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Reflecting on sustainability and the buffalo at
the SIAL Food Show in Brazil

By Mark Kenneth Tilsen, Jr.

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This is Mark Kenneth, Jr. donning the Tanka, spot-you-from-space-yellow T-shirt, once again. I have been away at the university for the past two years but I came out of retirement to attend one of the strongest economies in the world and see if we can do business here.

It's the first day of the SIAL Brazil International Food Show where Tanka Bar is among top-quality food brands and some of the biggest names in the industry. This place, Sao Paulo, was one of the most populated cities in the world - the elite businessmen and women of this town own the largest private helicopter fleet in the world because it's the only way to get around when traffic is stuck going nowhere.

On the flight in, the moment before daybreak, the plane dipped its wing slightly and through the fog I saw the sunrise hit the Amazon River through the rain forest. It was only a moment - then the clouds covered it all. This doesn't really have anything to do with my trip but it was amazing to see.

I arrived in Brazil the week after the RIO +20 Summit, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, and it has got me thinking. A Native perspective on the environment is not to think of oneself separate from it - we are all literally connected. At the time of first contact this must've looked like superstition to the Europeans. In the mid to late 20th century, this interconnection concept was viewed as a New Age, hippy concept and just started to gain some semblance of scientific credibility with James Lovelock's Gaia Hypothesis that states the Earth is in fact a self-regulating living organism.

At this moment, understanding the need for a sustainable world is slowly starting to look like good business sense and common sense. It's only taken the world 200 years to remember what Native people already knew, not the best learning curve but not the worst. We've come all the way down here to see if we can sell our product and improve the economy of our community on the Rez. In this way globalization is not just some thing that's happening on TV but something in which we are actively part.

The modern business we are trying to run asks the hard questions: how we move forward with a sustainable economic model that doesn't come at the cost of an unstable environment? In our bones we believe that buffalo are an essential part of the ecosystem of the Great Plains and vital to the life of the region. They use less water than cattle, don't pollute the creeks and ponds, secrete less methane gas, and when they are sick, they find the medicinal plants to eat and heal themselves. Most companies are not grappling with this question but more should. Using buffalo and only all-natural ingredients are our way of trying to do it. For real though, if you look at our ingredients we've had debates, fights and discussions for each one of them on there.

In the face of climate change, sometimes our contribution feels trivial but we are still trying. We only have this one world for us all. We're in this together.

Keep your eyes peeled for a more traditional report back from the show.

MKT - out

For photo coverage so far from Mark's trip, visit Brazil gets its first taste of Tanka

ADDITIONAL INFO: Johanna Schwartz, the director of the video on our homepage featuring Native American Natural Foods, is working on a documentary following the lives of children born in 1992 during the original Rio Earth Summit from Kenya, India, Brazil, China and Papua New Guinea. She posted a video series on The Guardian website.

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