MARQUETTE - For many of us, foraging for food means opening cupboards or the refrigerator. To Martin Reinhardt, assistant professor of Native American Studies at Northern Michigan University, foraging means delving deeper into what our ancestors would have eaten and whether such a diet could be followed today.
This idea, which started after the annual Food Taster event for Native American Studies in 2010, became a frequent topic of conversation for Reinhardt, who was able to get the project approved and up and running.
The building blocks of the Decolonizing Diet Project, which is now a little over the halfway mark of what is a year-long venture, began with developing a map of the Great Lakes region, creating a timeline and mapping out a food list. The project follows three guidelines for foods that are acceptable: those, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, recognized as native to the region; non-native foods founded by Indigenous people dating back before 1600; and animals and plants originating from those in the pre-colonial period.
Left to right are the diet decolonization project participants, Barb Bradley, DDP senior student assistant Sam Hasek, Walt Lindala and Mary Jane Wilson, who recently held a potluck. (Photo by Martin Reinhardt)
Venison jerky is seen in the process of being smoked. (Photo by Martin Reinhardt)
After finishing a preliminary outline of the project, volunteers were recruited at an orientation session and were asked to fill out a pre-assessment, from which 25 people were selected along with alternates. Since beginning the program, some have dropped out and vacancies have been filled. Those participating are doing so at varrying levels. Some are utilizing the DDP for 25 percent of their daily intake, while others between 50 to 75 percent. Reinhardt and Munising resident, Treasa Sowa, are the only two committing to 100 percent of the program.
"My health is much better. I've lost weight, my cholesterol has dropped and I have rid my body of toxins," Sowa said.
As part of the requirements, participants must contribute to a daily blog, which includes what they eat and what physical activity they are engaging in. In addition, they must have physicals and a 3-month checkup.
"I think in some ways we are creating new traditions," Reinhardt said. "Revitalizing the relationship between humans and indigenous foods and impacting the local economy."
Reinhardt noted that many businesses in town are contributing to the DDP, such as Marquette Meats, Thill's Fish House and the Marquette Food Coop.
The project will wrap up on March 24 at midnight. On March 25, the reporting phase of the project will begin. A final report including a cookbook, a documentary video, a textbook and additional scholarly articles will round out the project. Funding for the DDP came from a Faculty Research Grant at NMU, a Keweenaw Bay Indian Community Grant and a small grant from the Cedar Tree Institute.
Ultimately, Reinhardt hopes the outcome will help provide data for other like projects in various regions, especially in Native American communities where diabetes is widespread. In closing, Reinhardt offered some puns to sum up the DDP.
"Folks should not be afraid to take a bite out of this project," he said. "Sink your teeth into it. I think they (public) will find it will satisfy that hunger to try something new that can be very fulfilling."
Abbey Hauswirth can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 240.