Women We Admire: Alexandria Bipatnath August 08 2020

Alexandria Bipatnath

Alexandria Bipatnath is the founder of The Wholesome Conscious + Catering, a holistic nutritionist, CNP, and holistic health and wellness practitioner. We had the pleasure of talking to her about her passion for Indigenous food sovereignty, wholesome food, and her experience running an Indigenous food catering business.

What inspired you to start The Wholesome Conscious?
The Wholesome Conscious began serendipitously. One day, someone had mistaken me as a caterer leaving me a voicemail with an inquiry to cater one of their events. After listening to the message I instantly picked up the phone to call my mom. “Mom, do I think I can do it?”, I asked. She then replied, “Sure, why not!”. I decided to map out a pilot run for a catering business for 6 months and poof, two years later and the rest was history! From the beginning, I knew that I wanted to ensure that both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples had the opportunity to experience wholesome plant-based Indigenous foods. As Indigenous peoples on Turtle Island (North America), we have been eating a wide variety of plants, berries, roots, flowers, nuts and seeds alongside our animal sources from time immemorial. As an Anishinaabe Kwe, I knew that by offering wholefoods back into our communities, the overall health, energy levels and connection back to ancestral memory would be inherently enhanced.

Can you explain Indigenous food?
I describe Indigenous foods as the food (nuts & seeds, vegetables, fruit, etc.) that grows native to the region which varies due to climate. This means, eating in-season, forging, cultivating, hunting, etc. This is how our tribes/nations have thrived. As time progressed, our tribes/nations had endured many trials and tribulations resulting in food scarcities and food insecurities resulting in foods based in trauma. An example of foods based in trauma includes the ration boxes that were given to our communities during the 160+ years of Residential schools both in Canada and the United States of America. Our peoples utilized fry bread as a means of sustenance, changing the way Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island (North America) would eat forever. Many tribes/nations still eat traditional foods such as Manoomin (the Ojibway word for wild rice). Our foods tell our legacy, our survival but most importantly, our resilience. Indigenous food sovereignty is a structural foundation in agriculture for all of Turtle Island.

Can you tell us how Indigenous food is tied to wellness?
We have many herbal medicines used for oral, bathing, food, topical, burning, etc. that vary from nation-to-nation however, one of my favourites is cedar. Cedar is one of our four sacred medicines (cedar, sage, tobacco and sweetgrass). We harvest cedar fresh and bath in it because of its cleansing properties for the mind, body, spirit and hair. We drink cedar as a hot beverage as it is rich in vitamin C and one of the many things we gave it to European settlers who had arrived with scurvy. We utilize the cedar branch in a variety of our dishes such as manoomin (wild rice). The wood was used to make longhouses, cedar smokehouses for harvested fish. We burn it to purify both space and ourselves (mentally, spiritually, physically and emotionally). We put the cedar in our shoes for protection (self) from harmful energy that we may encounter. Cedarwood can also be used topically as it is great as an antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial and more! Please note, this is not a welcoming to go and harvest, strip or tamper with cedar trees based on this information shared.

Can you explain what “food is consciousness” means to you?
Food is medicine. Empowerment of Indigenous food sovereignty is food consciousness. Consciously eating is a must - From seed to plant, whether it be going to the grocery store, to preparing that food with love and care and to give thanks to that beautiful being for its sustenance. When we are consciously eating or mindfully eating, we are able to speak to those molecules of that plant and give it specific directions on how or what we want it to do for our body, mind and spirit. And thus, we are able to tap into the spiritual nourishment just by having an attitude of gratitude. That is the ultimate definition of food consciousness.

What’s the most useful business lesson you’ve learned?
Learn every detail, role and function of your field of business. For me, this meant being the CEO + founder, the chef, the sous chef, the dishwasher/put away-er, the admin, the social media specialist, marketing, photographer, videographer, etc. This will aid in hiring employees to later fill these positions as your business begins to grow. Experiencing these positions will give you insight as to areas of strength and weakness for yourself and your businesses so that you can hire people who are highly specialized or skilled in these areas of weakness. This will help grow your business and ultimately you in the process as well. This element of business opportunities has been crucial in the adaptability and resilience of both me and The Wholesome Conscious, especially in today’s time.

