The Growing Indigenous Food Movement

Reader Contribution by Michelle Bruhn and Forks In The Dirt
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“Food should taste like place you are
-Sean Sherman, the Sioux Chef

Coming Full Circle

As we realize just how unsustainable our American food systems are, people across the map are incorporating Indigenous Foods into their diets. On the surface, Indigenous Food is what grows or lives on the earth around you. But, if you dig in just a bit deeper, you’ll uncover a rich and delicious history of how the Indigenous people of your area used to grow, hunt, preserve and prepare their food.

The use of Indigenous Food is gaining momentum because it inherently comes to the table with many of the values we are looking for in our food:  Delicious + Local + Unique + Healthy + Environmentally Sound. I think we all have much to learn from the ingenious “food-ways” of the people who inhabited the land we now live on- wherever that is.

The Sioux Chef

There is one man at the helm of this movement telling that story with a humble passion that has caught fire across the globe. Sean Sherman, The Sioux Chef is making eating the foods that grow and live where you are accessible to us all. He had his ‘aha’ moment when after years as a chef in Minneapolis, Minnesota, he realized there were restaurants that served food from all around the world, but no restaurant that served food native to Minnesota.

This realization lead to his research of ‘pre-colonial’ foods. His searching has been rewarded with a deep understanding of Indigenous people’s food-ways. Sean can weave his passion for 2,000 years of ancestral heritage while simultaneously tackling the modern-day diabetes epidemic and soil regeneration. Yes, this is why people flock to hear him speak!

Sean’s James-Beard-Award-Winning cookbook, The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchenis a joyful celebration of delicious foods where sustainability is effortlessly cooked into every bite.  As Sean stated, “Every plant has a purpose” for food, medicine or crafting; often a plant can be used for all three purposes. Many of you will notice similarities between his words and the basic tenants of permaculture design.

The Original Local Food Movement

Shifting how we look at our food; as something that we are ‘a part of’ instead of ‘apart from’ is truly eye opening. As Sean travels and spreads the good food news for what’s already growing under the listeners feet, he is truly manifesting one of his beliefs that; “We should be the answer to our ancestors’ prayers.”

His next bold step forward is bringing the “Indigenous Food Lab” to the Twin Cities metro. This space will have many purposes; restaurant, see through kitchen exhibition, classroom and community gathering space.

Many public libraries have The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen, which is where I first found it. I upgraded to a signed copy at Sean’s “(R)Evolution of Indigenous Food Systems in North America” talk at Century College. The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen has found its way into the hearts and homes of people who are making these recipes and bringing history to life. People are experimenting with citrus-like Sumac and the earthy flavors of timpsala. Whether it means eating rabbit stew, or cattail buds, finding the foods that are native to your region opens up a new world of flavors. And once you try it, you’ll keep coming back.

Take a Hike!

So, what can the average home gardener do to start cooking with Indigenous food? It could be as easy, and enjoyable as taking a hike. Many of the ingredients may be foraged from your neighborhood’s open spaces. As with all foraging follow a few simple steps to ensure everyone’s safety.

Foraging basics: Ask permission if it is private land, find out if the land has been treated with anything, take only what you need, if possible, harvest sustainably, leave at least half of what you find.

Foraging also tunes you in to the seasons like nothing else can. Even with outdoor veggie gardening, the gardener controls much of the timing. With foraging you’ll find yourself paying attention to weather patterns in anticipation of the first everything of the season. We can always use ways to help us sync up more with Mother Nature, right!

One of the absolute easiest things to make around me is Cedar Tea. Find a cedar tree, trim a few branches, wash and double the water to cedar ratio, and boil for 10 minutes. Strain and sweeten with local maple syrup. Delicious and restorative too. *Bonus if you tap your own trees! ?

Heritage Seeds

Another step would be to start growing some of the Indigenous seeds. Sean Sherman is on the board of the Seed Savers Exchange and works with the Indigenous seeds stock they have there. There are many smaller Indigenous seed suppliers popping up as well. As the need increases, Mother Nature is ready to provide.

There is an intriguing book that I am currently reading called Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden: Agriculture of the Hidatsa Indians and even though it was first published in 1917, it holds wisdom invaluable for today’s organic gardeners.

You can also look for Indigenous growers and suppliers at your local farmers markets. In Minnesota, we have the Minnesota Grown organization that helps connect the public with growers. If you seek out these growers and suppliers, your taste buds will thank you.

Celebrate Your Land

Food is a celebration of cultures no matter where you are. There is something truly singular about enjoying a meal when the land it came from was meant to provide all the ingredients. These meals can grow community, appreciation for the earth and strong healthy bodies all at once. Like Sean says, “food always tells a story.” What do you want your next meal to say?

Mine will say I’m from Minnesota and loving it! Please share any Indigenous Foods you’ve found and love!

Michelle Bruhn is a local food advocate in Minnesota, where she runs Forks in the Dirt, a website that supports local farmers with interviews, social media, and other promotions. She also keeps chickens, gardens, and a few boys. Connect with Michelle on Facebook and Instagram.


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