Monday, November 14, 2011

Meatless Monday: The Challenges of an Indigenous Feast

With Thanksgiving less than two weeks away, I’m sure many of you have started to plan your holiday menu. But have you ever stopped to consider how restricted your menu would be if you decided to use only the ingredients available to the Pilgrims and the Native Americans on that very first Thanksgiving Day?

Professor Devon A. Mihesuah, an enrolled citizen of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, oversees the American Indian Health and Diet Project (AIHDP) at the University of Kansas, a project “devoted to recovering the health of indigenous peoples.” As part of her work, she has compliled a detailed list of foods indigenous (native) to the Western Hemisphere (AKA the New World).

Upon perusing this list, you will soon learn that while turkey with cranberries could indeed be a menu possibility, there could be no butter for basting, no sugar to sweeten the berries, no flour for bread (for stuffing) or pie crust, and no apples for pie filling. You may also note the absence of the cow, the pig, and the chicken, as well as the presence of a number of things such as milkweed and mink that most of us no longer regard as food. Many of the foods on this list, including potatoes, squash and tomatoes, traveled from south to north over the course of many years. This list covers a broad geographic area; not all the items were available in what is now Massachusetts on that day in 1620. Click on any of the orange-colored items to learn more about them.

Through links at the side of the same page,you can find foods indigenous to smaller geographic areas and and the Choctaw tribe [there is however, no link for the eastern seaboard].

Dr. Martin Reinhardt, Anishinaabe Ojibway and Assistant Professor of Native American Studies, has been laying the groundwork for an ambitious challenge, the Decolonizing Diet Project (DDP). Beginning in March of 2012, along with a cohort of students and colleagues, Reinhardt will eat only pre-contact, indigenous Anishinaabe Ojibway foods for one yearTo honor Reinhardt’s work, Professor Devon Mihesuah of the AIHDP recently posed a mini-challenge — A Week of Eating Indigenous Food, which ran from October 31 through November 6 — and blogged about her experiences.  Dr. Reinhardt accepted the challenge and described his experience on the DDP site

If going indigenous proves too big a challenge [it is for me] and you decide to stick with a more modern menu, a good source for inspiration is the recipes posted by Slow Food USA.  Or check out Slow Food’s US Ark of Taste, a catalog of over 200 delicious foods in danger of extinction. By promoting and eating these products, such as heritage turkeys, you can help to ensure they remain in production and on our plates. 

If you have never cooked but want to give it a try for the holiday, my advice is to start with something small. Cranberry sauce is pretty simple. You can follow the recipe printed on a bag of cranberries (which you can find in the fresh produce section), or check out this site for some more ideas. 

Have fun, and have a great week! 

I often blog on food or food issues on Monday in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal  health and the health of our planet.”

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