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Eat like an American. October 6, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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A Native American, that is. Silence Dogood here. Yesterday, a friend forwarded an e-mail from Professor Devon A. Mihesuah of the American Indian Health and Diet Project that I found most intriguing. Because Dr. Mihesuah says it best and provides great links, including to her own wonderful website, I’ll quote her letter here in full:
“In March 2012, Professor Martin Reinhardt, Anishinaabe Ojibway and
Assistant Professor of Native American Studies at Northern Michigan
University, along with a cohort of students and colleagues, will
embark on a challenging quest: to eat only pre-contact Anishinaabe
Ojibway foods for one year. By next spring, Martin and his colleagues
will have planned this adventure for 12 months. You can access his
Decolonizing Diet Project (DDP) blog here:
“In honor and support of the Decolonizing Diet Project, the American
Indian Health and Diet Project http://www.aihd.ku.edu/  invites all
interested parties to join in the mini-challenge of eating only
pre-contact foods during the first week of November. As you know,
November is Native American Heritage Month.
“During this week, participants in the mini-challenge can focus on one
tribe or, because some foods may be expensive, out of season,
contaminated, endangered, or not available, you may choose to eat only
one or two indigenous meals per day or perhaps widen meal
possibilities by choosing any foods indigenous to the Western
“The American Indian Health and Diet Project contains some recipes that
feature only ingredients that are indigenous to this hemisphere. There
are many more, of course, so I have also created the Mini-Diet
Challenge: A Week of Eating Indigenous Foods blog at
http://weekofeatingindigneousfoods.blogspot.com/ where you can chime
in about what you plan to eat.
“’Traditional’ for these projects means pre-contact foods. No beef,
mutton, goat, chicken, pork, eggs, milk, butter, cream, wheat flour
(no fry bread), rye, barley, okra, black-eyed peas, or any other ‘Old
World’ foods that a lot of us have lovingly incorporated into our
diets and tribal cultures. No processed foods even if the base is corn
or potatoes (that is, fried chips; ones you bake or dry yourself are
ok). Drinks consist of water, herb tea and beverages you may know how
to make, such as mescal and pulque. Chocolate candy is not on the list
unless it is unsweetened or sweetened with honey (of the Melipona
bee–honey bees are indigenous to Europe), fruit, stevia, camas or
agave. The diet may take a bit of planning!
“There are many foods to choose from. My site (a work in progress)
lists and defines many of them:
Please consider taking part in this activity. The goals of this
mini-challenge are to lend support to Martin’s Decolonizing Diet
Project, to familiarize ourselves with the varied, healthy and tasty
foods that have sustained countless indigenous peoples, and to spark
new ideas for healthy living.”
                            Devon Abbott Mihesuah
Silence chiming in again here. I think this sounds like a lot of fun! If you include all the Americas rather than just the U.S. or North America, your food choices broaden out considerably to include potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, corn, amaranth, quinoa, bananas, mangoes, and many more. A Thanksgiving feast built around indigenous ingredients could include oysters, winter squash or pumpkin soup, turkey stuffed with wild rice dressing (or salmon if you’d prefer it), cranberry sauce, green beans, mashed potatoes, corn or cornpone or corncakes, baked or pureed winter squash or pumpkin (if you didn’t serve the soup) or, of course, pumpkin pie (with a cornmeal or amaranth crust).
No Native American tribes were (or are) vegetarian, so I’m not sure I could get enough protein using solely indigenous foods to manage. But it wouldn’t kill me to try for a week! At any rate, I plan to look into it. If you’re intrigued, too, here are a few resources from my cookbook shelves to get you started:
