Using Food to Change the Thanksgiving Narrative
By Anna Brones
Whether it’s at home or at an event, food can be the catalyst for these conversations, it can be a way that we honor the past instead of avoiding it. In New York City, the I-Collective is hosting an Indigenous Harvest Pop Up, a dinner to showcase a different narrative that highlights indigenous communities’ resilience as well as their innovations in gastronomy, agriculture, the arts, and society at large. Indigenous chefs and food activists like Sean Sherman and his team at The Sioux Chef are working to revitalize Native American cuisine and culinary traditions, highlighting the culinary diversity of the 567 federally recognized Native American nations in the United States and the value of food to both their health and history.
Food is a way to bring people to the table and to highlight the truth of the past. “Countless indigenous chefs and myself are on the frontline focused on historical issues surrounding our indigenous foods. We are on a level where we are being heard and conversations have started on appropriation,” says Brian Yazzie, who works with The Sioux Chef and is taking part in the Indigenous Harvest Pop Up. Yazzie, who is known as Yazzie the Chef, is from Dennehotso, Arizona on the Navajo Nation. He is Dine’ (Navajo) of the Salt People Clan and born into the Ute People Division of The Red Running Into The Water Clan (watch this video to learn more about his work). For him, food is a way to deal with the past and change the future. “I educate on the healthy aspects of our foods,” says Yazzie. “I use food as a healing tool within our indigenous communities. Reintroducing our hyper local and regional foods that has been forgotten about.”
For Yazzie and other indigenous chefs that he works with, food functions as a platform. “The series of pop up dinners we will be hosting in New York City is very important because there is no representation of our Indigenous foods in major cities,” says Yazzie. “New York City is one of the culinary capitals of the world and this gives us a major platform to speak our narratives and represent that we are still here.”
Food is not just a healing tool or a vehicle for raising awareness, it’s also a way that all of us can connect to both history and each other. “Food is the ultimate connector. Food can be shared without a word spoken, it can be an offering of openness and acceptance, it is quite literally one of the only things that all living beings have in common - we must feed ourselves to survive. Both literally and figuratively, we can take in life in the form of actual food, through dialogs/conversations that push us into the edges of our comfort and therefore, even if just for a moment, allow for expansion or growth,” says Eberle. “Sharing food breaks down barriers, and creates connected space where anything, quite literally becomes possible.”
The Thanksgiving table provides plenty of opportunity for learning about indigenous cultures and honoring them, and this should be what we use this week for. “In my family, cooking recipes that honor the Native Tribes in the region in which I live has become a tradition,” says Eberle. She recommends a few ways that we can all be more inclusive and respectful around the table by, “beginning dinner with simply acknowledging that we all live and thrive on Native land is easy and meaningful.” Eberle suggests starting the meal with “a prayer, poem, or meditation honoring/celebrating the importance of connecting with community over food as was tradition in many Native tribes,” as well as encouraging people to, “commit to learn something new about the foodways of the Wampanoags or other New England Tribes as an offering of thanks for their sacrifices.”
Yazzie agrees. “I suggest to start conversations and educate on the real history of Thanksgiving. We can no longer avoid the real history of North America. I suggest supporting local tribes in your area and purchase indigenous ingredients.” Whatever you are serving this Thanksgiving, take some time to remember the truth behind the holiday.
Together we have the opportunity to change the narrative, showcase indigenous cuisine and face the past instead of avoiding it. “Thanksgiving is a representation of resiliency. The story behind Thanksgiving is indigenous foods and genocide. A historical trauma that has been swept beneath textbooks and romanticized in institutions and non-native households,” says Yazzie. “We indigenous peoples are still here and striving to bring forth our narrative.”
Image courtesy Yazzie the Chef, credit: Michael Ojibway
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