What do you love most about your work?
Saying that, “I feed people's tummies for a living”; Afterall, food is the way to the heart. Every time I say it, I smile and am instantly reminded of my contribution in serving wellness to my community. It is such a privilege to be able to have built the network that I have in the 2 years of our operation. The clients that I’ve had the opportunity to feed, have provided me with overwhelmingly positive feedback and encouragement. This has been immensely encouraging to myself and the team by improving recipes/dishes and diversifying our menus. Connection to the community through food has been the absolute foundation of The Wholesome Conscious.

What's the best advice you've received?
“People may not remember exactly what you said to them, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”

Who are women you admire and why?
The matriarchs being my mother and my ancestors. I have to give all thanks to my mother as she is the very reason I am able to do what I do today. She has encouraged me every step of the way in my business. She has uplifted and supported me in high times and held me during extremely difficult times on my business venture. My ancestors, because they have paved the path for me and others through ancestral memory, ways of knowing and ensuring longevity in the futurity of our communities. Without them, I would not be here today contributing back to the community the way that I have been given ancestral rights to do so.

Do you have a favourite book?
21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act - Bob Joseph

Where do you get your power from?
Plants, my garden, my pets, wholesome foods, good sleep, water, sun, reading, a good hug, love … lots and lots of love. Love from my inner circle, from the environment, and from the world! Connection with my virtual family on social media as well as in-person is essential, as I am an extrovert. Encouragement from my small group for personal support in low times allows for me to rise on top during high times.

What does wellness look like for you? Do you have a favourite self-care practice?
Wellness is caring for my emotional, physical, mental and spiritual states of being. This sounds like, having regular positive self-talk that is purely nurturing, loving and compassionate. Moving my body in some way, whether that be dancing with my cat and partner in the kitchen to jumping rope. Checking in with myself and having positive coping mechanisms in dealing with stress management; taking a break and going outside to tend to my garden - this is currently my go-to. Ensuring that I’m always in alignment with my higher self with my career, relationships and way of life. My favourite self-care practice is ensuring my hair is brushed and well cared for (our hair is an extension of our state of mind, lineage and much more). Nourishing my skin in coconut oil and natural serums after hopping out of the shower to care for the largest organ on our bodies - yay!

When do you feel most like yourself? When are you at your happiest?
When I’m with my family for both questions. Simply stated. They are who raised me, they are who have supported me, and most importantly they are the ones who will always love me. They are the pillars of who I am today and give immense thanks to their endless amount of love, patience, teachings and so on. They bring so much joy and laughter into my life. At every family gathering, big or small, music is playing, the kitchen is full of food, laughter fills the air, and there are smiles on every face. Family, like most have stated, is everything.

What can you do today that you couldn't one year ago?
Living in Albuquerque, New Mexico during COVID-19 and expanding my business across Canadian and U.S. borders. What a dream to begin building connections with my Southwest relatives. Since the pandemic began, my Toronto operations have been on pause, and for the time being, I have been living in the States. I’m grateful to be surrounded by other Indigenous artisans and creatives who have inspired me in new adventurous collectives and experiences. Since the transition to staying connected via the web, I have been able to still keep close ties with my Toronto community while abroad.

How would you spend a perfect 'day off'?
Picture this: At a spa with a full body massage, aromatherapy in the air, natural hot springs to dip your toes in, all-natural facial, drinking high-quality water, a float session, the sun shining, hearing the birds chirp and/or the wind blowing in the trees and shrubs, relaxing music in the background and eating the most delicious wholesome food throughout the day. All this alone and continuously for 12+ hours in this sanctuary/paradise.

What’s the best part about being an entrepreneur? What’s the worst part?
The best part: Waking up, drinking a cup of water first thing in the morning. Watering all my indoor plants, then my outdoor garden. Feeding my six chickens. Waltzing back into the house petting the cat. Then finding myself at my work desk, sliding on my BluBloc glasses pulling my hair up and opening my computer. Sounds luxurious right? The worst part, but a very necessary part: Emails take up the majority of my business, especially during our high season. It can be tedious, sometimes boring and is especially time-consuming. Looking forward to expanding our team and bringing on an admin person - woohoo!

SEE MORE FROM ALEXANDRIA AND THE WHOLESOME CONSCIOUS ON INSTAGRAM HERE.
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