. I'm really looking forward to this conversation. Another reason why this event is special, it's at Trunk Club, a personal styling service that has sort of a lounge space in the Palace Hotel. So this is going to be pretty cool. I might even put on a blazer.

Dan Pashman:
Now, what's that? You don't have anything to wear to something so classy? Don't worry. Come as you are. When you buy a $20 ticket, you get 50 bucks to spend at Trunk Club. So you're going to get some cool new threads and see a great show, plus beer and wine on the house. This is an intimate event, so seats are limited. Get tickets now at sporkful.com/live.

Dan Pashman:
Now let's get back to my conversation with poet Tommy Pico, whose new book is called Feed. Let's just pick up where we left off.

Dan Pashman:
See, here's something I'm curious to understand. So, as you say, your food culture was stolen and so you set out to create a new food culture for yourself by learning to cook, by connecting with friends, and tapping into their family food histories.

Dan Pashman:
It seems to me that sort of the obvious move would have been to go backward, to go back, rather than to create something new and move forward. It would have been to say, "Well, I'm going to go back to the reservation and I'm going to have my mom teach me how to make the acorn dish. And I'm going to study whatever there is."

Dan Pashman:
You know the chef Sean Sherman, who you read in your studies and who has been on this show, who is doing amazing work reclaiming indigenous food ways and ingredients in a different area of the country from where you grew up. But he's doing that work.

Dan Pashman:
So it feels like to me that would have been the obvious move, would have been like I'm going to go into the past and I'm going to find as much as I can and I'm going to try to reconnect with that.

Tommy Pico:
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Dan Pashman:
Why did you instead choose the path of creating something new and moving forward?

Tommy Pico:
Well, because there are ways in which going back and trying to pan through the silt in order to find some of the origin of traditional culture of something Kumeyaay, that there is a way in which the view of tradition can trap people in a kind of amber, and can crystallize what it means to be quote, unquote Kumeyaay. And I wanted to show that there are many ways of being Kumeyaay.

Dan Pashman:
I wonder if also, I mean I'll float a theory to you Tommy. Please feel free to shoot it down.

Tommy Pico:
Okay, got you.

Dan Pashman:
You guys had a conversation on Food 4 Thot, where you were talking about the future.

Tommy Pico:
Yeah.

Dan Pashman:
In that decision to focus more on going forward as opposed to going back, I wonder if there's also a connection there to being queer, because queer people are often in a position to choose their family, to create a chosen family, to create a community. When your community is determined by blood, there's kind of a predetermined inheritance.

Tommy Pico:
Right, right, right.

Dan Pashman:
When you make your community, on one hand, there may be a feeling of loss. On the other hand, it can be an opportunity. It can be freeing.

Tommy Pico:
Right.

Dan Pashman:
I'm just wondering if that approach to community is being reflected in your approach to creating your own food culture?

Tommy Pico:
I think so. I didn't really put it together that way in my head, but I think that's a beautiful interpretation. And I'm just going to say that that's what was intended. Yeah. So, so yeah. I wanted to do something that made sure that not only would my... I wanted to show the resilience that comes along with trauma. Because when focusing on trauma, it seems like the only thing we can talk about is the ways in which we've been grieved, like I come from survivors. People had decided to survive for generations because they had an image of me in their mind. There was an image of a person who had a kind of freedom that they didn't have. I feel like that's why they survived, and that's why they lived on. And I think of that as a gift that has been given to me that I want to reflect into the future, right?

Tommy Pico:
But they had a very strict way in which they had to conduct themselves in order to live. I get to choose so much about my life right now. I get to choose so much about what my career is. I get to choose so much about my family, and in that, I feel like I'm expressing a freedom that they always wanted me to have, that they stayed alive for.

Dan Pashman:
Tommy used that freedom to build his own food history, a food culture he can pass on. Over the course of the book, his friend Willie in Seattle teaches him the proper way to chop veggies. His friend Paul in LA shows him how to make a roux and they make mac and cheese. Then there's Tommy's friend Becky, who teaches them how to make ceviche.

