Liz Santos “Tastes the Earth”

By Kati Burton, CSKT Guided Care Dietitian 

I had the chance to sit with Liz Santos, fellow lover of cooking and food. It was clear that she is grounded in her food history, remarking on the ways food tasted as a child and what it meant to interact with family members as they hunted and cooked together. Here is a taste of our interview.

KB: Introduce yourself. Tell us where you are from and anything you would like us to know about you.

LS: My name is Elizabeth Monroe Santos. I am a Tribal member from Salish Kootenai Confederated Tribes and live in Arlee. I am an avid gardener. I grow a large vegetable garden and many, many flower gardens around my home. I know that I inherited the love of gardening from my grandfather Pete Pierre. As a child my cousins and I would love to play in his huge garden and “steal” some of the vegetables. 

KB: When growing up, did your family have any special food rituals or traditions?

LS: When I was little my family did have a tradition that was really fun. Quite a few of us would all get together and go hunting in the mountains. Usually horses were brought to use for the hunt and to also provide entertainment for us kids. Those were some really great times and I miss those days immensely.

KB: Please share your earliest memory with food.

LS: I remember eating an ear of corn picked fresh off of the stalk and fresh peas from my grandfather’s garden. I swear nothing tasted so sweet and I remember how “earthy” it tasted to me. I remember trying to garden on my own when I was probably like 8 or 9 years old. I grew little potatoes, corn and tiny carrots. My mom used the potatoes I grew in one of her delicious stews and my horse stepped on or ate my corn. My grandfather always made drymeat on his drymeat rack and raised turkeys. I remember him butchering one for Thanksgiving one time.

KB: Tell us about a family recipe that means something to you. Do you still make it today?

LS: One dish that my mother and my aunt would make all the time is “hash.” Oh my gosh, the ingredients are so simple but when it is all put together and cooked and pulled out of the oven, it smells unbelievable! Typically it is made with pre-cooked elk or deer meat and boiled potatoes, onions and that is it. Hash is baked in the oven and so easy to make, but once you take your first bite it tastes like it took all day to make. Another delicious simple dish is deer meat soup. Its only ingredients are boiled deer meat chunks, broth and onions. Love this soup especially when I am not feeling well.

KB: How do you feel that the land and what we eat are connected?

LS: When I spoke of eating things from my grandfather’s garden, I remember that I could taste the “earth.” I knew of this connection as a child. This time of year is also a busy one as far as berry picking season begins and soon it will roll right into the hunting season. Every year when I was growing up we would go picking huckleberries.

KB: What challenges do you experience for yourself or others living on the Flathead to accessing, cooking, and eating healthy food?

LS: I do not have any challenges accessing, cooking or eating healthy food, although it does take planning and preparation to ensure that you are in fact eating in a good healthy way. I do not believe that one can sensibly eat healthy without having a plan first. You cannot just walk into a grocery store and buy everything healthy for your weekly meals without first planning ahead. I read cookbooks like books. I look for healthy recipes that I am pretty sure that my family will enjoy and then I plan meals for one or two weeks and create a grocery shopping list from this.

KB: What is your definition of food sovereignty?

LS: Food sovereignty to me is the ability of tribal or native peoples to continue to have the opportunities to hunt, grow and gather food as they have for millennia uninhibited without the corruption of big corporation interference and or damage. I strongly believe that the current U.S. farm policy is harmful and needs to be removed or changed for local/ small based agriculture to thrive. If people had easier access to locally grown food and didn’t think or feel that it is something that is financially “out of reach”.

KB: How do you believe food sovereignty can help us live healthier lives and prevent disease like diabetes?

LS: I believe that this could be helpful in preventing many illnesses by helping to encourage and change the way people see and think about the food and the importance of what they are putting into their bodies.

KB: Do you have any advice for our community on ways to eat well?

LS: My advice is always to be curious, don’t be afraid to always try something new. I always tell small children that are apprehensive about trying a new food, “try it before you say you do not like it”.

This column is a project of Kati Burton, CSKT Guided Care Dietitian. She hopes to bring local voices to the table to discuss food traditions and memories that reconnect us with our food history and help us to eat well.

If you have a food story you would like to share or want to connect, please contact Kati Burton at 406-317-3751 or

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