Food shortages are a chronic issue for many Native American reservations. With one in four Native Americans facing food insecurity and little assistance from government programs, this crisis is ongoing – and the Covid-19 pandemic has only amplified the issue. Despite limited access to resources, Indigenous people are often uniquely equipped for self-sufficiency with strong cultural ties to hunting and foraging. This has led to a resurgence of pre-colonial food production in a modern world, and the reclaiming of Indigenous food traditions.
Sean Sherman founded the Sioux Chef – a business centered around “the revitalization and awareness of indigenous foods systems in a modern culinary context” – in 2014. Sherman continues to build this concept by launching the first indigenous food lab in Minneapolis. The first of its kind, this space will feature a pre-colonial food restaurant, giving a glimpse into the world of native foods. It will also include a training kitchen and education center. The lab is a part of Sherman and his partner Dana Thompson’s nonprofit organization, North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems (NATIFS). The center will aim to educate Indigenous people, with hopes that they’ll be inspired to bring restaurants to their own communities. Keep an eye out for this endeavor, as Sherman has plans to launch more food labs across North America in the future. (Modern Farmer)
The local food movement has heavily influenced the culinary world in recent years. However, Matt Chandra and Ben Jacobs – co-owners of Denver’s Indian American eatery Tocabe – say that native ingredients are first priority. The fast-casual restaurant partners with Native and Indigenous producers to source quality ingredients. So while Red Lake Nation wild rice used in posu bowls is produced in Minnesota, it carries the cultural heritage of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians. This model can be challenging for a fast-casual model restaurant. It requires some flexibility and creativity to work with the inventory of like-minded food producers.
Tanka Bar, a buffalo and berry snack bar, is inspired by an ancient Native recipe. The first commercially packaged version was created to give jobs to the Oglala Lakota people living on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The bar disrupted the category and was embraced especially by the paleo and keto diet communities. It inspired other brands like Epic Provisions to mimic, but Tanka stands apart in the way their bison meat is sourced. Niman Ranch has partnered with NANF (Native American Natural Foods, makers of the Tanka Bar), to create a more sustainable supply of bison meat. For the reservation, it’s imperative to protect the bison and reclaim the sacred food source. Niman Ranch offers industry knowledge on processing and distributing meat, while NANF coordinates sustainable bison farming. This collaboration brings revenue to the reservation, restores the buffalo tradition, and creates a reputable source for bison and organic, grass fed beef.
Tribe to Table is an online market offering a variety of goods from Native American makers. Shoppers can browse the website to find food, home goods and accessories sourced from American Indian businesses like Ramona Farms and Thunder Island coffee roasters. The brand also sells a line of CBD tinctures, using ingredients harvested and created by Indigenous people from all over the world.