Tommy Pico:
When I was cooking with my friend Becky, we were in her apartment in Koreatown in Los Angeles, in her kitchen. It was kind of small, and she was talking about how her grandmother's kitchen was even smaller than the one that we were in. It was a hot Los Angeles summer, and she was talking about wanting to make something that was cool, that was refreshing on a hot day. And also the kind of magic of a ceviche is that it's cold cooking, right? That unlike most of the other things, it's magic happens through the citrus.

Tommy Pico:
And I remember preparing all of the ingredients, like ripping the tails off the shrimp, putting the citrus into the bowl, and all that kind of stuff. And as the shrimp was changing color, as it was like cooking in the fridge, and she was talking to me about her grandmothers and started to imagine them in the kitchen with us.

Tommy Pico:
So she started to talk about how being half Mexican and half Jewish, the different ways in which her grandmothers, her Jewish grandmother and her Mexican grandmother, turned either the kitchen or the dining space into a matriarchy.

Tommy Pico:
In her Mexican grandmother's home, her domain was the kitchen itself. So it was like her and her aunties and her cousins and her grandmother, and she was just directing everybody. She had complete authority. And so the taste of the food, the flavor of the food, the body of the food, the personality of the food that her grandmother gave it, that's what kind of stuck in my friend's mind.

Tommy Pico:
Whereas with her Jewish grandmother, it wasn't the food preparation where the matriarchy was apparent, but it was more, she was at the head of the table directing the dinner conversation. So it was more of a social thing. So she remembers the stories and the conversations that her grandmother and her aunties and her family were having, but her grandmother had complete authority over the flow of the conversation. That's what really mattered to her. So that was as a recipe, not just for food, but also for family. That really, really stuck in my head.

Dan Pashman:
Why do you think that resonated with you so much?

Tommy Pico:
I just wish that I'd had... It made me, not jealous, but it made me... Too, my grandmother, my grandfather, my mom's side, they pass away fairly early in my life. And then my other grandmother, I just felt like I wish I had seen them in their domain. I wish I had seen them. I wish I'd had had an insight into where they felt their most powerful, and I didn't really get to see that. I didn't really have insight into that. I liked imagining that they had domains like that.

Dan Pashman:
You said it in an interview that you rarely go back home. Why do you think you were away for so long?

Tommy Pico:
A part of that was understanding about reconciliation after a breakup. You have to go and be your own person before you can come back to each other without kind of co-dependence. That's kind of how I felt. I wanted to write, I wanted it to be in the world, and I wanted to learn more about the world. I wanted to get out, and I wanted to travel, and I wanted... A part of that I think had to do with queerness. A part of that was I also wanted to like have sex a lot with different people for God's sake. And I didn't really see that happening on the rez because I was mostly related to all those people. So it just created like a kind of hunger inside of me.

Dan Pashman:
So Tommy, I'd like to wrap up by asking you to read your poem, I See the Fire that Burns Inside You.

Tommy Pico:
Okay.

Dan Pashman:
Which I should tell listeners, I mean, you're well known for your epic poems. This one's an epic. It's longer, but I think it ties together so many of the themes that we've discussed. What should people know? What would you like to say to set it up for folks?

Tommy Pico:
Yeah. So, I wrote this poem because my father had commissioned me to write a poem to be read at the top of this conference on healing from from trauma in indigenous communities, from childhood trauma, from ancestral trauma, all that kind of stuff. And by commission, I mean he said, "Do this, or you'll bring deep dishonor to this family, and also do this for free." So...

Dan Pashman:
Commissioning sounds more impressive.

Tommy Pico:
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. In my bio, that's what it'll say, but between us... But I'll never forget it because I remember sending it to him, sending it to my father and he was like, "Okay, well, who's Neil deGrasse Tyson? What does this word mean? What does this mean? And he was trying to give me edits. I was like, "No, no, no, hold up." And so then I just recorded it into my phone and I sent that to him. He called back crying and he was like, "I get it. Don't change a thing."

Dan Pashman:
And so when you went back there this past spring for the first time in 15 years and read for 300 people on the reservation, this is the poem you read.

Tommy Pico:
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Dan Pashman:
So this is, I See the Fire That Burns Inside You.

