Understanding Access to and Use of Traditional Foods by Hopi Female-Headed Households To Increase Food Security

Year: 2006

Research Center: American Indian Studies Program, The University of Arizona

Investigator: Livingston, Matt, and Cornelia B. Flora

Institution: The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension

Project Contact:
Matthew Livingston
The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension
P.O. Box 1203
Keams Canyon, AZ 86034
Phone: 928-734-3708


This study assessed the ability of Hopi single-parent, female-headed households to access traditional Hopi foods. These foods are important to Hopi nutritional well-being and cultural participation and inclusion. Traditionally, the production of the Hopi crops of corn, beans, squash, and melons has been the duty of male farmers. If a household has no male present, other relatives produce crops for the female. Changes in this tradition within today’s economic and social setting may impact households headed by females in relation to health and participation in Hopi culture.

Using a participatory action research approach based on the principles of Appreciative Inquiry, the experiences of single mothers in using and accessing traditional foods were determined. In the study of single mothers’ access to and use of traditional food, the study recruited four community representatives from each mesa.

The community representatives were full partners in designing the sample frame and the number of interviews planned. The study defined the Hopi single-parent, female-headed household as a mother, a female relative, or a grandmother raising children and being the primary person responsible for their care. The female could be living within a larger extended family setting.

Representatives conducted 100 interviews over a period of 9 months during October 2005-June 2006. The representatives almost always interviewed in pairs to ensure quality control and accurate data. The women interviewed were from the 12 villages on the Hopi Reservation. All representatives took the Institutional Review Board examination offered on-line by Iowa State University.

In this study, the representatives learned processes to build the codebook in the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) for Windows. The survey was conducted as a conversation and then coded as to whether something was mentioned or not mentioned. Researchers coded the data, checked them for errors, and ran the marginal values of the variable.

Perceptions of traditional foods vary among the Hopi.

“What does Hopi food mean to you?” was the first question asked. Most of the women had to wait and think before they answered the question. The majority (60 percent) of the respondents stated that traditional food is good for you, healthy, and used for ceremonies and initiations. A similar number responded that traditional food is homegrown. A third of the sample said that traditional food meant survival. Older women were more likely to mention survival and energy than younger women.

The foremost source of traditional Hopi food is corn. It is the main ingredient for all of the traditional Hopi meals and is used in all traditional Hopi ceremonies. Sixty-eight percent of the respondents mentioned the importance of corn and/or traditional food to their identity as Hopi. Older women were more likely than younger women to mention either food as a source of identity. Fifty-seven percent mentioned only corn as important to Hopi identity.

A majority of respondents believes a relationship exists between age and the access to, and use of, traditional Hopi foods. Many of the elders had traditions passed on to them at an early age and were expected to use and prepare traditional foods as part of their daily lifestyle. They were not given an option to use or not use Hopi foods.

Traditional Hopi foods and preparation skills are acquired through various methods.

Most individuals rely on a network of family to obtain sufficient traditional Hopi foods. However, other methods exist to obtain these foods. Females assisting in the cleaning and preparing of harvested corn for storage will usually be given a portion of the crop. At religious ceremonies, the kachinas will present some traditional foods to the people attending. Hopi foods may also be secured through trading or purchasing items.

The family is important in passing on methods of cooking traditional food. Ninety percent of respondents reported that they received some cooking knowledge from female relatives. In addition, 29 percent of respondents reported male relatives as a source of cooking knowledge, while 7 percent stated that skills were gained through self-teaching by watching others and using cookbooks. Over 20 percent of the women stated that their cooking instructions from relatives were supplemented by self-teaching.

Preliminary results of the study show that traditional foods are an integral part of Hopi life today. These foods are very necessary for cultural and spiritual purposes. The foods are important for women in their inter-generational family relationships and connection to the greater Hopi community. Sixty-four percent of the respondents stated that traditional foods are obtained in the same manner used by their mothers and grandmothers. The study revealed an awareness of the importance of traditional food but also some breaks in passing on Hopi traditions.

The reaction to the study was positive within the communities in which the results were distributed. The need to maintain knowledge of traditional wild foods and greens was frequently mentioned by attendees. The Hopi community believes that this information is important and feels that younger women should be taught Hopi food preparation, mentioning that this knowledge may be gained by assisting in traditional ceremonies, such as weddings and naming of babies. Also, some women who have lived off reservation are trying now to learn preparation methods of traditional food in order to become more involved in their communities.