A highlight from What Is Native American Cuisine? (Encore)
Hello gastro bud listeners, we have a great episode for you today. It's one of our favorites. I know we say that all the time, but we really do love this one. And it's especially timely for our American listeners who may well be sitting down to a Thanksgiving meal that includes lots of delicious and indigenous American foods. Corn, cranberries, turkey. There's a story behind Thanksgiving, of course, but there's an even deeper story that we tell this episode. The story of Native American cuisine, what it was, what happened to it, and why that matters. In this episode, we highlight the work of a lot of super interesting people in the native community, and if you stick around to the credits, we'll have the update on what some of those people have been up to since our episode first aired. Enjoy. Yep, that's your Cedar bergamot Mabel tea. Does it have particular powers? Oh yeah, it'll make you feel really good. Is Cedar is Cedar used traditionally for anything in particular. Yeah, it's used for all kinds of stuff like here we braise meat with it. It's used as like a lot of seasoning and then also people use it in the winter time as a tea like to help prevent from getting like flu, colds, things like that. So it's also burned sort of like as an instance, like a smudge, so cheers. I'd never tasted Cedar in food before. I'd also never had that bergamot. It's not the perfumey citrus from Italy, but a wildflower in the mint family. It's also known as B ball. Yeah, me neither. Okay, pop quiz people. What do all of these ingredients, the Cedar, the maple, and the wild bergamot? What do they have in common? Apart from being an RT, I mean. Anyone? Yeah, you're probably not going to come up with the answer here. These are all Native American ingredients brewed into a tea for us in Minnesota. We of course are gastropod, the podcast that looks at food through the lens of science and history. I'm Cynthia graber, and I'm Nikola twillie. So this was a delicious tea with Native American ingredients, and we washed it down with a delicious meal made with Native American ingredients, and you know what's weird? I've lived in the U.S. for 15 years now, but before we had that meal, I would not have been able to describe traditional Native American cuisine and flavors at all, but why is that? That's what we're asking in today's episode. We'll explore the history why it is that basically none of us have ever tasted native American cuisine, and we'll meet the people who are trying to change that today, not just for us, more importantly, for Native Americans themselves. They have some of the highest rates of diet related diseases like diabetes in the country. Could a return to a native diet help? This episode is supported in part by the boroughs welcome fund for our coverage of biomedical research and our travel was supported in part by the fund for environmental journalism. Gastropod is part of the vox media podcast network in partnership with eater. The voice you heard earlier is to Shia heart. She forages wild foods for chef Sean Sherman. My name is Sean Sherman. I am the owner and CEO of the sous chef. I grew up on pine ridge reservation, which is in south central, South Dakota. It is the third largest native reservation in the United States. You might have heard of Sean, he's getting all kinds of attention right now. He's just funded his first restaurant on KickStarter. In fact, it's the most backed restaurant project ever on KickStarter. He's had a food truck to tonka truck and a catering company for a few years. His new Minneapolis restaurant will be the first to serve all indigenous foods from Minnesota and the dakotas. The meal we enjoyed that Cedar tea, smoked turkey hominy, wild rice, and a wild sumac and sorrel pesto. That was a taste of the kind of foods Sean will be serving at his new restaurant. But he didn't grow up eating like this. You know, on pine ridge reservation when I was growing up in the 70s and 80s, there was only one grocery store on the pine ridge reservation, which is a huge area to have only one food source. And we had to spend a lot of time either going into Rapid City or down into Nebraska to other towns to go to some of the grocery stores. A lot of what Sean and his family ate came through the food distribution program on Indian reservations. That's a federal program that distributes food to low income Native Americans. So had the famous government cheese and cereals and various canned foods, but you know we did have some traditional pieces here and there. When I look back, you know we did collect a lot of choke cherries out in the wild and we did collect a lot of Tim solo, which is a wild Prairie turnip. You may never have eaten what Sean calls, quote, famous government cheese, but it's common on the reservation. It's basically bulk commodity cheese that the government buys to prop up the dairy industry and then gives away. But Shawn doesn't want the next generation to grow up eating canned and boxed processed foods like he did. He thinks it's well past time for Native American foods to have their moment on our tables. Sean Sherman is part of a growing movement today, a rebirth of indigenous North American cuisine. But here's my question, why does it need a rebirth? I mean, why was it lost in the first place? When various ways of colonization occurred, it was really about seizing that land and its natural resources, which meant increasingly that native peoples were pushed off their traditional lands where they harvested game where they grew crops where they harvested their traditional medicines and foods.