Tommy Pico:
It's one of those magical early summer sherbet skies on a thin blue blanket, on a rolling grassy knoll, with the breeze off the East River, tempering the city heat, as the sun begins its dip behind the buildings, and all the little office and apartment and department store lights begin to twinkle, a sizzle of foam on the water.

Tommy Pico:
I'm listening to this Neil deGrasse Tyson podcast where they talk about the God Gene, something cellular that makes us look up and beyond and wonder at our creator, and Stephen Hawking talks religion in science saying they both articulate the nature of who we are, where we come from, and why, and that though science produces more consistent results, people will always choose religion because it makes them feel less alone.

Tommy Pico:
And the debate turns to whether we're alone in the cosmos and the guest host says she hopes so because if not, if we encounter an alien civilization, they would likely be far more technologically advanced than us. And look, she says, how that worked out for the native Americans. And I suck my teeth because all we ever are is a metaphor or a cautionary tale or a spirit guide, nothing contemporary, nothing breathing, nothing alive.

Tommy Pico:
They had just spent the previous half hour discussing other cellular inheritances saying, for example, that trauma could be passed down like molecular scar tissue, like DNA cavorting with wars and displacements in your bad dad's bad dad, and what is being indigenous, but understanding a plurality of time, that I'm here right now in this riverside park, across the water from the trunk of the city and the golden light of the golden hour. And that light, that sliver of golden light is light unlike any other light you'll ever encounter.

Tommy Pico:
Nothing we've made can come close to that glow. Not a filter, not a software, not a bulb. A gathering of circumstances of the atmosphere buffering the dusk light and the angle of the earth at this time, right now, in this moment, on top of this continent, on top of this blue blanket, I'm on top of our sacred mountain. I scout from the peak. I'm dragged to the center of town in chains. I'm old women scattered along the creek. My little hands squeeze my little mouth shut, drawn into nooks within the valley like a sharp breath, while shaggy men on horseback, following the water, seek brown bodies for target practice, strong brown backs for breaking in the name of the Church.

Tommy Pico:
Valle de las Viejas. Blue echoes split the early evening, split the dusk. They spit and ride on, but I've held my breath ever since. It's like one minute I'm on stage and the next I'm in fifth grade ducking behind the dash after a cousin, high on something, points a gun in my face. And on stage, I'm a mess of tremor and sweat.

Tommy Pico:
The gift of panic is clarity. My therapist says, "Repeat the known quantities." Today is Wednesday. Wednesday is a turkey burger. My throat is full of survivors. "It's okay." He clicks his pen, getting ready for his next appointment. "Lots of people get stage fright." But that's not what I'm talking about, because what I mean is I've inherited this idea to disappear.

Tommy Pico:
In the mid-1800s, California would pay $5 for the head of an Indian and 25 cents per scalp, man, woman or child. The state was reimbursed by the Feds. I am alive. I am alive. I'm alive. This is the gathering of circumstances. This is the golden light. But when you're descended from a clever self, adept at evading an occupying force, when contact meant another swath of sick cousins, another cosmology snuffed, another stolen sister, and the water and the blood, and the blood, and the blood, you'd panic too, exposed on stage under the hot lights.

Tommy Pico:
Now, I can't stand in front of the audience in Columbus, Ohio, without wondering how that last person felt leaving the ancestral homeland for the Indian territory. But I'm on the road and when I'm in their home, I say their names, the Ohlone, Costanoan, Muwekma, Duwamish, Suquamish, Muckleshoot, Shawnee, Lenni-Lenape, Tocobaga, Pohoy, Uzita, Lumbee, Piscataway, Nacotchtank, Multnomah, Anishinaabe, Ojibwa, Ottawa, Pattawatomie.

Tommy Pico:
And now on this podcast, they had the linguist saying that language tells the story of its conquests, its champions, its admixtures, while moving onward and into new vessels, that a language is dead when its only speakers are adult, that in a hundred years, 90% of the world's languages will be kaput.

Tommy Pico:
He says the most precise word in the world is Mamihlapinatapai, from the indigenous Yaghan and language of Tierra Del Fuego, which means something like when you leave a cafe bathroom and you want to tell the next person in line it wasn't you who took the smelliest dump in American history, but you keep walking. Ay, just kidding. It means something like when two people look at each other, and the look is that they both know what the other should do, but neither wants to initiate, so they sit in stasis.

