“Native food can be serious & entertaining”

Meet Toasted Sister Andi Murphy

Image by TOPIA

Andi Murphy is dedicated to Indigenous food storytelling, from frybread and seed saving practices to migrant workers’ rights. TOPIA meets the “overlord” behind award-winning podcast Toasted Sister as part of our BEYOND THE STALE series

Creating a podcast dedicated to Indigenous food really keeps the fire going underneath me.

Andi Murphy is into moody music. She named her podcast after the rock band Twisted Sister, has a cat called Lucifur and loves a goth tee. Her aprons are, of course, black.

For the host and creator of the successful Toasted Sister podcast, food and flavour are intertwined with culture and history. Stories need to be told – and things should get political and personal. 

Diné herself (commonly referred to as Navajo in the US), Murphy grew up within the Navajo Nation, on a reservation that stretches across four states. Though still significantly smaller than before the US government’s Indian Removal Act, the Navajo Nation remains the largest Native American Reservation in the US. Today the successful journalist and photographer hosts her award-winning podcast from Albuquerque, where she lives with her two tabby cats. Lucifur’s playmate is a dark lord called… Carrot.

In her four years of chatting to Native chefs, farmers, health workers and tribal community members – sharing perspectives and traditions that aren’t often heard outside of their communities – Murphy has become an important voice within the culinary world. Part of a generation of Native Americans advocating for Indigenous acknowledgement, she’s helping to build visibility of food sovereignty issues in the US thanks to storytelling that’s rooted in powerful details: “Do you know who picked the cabbage and celery you find at the grocery store? It might’ve been an Indigenous immigrant farmworker.” 

Toasted Sister episodes are wide ranging, from the exploration of age old traditions to the modern interpretations of tribal practices. Conversations have included personal stories from Guatemalan migrant workers, a Native death doula, the women behind the only Native female-owned brewery, and traditional Pueblo bread makers. 

TOPIA caught up with the food media pioneer to ask about the beauty of preparing traditional ingredients from scratch – and the power of a good playlist

Hi Andi. First off, where are you right now?

I’m in my home in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I’m looking at my laptop screen and behind it is an orderly bunch of desk things – notebooks between black book ends, a black folder holder holding black folders, a black Baphomet mug full of wood pencils and a glass box filled with little odds and ends like a couple of cat eye marbles, a glasses cleaner, a few cubes of bubble gum and a SD card reader or my laptop. I like to keep an orderly office space and home.

How does Toasted Sister go ‘Beyond the Stale’? 

The purpose of Toasted Sister is to include Indigenous food stories in the podcast media. There are dozens of podcasts out there about food but creating a podcast dedicated to Indigenous food really keeps the fire going underneath me. Our stories are important, unique, educational and entertaining. I want to show that Native food and people can be serious and entertaining at the same time.

And why a podcast?

Storytellers have been using audio to broadcast stories since the radio was invented. Back then radio was reserved for a few producers, hosts and shows. Today anyone can start a podcast about any subject, and that means that people from small communities suddenly have a platform to tell their stories to an audience of 20 to 20,000. They’re taking ownership over their stories and educating the public about the issues that are important to them.

What is your current relationship to Native and Indigenous foods?

I try to include Native foods in my diet now, and it’s not that hard now that I have all this knowledge about the ingredients. Many things we already eat have Indigenous origins. I mean, potatoes have Indigenous origins so… French fries!

What would you like to learn more about?

I would like to learn more about wild foods, and I’d love to have a mentor and make those connections. But for now, I buy ingredients from other tribes and keep my pantry stocked with them – maple syrup, wild rice, tepary beans, bison, mutton and goat. I see the value of learning how to cook, taste and analyse the flavours in food. Learning all of this stuff about Native foods and Native issues doesn’t mean anything – all of this work, all of the money going around to revitalise it – if we don’t figure out how to cook it and make it taste good. I really want to see more movement around making the kitchen a more welcoming, comfortable space.

What first steps would you suggest?

There are a lot of people out there who are just scared or don’t know where to look for entry level food stuff. I want people to learn how to use what you have. And in order to do that first you have to figure out what you like. Then you start thinking about substitutions or alterations. Then you start incorporating Indigenous foods you have access to, and then you can start to make it taste good. Because isn’t that what makes the world go ‘round – good tasting food?! A long time ago, Indigenous food was about fuel; it was about feeding yourself, getting something in your body so you would live. But now, we have the resources and we have the knowledge to make things taste good – and that is what we need. We’ve got delicious access to food. 

