Meet the Bay Area Nonprofit Connecting Residents with the Indigenous Cuisine and Culture of the Ohlone Tribe
Cafe Ohlone is named after the Ohlone tribe that inhabited California's coastal East Bay before colonization. Two men are using using cuisine to spark conversation about the area's history.
Prior to 1776, the residents of California’s coastal East Bay and Carmel Valley were members of the Ohlone tribe. Then the Spanish colonizers arrived and, 18 years later, they violently forced the Ohlone to relocate to Mission Dolores in San Francisco. At the mission, the Ohlone struggled to gather traditional foods to prepare tribal recipes. Today, only 800 Ohlone people remain in the East Bay. Vincent Medina, of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe, and Louis Trevino, of the Rumsen Ohlone Tribe, thought one way to heal from this painful history was to revive the pre-contact Ohlone culture and cuisine that had been suppressed for centuries. So, in August 2017, the life partners organized a Bay Area food-focused retreat for fellow tribal members.
What They Did
Medina and Trevino can still feel the collective silence that consumed the group as they shared their first sips of acorn soup. The soup—which is made from acorns that have been cured for over six months—had been a dietary staple for their ancestors for millennia. “We wanted to make sure the first bite went to our people,” says Medina. Shortly after that, the pair launched mak’amham—a nonprofit that works to strengthen and share traditional Ohlone cuisine and culture with the general public. The name translates to “our food” in Chochenyo, the language of the East Bay Ohlone. And in fall of 2018, they opened Cafe Ohlone: a weekly prix fixe meal and cultural event at the Berkeley bookstore University Press Books.
Starting the Conversation
Each event begins with a Chochenyo gratitude prayer, followed by a lecture about the living story of the Indigenous people of the East Bay. Menu items include smoked Feather River salmon, hazelnut-flour biscuits and yerba buena tea, with most ingredients sourced from Indigenous purveyors. Cafe Ohlone has been on pause through the COVID-19 pandemic and University Press Books will not be reopening. However, Medina and Trevino are reworking their cafe concept in virtual form—until it is safe to reopen. “Cafe Ohlone is so much more than food,” says Medina. “It’s history, social justice activism, protection of sacred sites, decolonization. When people eat these foods, they are connected to all these other issues.
If you are looking to learn more, the documentary film Gather: The Fight to Revitalize Our Native Foodways, is available for virtual screenings. Go to gather.film for more information.
EatingWell, November 2020