Tommy Pico:
It's a whole caravan of meaning of feeling in a single word, like how in Kumeyaay, my language, you say howka for hi, but the translation is more like, I see the fire that burns inside you. I see the golden light.

Tommy Pico:
And this show goes to commercial, and I make the mistake of opening the news app in my phone. And it's massacre in Palestine, and in Pakistan the journalist disappeared, and in Mogadishu, a bomb explodes in the bustling city center and ICE loses thousands of indigenous children, and drones fly over other countries. And the quote, unquote president says, he literally says, "We tamed the continent." He says, "We aren't apologizing for America and murdered and missing indigenous women, never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever get an article or a shout out or a headline.

Tommy Pico:
And I've been thinking a lot about fuel sources that produce the heat of the fire that burns inside you, and the term resistive circuit and active networks and mainly about Kirchhoff's current law, that the sum of all currents entering a node is equal to the sum of all currents leaving a node. By which I mean, imagine you're a circuit. Imagine electricity. Imagine being fed and feeding. Imagine getting what you need. Imagine the fire inside you. Imagine heat.

Tommy Pico:
I don't have much of anything figured out, but I do know to be indigenous is not to be a miracle of circumstance, but to be the golden light of survival, the wit of the cunning of the cloud of ancestors above me. Now on top of this blue blanket, on top of this continent, on top of this mountain peak existentially, a cloud of light from which something almost umbilical is plugged into my back through which they feed me and flow out of my hands.

Tommy Pico:
And bear with me, it's like this. My dad grows his hair long. The black waves cascade down his back because knives cropped the ceremony of his mother's generation in the Indian boarding school. And while I cut my hair short in mourning for the old life, I grow my poems long. A dark reminder on white pages, a new ceremony. Poems light up corridors of the mind like food. They call where we grew up a food desert, a speck of dust on the map of the United States in a valley surrounded by mountains that slice through the clouds like a loaf, where the average age of death is 40.7 years old.

Tommy Pico:
I'm 35. I live in the busiest city in America. I'm about to eat an orange. Every feed owes itself to death. Poetry is feed for the fire inside me, but what is trauma, but a kind rewiring as in, I'm nervous where I feel most free. But then the show comes back on and now they're talking about what else we pass on after death and you know what? Too much for me, so I shut it off. I cracked my neck. The air is clear, and all across Instagram, peeps are posting pics of the sunset.

Dan Pashman:
That's Tommy Pico. His new book Feed comes out tomorrow, but it's available for preorder right now, so go get it. Tommy also co-hosts the podcast Food 4 Thot, where a group of queer writers get together and talk about a wide range of topics from the very thoughtful to the very raunchy to the very thoughtfully raunchy. That's Food 4 Thot, T-H-O-T.

Dan Pashman:
Also to win a free copy of Tommy's book, sign up for our email newsletter. If you're already on our list, you're already entered into this and all of our giveaways. We've got some more coming up, so get on the list now. You must sign up by November 30th for a chance to win. Go to sporkful.com/newsletter.

Dan Pashman:
Want to hear what I sounded like when I hosted my very first radio show in college 20 years ago? Well, I shared some clips in last week's podcast, which was taped live at my alma mater, Tufts University.

Dan Pashman:
I also debate comedian and linguist Myq Kaplan over the question, "Is sparkling water actually water?" That one's up now. Check it out. Remember to get tickets for our last live show of the year in New York in two weeks. Seats are limited, so get yours at sporkful.com/live.

Dan Pashman:
This show is produced by me along with associate producer, Ngofeen Mputubwele. Our editors are Peter Clowney and Tracey Samuelson. Our engineer is Jared O'Connell. Music help from Black Label Music. This Spork was a production of Stitcher. Our executive producers are Chris Bannon and Daisy Rosario. Until next time, I'm Dan Pashman.

Speaker 5:
And I'm Julia from Singapore, reminding you to eat more, eat better, and eat more better.

Speaker 5:
Stitcher.

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