Self-Portrait of Islander with Green Smoothie

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Google “green smoothie” and you will encounter an archive of sacred literature, including testimonials and confessions; cleanses and detox rituals; guides, manuals, charts, and maps; headquarters, forums, and listserves; and even challenges that last for thirty days and thirty nights.

Green smoothies are highly fetishized food objects. The green smoothie is more than a (bowel) movement; to its followers, the green smoothie is an idol of religious devotion. Devotees set up edible altars to worship its almighty light, then they take pictures of these altars and post them on Facebook. There’s even a Green Smoothie Bible. St. Vitamix, pray for us.

People sometimes name their smoothies: “green glowing smoothie,” “ultimate green smoothie,” “the green hulk,” “the green goddess,” etc.

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After studying thousands of pages of green smoothie literature, I have come to a few conclusions: 1) healthy white people love green smoothies 2) green smoothies represent biodiversity 3) green smoothie literature can be classified as “gastropastoral” 4) green smoothies are healthy and delicious.

While “thickened” drinks exist in many cultures (e.g. the lassi), the green smoothie is a particularly modern invention, a confluence of blender technology of the 1920s and the counterculture of the 1960s. Today, smoothies are a multi-billion dollar industry.

I became curious about the green smoothie because I’m trying to eat more greens. Growing up, my mom always made us eat salad or cooked greens with our dinner. As strange as this might sound, I loved salad as a kid. What I loved most about eating salad: Hidden Valley Ranch dressing, imported from California.

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I loved the tangy, creamy flavor, but I also loved the idea that this dressing came from a ranch in the “American West.” I had learned about cowboys in school, and slathering ranch dressing over my salad made me feel like a cowboy. I loved Ranch dressing so much that I even lassoed it around my two scoops of steaming white rice!

[Aside: The so-called “American West” is actually east of Guam; ironically, Guam is actually the “westernmost US sovereign territory.”]

Hidden Valley Ranch started as a dude ranch in 1954, in Santa Barbara, CA. In 1972, it was bought by Clorox. Yes, Clorox. In 1992, Ranch become the best-selling dressing in the US, surpassing Italian style dressing. #outwiththeOld WorldinwiththeNew

Hidden Valley Ranch dessing ingredients: Vegetable Oil (Soybean and/or Canola), Water, Egg Yolk, Sugar, Salt, Cultured Nonfat Buttermilk, Natural Flavors (Milk, Soy), Less than 1% of: Spices, Dried Garlic, Dried Onion, Vinegar, Phosphoric Acid, Xantham Gum, Modified Food Starch, Monosodium Glutamate, Artificial Flavors, Disodium Phosphate, Sorbic Acid and Calcium Disodium EDTA as Preservatives, Disodium Inosinate, Disodium Guanylate.

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I stopped eating salads (and greens in general) during college, when I “experimented” with other foods, aka burritos (not the healthy kind). Every day, my friends and I ate burritos, drank Cokes, smoked American Spirit cigarettes, and discussed Bahktin and Dostoevsky on the front porch of the dorms. All was permitted in those days.

My body, and our native bodies in general, have been malnourished for too long. These days, I am trying to honor my body with the respect that every native body deserves. This means feeding my body healthy and meaningful foods. This means returning to leafy greens.

So in addition to including salads and cooked greens for lunch and dinner, I drink green smoothies for breakfast about four to five times a week.

Green smoothies get their color from leafy greens, which in turn get their color from chlorophyll, which gets its name from the Greek chloros (“green”) and phyllon (“leaf”). Chlorophyll is a molecule found in plants that enables photosynthesis; it allows the plant to absorb energy from light. That’s why some people refer to chlorophyll as “green blood.”

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In Tamiko Beyerʻs new book, We Come Elemental (Alice James Books, 2013), the title poem describes chlorophyll as “light veined / through leaves”.

In our bodies, chlorophyll improves digestion, removes toxins, and strengthens immunity. Plus, leafy greens are rich in vitamins and minerals.

Have you ever read Māori poet Keri Hulme’s book of poems, Strands (Auckland University Press, 1992)? There’s a poem titled “Papatuanuku E Tu!”, which is about the Māori earth mother, Papatuanuku (in Hawaiian, earth mother is Papahānaumoku). In the poem, Hulme describes the diversity of the earth:

She slips easily, my mother
into the courtesy of variety:
black as coral she sings
and white as coral sands sun-fused
and that odd lovely pink&yellow coral can be
although my mother’s blood is green as chlorophyll
and she is cloaked in the three awesome blues

[Aside: If you are trying to get your islander kids to drink green smoothies, it may not be the best idea to tell them they are drinking the green blood of the earth mother.]

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Sadly, colonialism has deeply violated the earth and separated us from the natural foods that once fed us. In Hawaiian poet Brandy Nālani McDougallʻs unpublished poem, “Resisting the Rhetoric of Colonial Violence (For Haunani),” she writes:

Violence is tarp cities,
Arizona jail cells, GMOs,
and unearthed iwi. It is
what we settle for
because we’ve been led
to believe green paper
can feed us more than green land.

I see several friends on my Facebook feed who are considering choosing to add green smoothies to their diets. The truth is: you donʻt choose a green smoothie, it chooses you.

If you are one of the chosen people, you will quickly learn that there is a poetics to green smoothie creation.

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First, you need a liquid. The liquid is the substance and context that holds your poem together. For me, itʻs water. Each page, each smoothie, is a wave.

The leafy greens are the narrative, the meat of the smoothie. I rotate my greens: kale, chard, collards, cabbage, romaine—all greens that are grown and sold locally. Each green, like each poem, tells a different story about light and transformation.

The fruits are the lyricism. Don’t put too much fruit because it can become too sweet—the last thing you want in a poem is sugary lyricism. I prefer some imported apple or local pineapple, in addition to some local banana (which also gives it a smooth tone and texture).

The citrus in the zing, tang, and italic of the smoothie. It gives bite and vitamin sass. It wakes the reader up. I add local limes or lemons.

The roots are the roots (and routes). I add local ginger and turmeric to give the smoothie depth and a spicy earthiness. Roots give the poem grounding and genealogy, while routes provide a sense of mobility.

I have named this zero-waste smoothie: Phyllis, my bright leaf, my morning light.

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Returning to Hulme’s poem, she follows her luminous portrai of Papatuanuku with a lament: “I tangi I call I am aching because / I cannot hymn her with more / than brief finally silent words.”

Even though these are brief words, there are ways that words can resist silence. McDougallʻs poem ends with a call to share our stories about the importance of the earth, and the importance of passing down these stories to future generations so that our words

become “the chattering winds of hope”
that erode the hardness of violence
from the earth, and we are sown into
and born from Papahānaumoku

green and tender once again.

No amount of words, no amount of poems, no amount of green salads and smoothies can truly and fully honor the generosity of our earth mother. But when we feed our bodies—and our children’s bodies and our elders’ bodies—leafy greens (and hopefully support our local and organic farmers in the process), then we can offer our bodies as healthy hymns to Papatuanuku, to Papahānaumoku.

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4 thoughts on “Self-Portrait of Islander with Green Smoothie

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