Enduring Harvests: Native American Foods and Festivals for Every Season (E. Barrie Kavasch, Globe Pequot, 1995). This wonderful book is divided into monthly chapters, so it’s fun and easy to follow in any season. It’s a treasure-trove of lore, festivals, sound cooking tips, as colorful recipes like Rattlesnake Salsa (named for one of its chiles, no actual rattlesnakes needed) and Alligator-Crawfish Jambalaya (which does in fact contain alligator meat), as well as many yummy everyday recipes like Buttermilk Green Chili Cornbread Stuffing, Alaskan Salmon Cakes, Huevos Rancheros, Breakfast Hush Puppies, Buffalo Burgers with Wild Mushrooms and Onions, Spicy Cornmeal-Fried Catfish, and Aztec Chocolate Nut Fudge. Note that Ms. Kavasch does not limit herself to indigenous foods in her recipes. But don’t let that stop you from finding a copy! 
Renewing America’s Food Traditions: Saving and Savoring the Continent’s Most Endangered Foods (Gary Paul Nabhan, ed., Chelsea Green, 2008). This fabulous, richly photographed book is more of a regional food history with recipes than a cookbook, and not all of the foods included began as indigenous, though the varieties highlighted in the book were locally developed, and many are now in danger of vanishing in the wake of our Monsanto-like obsession with reducing diversity in favor of nationwide shipping and shelf life, not to mention a plasticized cosmetic appeal. (Thank God for the resurgence of heirloom plants and heritage livestock breeds!) The book is divided into chapters by “ecogastronomic regions,” such as Moose Nation, Acorn Nation, Clambake Nation, and Pinyon Nut Nation. Foods within each region are showcased, and a recipe is offered for each featured food, along with a wealth of history not just about it but about the occasions when it’s prepared and the foods it’s eaten with. You may never actually make Pit-Roasted Plains Pronghorn or Moose and Waldoboro Green Neck Rutabaga Stew, but you certainly could make and enjoy Santa Maria Pinquito Bean Salad, Seneca-Mohawk Hulled Hominy Corn Soup, Maple Baked Yellow-Eye Beans, Hoppin’ John, Pawpaw Custard, Choctaw Persimmon Pudding, or Roast Narragansett Turkey with Jerusalem Artichokes, even if you have to substitute locally available foods for the specific breeds or cultivars that are recommended. Great reading, too!
Southwest Indian Cookbook (Marcia Keegan, Clear Light Publishers, 1987). This is another lavishly photographed, loving tribute to the life, lore, and cuisine of Native Americans, in this case the Navajo and the people of the Pueblos. Plenty of appetizing options here, from Summer Squash Soup, Zuni Corn Soup, and Pinon and Mint Soup through San Ildefonso Salsa (with bacon!), Zuni Succotash, Green Tomato Stew, Chili Squash, Corn and Pumpkin Stew, Green Chili Fry, and Hopi Corn Stew with Blue Corn Meal Dumplings to Juniper Lamb Stew, Pueblo Fish Fry, Navajo Kneel Down Bread, Wild Sage Bread, and Fry Bread Pudding. This one doesn’t limit its ingredients to indigenous foods, either.
American Indian Corn: 150 Ways to Cook and Prepare It (Charles J. Murphy, The Knickerbocker Press, 1917). I just had to mention this old treasure from my cookbook collection. It was first published in 1890 to try to interest Europeans in actually eating corn and corn-based dishes rather than viewing it exclusively as livestock feed. In 1917, with World War I upon us and the need to ship all available wheat to Europe to feed the troops, it was republished with the recipes updated and many new recipes added by Jeannette Young Norton, author of Mrs. Norton’s Cook-Book, in an attempt to encourage Americans to substitute cornmeal for wheat flour. Today’s cooks may not go for the Corn Prune Mold, Corn Tutti Frutti, Corn Royal Sandwiches, Pop-Corn Pudding, and other delights offered in the book, but it’s a wonderful piece of history with lots to say about corn from its origins to 1917. Needless to say, it isn’t limited to indigenous ingredients, either.
Corn: Meals & More (Olwen Woodier, Storey Communications, 1987). Unlike the previous book, this one features a slew of recipes you’ll actually love, including international favorites like polenta, quiche, popovers, frittatas, and strata, plus special dishes like Rumanian Mamaliga and Argentine Puchero. There’s plenty of corn history mixed in as well. Again, not limited to indigenous ingredients.
Pumpkin Lovers Cook Book (Betty B. Gabbert, ed., Golden West Publishers, 1992). Everything pumpkin, this modest cookbook includes fun pumpkin facts and a “Pumpkin Events Sampler” of pumpkin festivals across the country. (It notes that the heaviest pumpkin in 2002’s weigh-offs weighed 1,337.6 pounds. Yowie zowie!)
Growing and Cooking Beans (John E. Withee, Yankee, 1980). Beans are one of the “Three Sisters” of Native American cooking (with corn and squash/pumpkins), and this is the bean bible. Mr. Withee presents extensive growing and harvesting information along with a cornucopia of bean dishes.
