The Decolonizing Diet Project, in which volunteers committed a full year to eating foods indigenous to the Great Lakes region, was initiated in 2012 by associate professor Martin Reinhardt (Center for Native American Studies). The DDP has had a lingering impact on campus and beyond, particularly this year as the center ushers in Native American Heritage Month.
Reinhardt recently harvested squash grown from seeds estimated to be 800 years old—a gift he received during the DDP implementation year from activist/environmentalist Winona LaDuke. He and others are engaged in the scaled-down “Week of Indigenous Eating,” a national pledge developed in response to the project. The week will culminate with the annual First Nations Food Taster—featuring DDP-approved foods—on Friday, Nov. 6., at the Jacobetti Complex. A cookbook filled with DDP recipes is in production and should be released just in time to serve as a unique holiday gift.
Reinhardt said the gift of a “chi-gete kosimin” (ancient squash) was special because LaDuke, the former vice presidential nominee for the Green Party, has assumed a leadership role in the food revitalization and food sovereignty movements.
“She had been given a squash that someone discovered in a sealed clay pot,” Reinhardt said. “She used its seeds to grow more and sent me one. I ate it, but reserved the seeds to plant in my family’s garden and to share with others affiliated with the DDP. These are not like other squash because they don’t all look the same. There are different shapes and sizes—even among those growing on the same plant. They taste like a cross between a yellow, crooked-neck squash and a cucumber.”
Devon Mihesuah of the University of Kansas, whose American Indian Health and Diet Project inspired Reinhardt to develop the more academically rigorous DDP, started the Week of Indigenous Eating to show support for the DDP. The challenge has continued every year since and similar efforts have sprung up elsewhere. Those participating at NMU will appropriately conclude the week with the First Nations Food Taster, a tradition since 2001. It was this event that sparked Reinhardt’s interest in exploring the possibility of replicating his ancestors’ diet prior to colonization through the DDP.
Recognizing the growing interest in indigenous foods among Natives and non-Natives, Reinhardt is working with adjunct faculty member Leora Lancaster on the Decolonizing Diet Project cookbook. DDP participants contributed recipes with ingredients that can be foraged or grown. The book also suggests store-bought substitutes for some items that will achieve the same flavor profile.
“This would appeal to those who want authentic indigenous foods versus the stereotypical idea of what a Thanksgiving meal should be,” he said. “It also helps teach people what we had harvested throughout the year. We had many thanksgivings based on what was available at different times of the year—from the sap running in the spring to berry harvests in summer to deer or moose hunts that would sustain us through the winter. Foods defined our relationship with the seasons.”
On a related note, Reinhardt will travel to Arizona in April to help the San Carlos Apache set up a project similar to the DDP, but based on the traditional diet in their area.