Isn’t that what makes the world go ‘round – good tasting food?!

Where do you want to see the Indigenous food movement going?

There are some people who are really hardcore about doing things the way our ancestors did. They needed salt, herbs and spices to make these foods taste good. And so they’re bringing some of that old knowledge into the kitchen now and mixing it up with other things, like traditional French techniques or Mexican cooking. There are guys like Nephi Craig over at White Mountain Apache who is working on a ‘Ramen White Mountain Apache Soup’ – so you see all these cool things where we have access to lots of knowledge and ingredients and we can insert our own Indigenous flavours there.

What is one unexpected outcome you’ve seen as a result of your work?

Being asked questions by other journalists! Being asked to speak about food and podcasting, and being asked to cook for demos, tastings or events. I didn’t know this would happen, but it’s been really fun. I get asked about my goth aesthetic. This is just my style and this is what I like. I like dark and moody music. I think I have an eye for comfortable and clean spaces. All of this influences the aesthetic of my podcast. 

Where do you see this growing network creating change within food media going?

I see this movement being supported more by tribes, entrepreneurs and community members. I think farmers and chefs and those in the media and in the community who are making noise are being heard and seen. They’ve done a lot of hard work to set up shop. I hope the important principles of this movement – farm-to-table, cultural food and culinary education – take root in every community and that leads the way to entrepreneurship. 

Andi with Ray Naranjo, former executive chef at Indian Pueblo Kitchen in Albuquerque

What food do you or would you eat daily if you were able?

I don’t do anything daily but I do drink coffee every Monday to Friday. Sometimes I eat cereal, hummus or cold cut sandwiches every day for a week or two. After I get that craving out of my system, I won’t touch those for a month or so. I would love to eat different salads every day. I love salad. 

What is a simple experience or ritual that brings you joy or satisfaction daily?

Putting on lipstick, eating something delicious and coming home to my own house. 

Home-cooked vegetarian (hibiscus flower) birria, beans and a tall glass of agua de jamaica

Share a good life hack that helps you live a better life.

Find a really good playlist to fit all your moods. Find a hobby or something artsy that makes you happy and relaxed. Find a good beer or drink that you really enjoy. And do all three on a Friday night – as often as you can.

Now let’s play ‘Protect, Create, Avoid’. In your idea of TOPIA, what would you choose to treasure, invent and banish forever?

I would choose to protect all bodies and forms of water, I would create a simple and completely free form of energy and I would avoid cockroaches.

What does it mean to be “good” in 2022?

Listening to reason and your body’s needs. I’m looking forward to learning more and more about food in the coming year.

And what’s your rallying cry to people who think they can’t do **** to make the world just that bit better?

No one single person is going to make a difference in the world. But your work, and the work of other awesome people, is all that is needed to keep good local movements happening. That is what’s most important. You don’t have the answer for the masses. You have the answer and energy for your own community and that’s what is most helpful. 

Lastly, what’s the last song you’d want to hear during your time here on earth?

Wow, this is a really tough one. Maybe ‘Flatlands’ by Chelsea Wolfe. It reminds me of beautiful land and sunset skies in New Mexico; the yellow sunlight coming through hills, desert plants and cactuses in the open and trees in town.

Thank you for speaking to TOPIA and being part of our world of good.

What’s so good about this?

BEYOND THE STALE is an ongoing interview series that celebrates the indie storytellers and tastemakers changing media for the better – whether in food, science or sex – by addressing its blind spots. Thanks to honest blogs, rich podcasts and the rise of the newsletter, these rock ‘n’ roll raconteurs, many of whom have yet to see their identities reflected within wider media, are building communities and creating spaces that don’t have to cater to the masses and mainstream narratives.

Andi Murphy is part of a new generation creating fiercely engaging and compelling work that provides a window into a more nuanced range of cuisines, histories, neighbourhoods, politics and global perspectives. Support Toasted Sister.

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Meet the writer

Adrienne Katz Kennedy is a London-based food and culture writer. The former Clevelander and former New Mexican dance anthropologist is a contributing writer for the travel cookbook Hong Kong Diner and has also been featured in Whetstone Journal, Pit Magazine, Heated by Bitman, Courier Media and Sierra Magazine. Her work focuses on storytelling, identity and communication – whether through dance, food, cultural practices or Instagram Stories. She often wonders how she ended up living on a chilly island, and how late is too late to make the day’s last cuppa without risking the sacrifice of sleep. Follow @AKatzKennedy.

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