I had been listening to the Toasted Sister podcast for months before I realized that its host, Andi Murphy, lives in Albuquerque. The show has quickly become one of my favorites, because it exposes me to people and ideas that I probably wouldn’t have dug up on my own. The tagline is “Radio about Native American food,” and if that seems like a niche focus—well, then you just need to listen in, and find out how rich and broad the history of Native American food is.
Last week Andi and I went for beers at Bow and Arrow, where she says she’s had every beer on their list. “Wolf Eyes is my go-to,” she said. The week prior, Andi had catered an event at Bow and Arrow—the kick-off party for the Indigenous Comic Con—and the beertender knew her by name. Over a couple hours, Andi and I talked about her childhood, her career and how she came to start the Toasted Sister podcast. She asked me about as many questions as I asked her (which is what happens when a journalist interviews a journalist), and we spent a lot of time talking about what books we read as kids. Nevertheless, I got enough to put together the story of how she got so interested in indigenous food sovereignty and started her own podcast about it.
In her dayjob, Andi works as a producer for Native America Calling, the public radio show that discusses Native American issues with those directly impacted by them (it airs on KUNM every weekday at 11am). She’s been working there for about four years, and the expertise shines through in her own podcast as well: Toasted Sister sounds about as clean and professional as any high-budget Radiolab segment. I’m not just being nice—go listen, you can tell that this was done by a professional.
She grew up in Crownpoint—a small Navajo community in western New Mexico. Her family was poor, and most of the food she remembers eating in her childhood was “poor man’s food.” “So we had a lot of high fat, high sugar stuff,” she says. “Lots of meat and potatoes, lots of ground beef. And my dad worked for the commodity foods program, so we would have some of that surplus food that he would bring back. It wasn’t very colorful.” (The commodity foods program is a food subsidy program similar to food stamps, but specifically for tribal reservations. Historically, the foods provided have been things like canned meat and beans, white flour, white rice—not very nutritious or flavorful stuff.)
It wasn’t until Andi left home for college in Las Vegas, N.M., that she began cooking and “actually eating.” “I don’t think we [Andi and her sister] really touched a fresh vegetable until we left home,” she says. Around then was when Andi got excited about writing, too. Though she started out as an English major in Las Vegas, a scholarship program called the American Indian Journalism Institute introduced her to multimedia journalism. “And I was just hooked from there. I went back the next summer and the next summer, then I moved down to Las Cruces and changed my major over to journalism.”
After college, Andi went to work at the Las Cruces Sun-News, where she quickly found herself covering the food beat. In 2014 she got her current job as a producer at Native America Calling, where she first got exposed to indigenous food and its revival: “I did a show on Sean Sherman, The Sioux Chef, back when he just had the little Tatanka Truck. I talked to him and thought, “Oh my goodness, what is this all about?” I read more about him and indigenous food in general, followed him on social media, and then from there, it just kind of all popped out of the woodwork. So I started pitching more food shows, and the executive editor eventually said, “You can’t do all these food shows, you have to cover other stuff too.” And my coworker, who is a podcast addict, she suggested I start a podcast. So I did! I drew the logo first because I didn’t want to just have some clip art or somebody else’s work. I wanted it to be all my own. I branded it as a kind of cool, punk rock sort of feel—I didn’t want to put feathers and beads on it, because that shit is so tired. Then I started a website and a Soundcloud account—and I just did it.”
The first episode of Toasted Sister came out in January 2017. On the show, Andi interviews chefs, farmers, scholars and food activists from all over the country about indigenous foods. In one of her favorite episodes, she went up to a sheep camp in Shiprock, New Mexico. “We got to see the sheep and talk to this family who come from generations of sheepherders about things like climate change, processing the wool, what sheep mean to them on a cultural level, an economic level and just a personal level. Because these animals, even the sheepdogs, are a part of the family,” she says.
Since starting the podcast, Andi has learned a wild amount about indigenous food. Back before she started these interviews, she says, “I remember a couple times explaining Navajo food or Native food to some people, and saying, ‘It’s very bland and plain—it’s just some stewed meats and roasted vegetables and that’s it.’ ” Now she knows that’s not the case. Native chefs like Sean Sherman are cooking up wild rice crusted walleye in wild plum sauce and smoked apple broth, or lamb shanks with blue corn mush and a Three Sisters succotash. Native food is having a long-awaited revival, and Andi Murphy is dedicated to showcasing it.
The morning after my interview with Andi, I got a text from her: “Dude! Check the home page of Civil Eats! (a website that provides reporting and criticism on agriculture and food systems)” I did, and saw a photo of her staring back at me—chef’s knife in hand, bright red lipstick on. She looks like a total badass. “Young Women Are Reviving Indigenous Food Traditions Online,” is the article, and Andi is one of several women featured. “Holy shit! That’s you!” I texted back. “Could I get a copy of that photo for my article?” After so many years of shining the light on other people, I wonder what it feels like for her to get some of the spotlight herself. Thankfully, she doesn’t seem too camera shy.