Decolonizing Diets: the Traditional Foods Challenge

A Q'eqchi' Maya homegarden in southern Belize with numerous
traditional foods. Photo by doug reeser for Recycled Minds.
by douglas reeser on October 5, 2011
Food is one of my favorite things. Most simply, food keeps us alive, and there is nothing quite like a delicious meal that is prepared with quality ingredients, experience and love. On the flip side, some of the best foods can be eaten fresh-picked and raw. Food is also an integral aspect of culture and ethnicity, and food traditions can be fascinating and delicious. I have done research on food, and I blog about food, and it remains a subject that I love to study, research, and enjoy!

All of this is leading me to an interesting project called the Decolonizing Diet Project, initiated by Professor Martin Reinhardt, Anishinaabe Ojibway and Assistant Professor of Native American Studies at Northern Michigan University. Starting in March of 2012, along with a cohort of students and colleagues, Reinhardt will begin an inspiring food adventure: to eat only pre-contact, indigenous Anishinaabe Ojibway foods for one year. The project has become quite serious, as it has been approved by the Internal Review Board at Northern Michigan University, and will have gone through a full year of planning by the start this spring.

In support of the Decolonizing Diet Project, and in honor of the American Indian Health and Diet Project, there will be a mini-challenge with the same goal - to eat only pre-contact foods - during the first week of November of 2011. Devon Abbott Mihesuah, who is promoting the two projects, explains:
"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 oragave. The diet may take a bit of planning!
While the projects are interesting and fun, the importance of such work should not be ignored. As noted above, traditional foods were not processed or sugar and chemical filled. In many native and indigenous communities around the world, traditional diets are being replaced by diets largely created by the move towards corporate globalization. These new diets are low cost (but still must be purchased), can be shipped long distances (and thus reach remote corners of the globe), and are typically highly processed, high in sugars and salts, and generally unhealthy. This change has resulted in a startling increase in the frequency of diet-related disease among indigenous communities. Remembering, promoting, and consuming traditional diets can serve as a means of doing the same to indigenous and traditional practices, while promoting health at the same time.

Learn more about these projects, share the information with others you know, and join other people around the world as the try to eat traditional foods for a week in November, a year starting in the Spring, or anytime you can manage!

Visit the Decolonizing Diet Project (DDP) blog here >>>

Visit the American Indian Health and Diet Project here >>>

Visit the Mini-Diet Challenge: A Week of Eating Indigenous Foods blog here >>>
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  1. What a neat project, but I wouldn't know where to get food that was here before European contact. It would be a difficult challenge.

  2. It is a difficult challenge! But it is an important one that should help us all consider how to feed ourselves in a more responsible way. Ask yourself what is available in the environment around you - what grows in your area of the world? What is in season in your region right now? The answers might not always be native foods, but they will offer you a guide towards a more healthy and sustainable lifestyle.

  3. This is one of the most important blogs that I have seen, keep it up!

  4. I used to live in Phoenix Arizona and wondered about the diet of the people before "European & European-American" contact. I read that in the valley, even though it was desert, that the Pima and related peoples had irrigated from the rivers, washes and gullies ... and they had grown cotton, beans, squash, corn and I don't remember what all, but they had it going on! You could supplement that diet with a little rabbit or deer maybe, plus whatever edible lizard or snake (if it wasn't taboo to eat). I also understand that Apaches to this day are typically not fond of eating fish, but I don't have facts to back that up, it's just something I've heard. In other parts of the "USA" (as it is known as today) you hear about a 3 sisters garden of nitrate fixing beans growing up corn stalks with squash as a ground cover crop and that also provides something else the ground needs to rejuvenate. The 3 sisters garden seems to have been something that was common throughout the indigenous North American continent (not in all cases, but in many cases).


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