The Bean Harvest Cookbook (Ashley Miller, The Taunton Press, 1997). The author of this comprehensive, beautifully photographed book is a former Moosewood chef, and the mouthwatering fare she presents here reflects that. Reding through this book prompts an “I want to make that now!” response to every dish. Sound growing, harvesting, and storing information, plus bean history, round out the presentation.
Cowboy Cocktails (Grady Spears & Brigit L. Binns, Ten Speed Press, 2000). If cooking makes you thirsty, or you’d like a little liquid refreshment with your meals, this book will definitely give you plenty of options: 60 Southwest-themed drinks plus a chapter of recipes to eat with them.
Eager to stretch your definition of “indigenous” South of the Border? There are so many great cookbooks to help you, including all of Diana Kennedy’s books. Here are six to get you started. I’ll say upfront that none of them limit their recipes to indigenous ingredients, either, so I don’t have to say it every time.
Frida’s Fiestas: Recipes and Reminiscences of a Life with Frida Kahlo (Guadalupe Rivera and Marie-Pierre Colle, Clarkson Potter Publishers, 1994) is the most magnificent, stunningly gorgeous book of Mexican cooking I have ever seen. The photographs, stories by Diego Rivera’s daughter, and recipes bring Mexico to beautiful, vivid, luscious life. If I were stranded on a deserted island and could only take five cookbooks, this would be one of them.
Food from My Heart: Cuisines of Mexico Remembered and Reimagined (Zarela Martinez, Macmillan, 1992). This warm, welcoming book is sure to become an instant favorite. Like Frida’s Fiestas, it offers no shortcuts, so you’d best be prepared for some serious kitchen time or save it for special occasions. But it’s sure to inspire you to try new things and be more creative in your own cooking, and the wealth of recipes is amazing.
The El Paso Chile Company’s Texas Border Cookbook: Home Cooking from Rio Grande Country (W. Park Kerr, Norma Kerr, and Michael McLaughlin, William Morrow and Company, 1992). Lots of fun and fiery recipes from both sides of the Border. Check out their Southwestern Thanksgiving Feast.
All right!!! Finally, three vegetarian-friendly cookbooks that celebrate Southwestern and Mexican food, Meatless Mexican Home Cooking: Traditional Recipes That Celebrate the Regional Flavors of Mexico (Nancy Zaslavsky, St. Martin’s Griffin, 1997), Vegetarian Southwest: Recipes from the Region’s Favorite Restaurants (Lon Walters, Northland Publishing, 1998), and Chili! Mouth-Watering Meatless Recipes (Robert Oser, Book Publishing Company, 1999). For fellow vegetarians who despair about the lard, mutton, and the like that seem to constantly turn up in Southwest and Native recipes, these books are a lifeline.
I want to close this post with one of my favorite books, again by Gary Paul Nabhan. This one is all about indigenous foods, and chronicles the MacArthur award-winning (sorry, our friend Ben) author’s  attempts to eat for a year using 90% foods indigenous to a 250-mile radius arond his Arizona home. It’s Coming Home to Eat: The Politics of Local Food (W.W. Norton & Co., 2009). For anyone who’d like to take up the indigenous foods weeklong challenge, much less anyone who’d like to try for a year of indigenous eating, this book is essential.
Want to give it a go? If you do decide to try it, please let us know how you’re doing and what you’re eating!
                      ‘Til next time,


1. pixilated2 - October 6, 2011

Hmm, sounds intriguing and would be naturally Gluten Free. I eat a quite a few of the grains mentioned already as replacements for flour so it’s not such a stretch.

BTW, you should know that Quinoa (a seed and not a grain) is the only plant based protein containing ‘nine essential protiens’ for human growth and development. Next runner up? Amaranth flour! So you will not be starved for protein on this diet. 🙂

Look here if you’d like to find out more about amaranth’s nutritional values : http://glutenfreecooking.about.com/od/nutritionmealplanning/a/amaranth.htm

And here for more on Quinoa: http://howdoyoucookquinoa.com/503/quinoa-protein-meat-eggs/

I look forward to hearing about how you adjusted to your new diet regime. 😉

(Who hopes you don’t mind me just jumping in like this!)

Thanks, Lynda! I have two good friends who are on gluten-free diets, and I know they’ll really appreciate these links!

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