FIRST NATIONS FOOD TASTER
MARQUETTE – Imagine what your refrigerator would look like if you ate only the plants and animals you had harvested from the land around you.
That’s the idea behind the First Nations Food Taster, an event hosted by Northern Michigan University’s Native American Student Association.
Now in its 16th year, the event offers participants a meal of indigenous foods with many of the dishes inspired by the Decolonizing Diet Project, which was started by Dr. Martin Reinhardt.
“Initially, we made foods that we thought were representative of contemporary Indian tribes in the area,” Reinhardt said of the food taster event. “We did that for a number of years, and then in 2010 … I was at the food taster, and I really had to ask myself is this food that my ancestors would have recognized as truly indigenous foods?”
That idea grew into the Decolonizing Diet Project, Reinhardt said, and a study was conducted in 2012-13 in which 25 volunteers ate indigenous foods on a daily basis.
It also led to the creation of an indigenous foods cookbook, from which some of the recipes are used to create the dishes offered at the First Nations Food Taster.
“The student group has made it a priority to include recipes from that diet, but they also include other things that we had served before,” Reinhardt said. “But it’s much more aligned now to what our ancestors would have eaten in a pre-colonial context.”
The First Nations Food Taster will take place 5-7 p.m. Friday at the Jacobetti Center, at 2296 Sugar Loaf Ave., Marquette. Advance tickets are available until 5 p.m. Thursday and can be purchased at the Center for Native American Studies in 112 Whitman Hall and the Multicultural Education and Resource Center in 3001 Hedgcock. Prices are $5 for NMU students with an ID, elders and veterans, and $12 for general admission. Tickets at the door are $7 and $15, respectively.
Among other items, the menu includes bison stew with cranberries; turkey roast; smoked fish; and three sisters casserole, which is made of corn, beans and squash.
“When you plant them together, they’re interdependent on each other and they grow better, so they’re called the three sisters,” Reinhardt explained. “Those were three plants that were introduced by indigenous people to this region in a pre-colonial context. They wouldn’t grow here naturally, but they were introduced here.”
Other menu items include pumpkin corn bread, white pine-wintergreen tea and turkey stir fry with corn lasagna noodles.
“Our ancestors may not have had the kind of corn noodles that we have today, but they certainly had corn, corn products and turkey,” Reinhardt said. “Sometimes it’s thinking about the way we eat things today as compared to the way they ate things then. It may be a little bit different, but I think if we still engage the kinds of foods that they engaged with, I think we’re much more healthy. The state of health for the indigenous people here was certainly much better than the state of health for anyone here today.”
Beyond the health aspect, Reinhardt said eating indigenous foods may appeal to those allergic to gluten, as many options are gluten-free, and “locavores.”
“Locavores are very concerned about eating locally, and we add an additional element to that idea,” he said. “We eat truly locally, local indigenous, which is about as local as you can get. It’s really reflective of the deep historical ties between humans and foods in this area.”
Reinhardt said this week is also being referred to on campus as the Week of Eating Indigenous Foods, when people are challenged to eat indigenous foods each day and share their experiences online at the Decolonizing Diet Project’s Facebook page.
The First Nations Food Taster is also supported by other student groups, the American Indian Science and Engineering Society and the Native American Language and Culture Club, as well as NMU’s Center for Native American Studies.
In addition, the event is part of NMU’s Native American Heritage Month and serves as a fundraiser for the 25th annual “Learning to Walk Together” powwow, which will take place in March.
“It’s really is about building relationships across cultural boundaries, and this election season, it’s very obvious that we need much more of that,” Reinhardt said.
Whether through preparation or dining, food can be a way to bring people together.
“I think the kitchen has always been a place where humans in general have kind of gathered,” Reinhardt said. “It’s always been really the center of any village. So I think it’s just very natural that that’s kind of where we start, we gather around the cooking fire, you might say, and then we share ideas. We break bread together, and we remember to give thanks to those plants and animals that gave their lives so we could eat, so we could survive as humans, and so I think that’s a major part of … eating together – we get to share our reverence for the world around us.”
For more information, call 227-1397 or visit www.nmu.edu/nativeamericans.
Ryan Jarvi can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 270. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.