Nov. 7, 2022

58. Decolonizing our Thanksgiving Plates

This week we're exploring the topic of decolonizing our Thanksgiving plates.

Links from today's discussion:

Chef Sean Sherman Interview and Projects

Decolonizing Thanksgiving and Reviving Indigenous Relationship To Food by

How to Decolonize Your Thanksgiving Dinner

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Hi, welcome back to Spend Donate Invest! This is a podcast that’s exploring the topic of whether there might be some ways we can line up what we’re doing with our money and our values when it comes to the kind of world we’d like to help shape. We vote, we protest, we write letters to our senators. But what about our money? As individuals? What can we do to line up our money and our values. I started researching this topic in the summer of 2020 when I had this sudden realization as I was looking at my investments that I might have a choice when it comes to the companies that I’m pouring my money into. I had thought about shopping my values now and then, I had vaguely heard about community focused banks, but it didn’t bubble to the surface of my consciousness in a concrete way until that summer. So I asked around to find out if this was a topic my community was interested in. I did a trial run. And launched about a year ago. Fifty something episodes later, here we are!

Maybe you’re also starting to explore these topics, welcome welcome and please do contact me anytime if there’s a topic you want to hear about. Or maybe you’re not new to this and you are in fact, true to this. Welcome and please also get in touch. What should we be thinking about? Guide us, experienced ones, as we seek more alignment in our lives with our values and our actions. LOL. The email address for this show is spenddonateinvest at gmail dot com.

I’m your host, I go by GG that’s short for Genet Gimja. I do my best to bring you gentle, realistic suggestions based on the topics you request. We’re not going for perfection here, we’re going for progress.

And in that vein, let’s talk about Thanksgiving. If you are an American, you probably grew up participating in this holiday. I have some very clear memories of cutting out little vests out of grocery store paper bags and decorating them with construction paper cut outs of feathers and being led in the sham of the Thanksgiving story, you know, the one where the Native Americans sit down and break bread with the friendly Pilgrims.

Then at some point in my life, I remember learning more about the true history of the colonization of the US and what actually happened when the Pilgrims met the locals and whew, it was incredibly disturbing. That’s when I remember the holiday shifting to take the spotlight away from the sham story and making the focus around gratitude and having a feast with family and friends. For years I didn’t hear anyone tie the holiday to the history of our country.

And then now it seems we have entered a third phase of this holiday. One that is asking us to actually confront the devastating history behind the country’s founding AND, to take the time to actually learn about the indigenous history of this land.

November has been designated National American Indian Heritage Month. So let’s get into it. This week’s topic is going to be about our Thanksgiving plates.

There’s sort of the quintessential Thanksgiving meal that is served in a lot of American homes. A turkey, maybe a ham, some potatoes, some vegetables, some bread, and then some pies for dessert. We all tend to put our own spin on things. If you are from an Eritrean American family you have probably had a turkey seasoned with Berbere. If you are one of my caribbean American friends you might have a rice and beans dish that is added. Maybe some mac and cheese. If you’re southern, you might prefer sweet potato pie over a pumpkin pie. If you are in Texas, you might deep fry your turkey.

So the fundamentals are often the same, but everyone puts their own stank onto it. America. Diversity. We love to see it.

We spend a lot on this meal, almost a billion dollars on the turkey alone, which is wild to think about. And the topic we’re going to explore this week is on honoring indigenous cuisine.

I’m going to link a few resources in the show notes. First thing I’m going to link is a really interesting interview with a Sioux Chef named Sean Sherman. There are some international listeners to this show, so I want to pause quickly here- the Sioux are a cluster of 7 indigenous nations from the region where you find present-day Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, and Iowa. Nowadays I more often hear about the Dakota people and the Lakota people. So Chef Sean Sherman comes from this community and as he puts it, he wants to showcase the amazing diversity and flavor profiles of all the different tribes across North America and he wants to cut away colonial ingredients. In the Fresh Air interview, he talks about his Minnesota based restaurant called Owamni, which has won a James Beard award. He talks about how the menu is decolonized meaning that the ingredients are local to the area, he doesn’t serve wheat flour, dairy, cane sugar, pork or chicken because those were brought over by the Europeans. But he does make a distinction that the food he serves is not pre-colonized, he’s not trying to mimic exactly how the food would have been prepared and served in 1491. It’s decolonized, he’s trying to strip away the foreign ingredients that just never really made sense for the region.

So he is serving ingredients like wild rice, rabbit, rose hips, blueberries, turkey, duck sausage, I’m looking at his menu now, there’s trout and corn, bison, mushrooms. Man, it sounds delicious! It says on his website that they prioritize purchasing from Indigenous food producers locally and nationally. Oh and they have swag! Check out these bandanas, they are giving!

And Chef Sean Sherman isn’t the only one talking about this, I’ll link a beautiful and moving essay written by an Indigenous Foods Activist named M. Karlos Baca. He invites us to imagine what the food systems were like before our country tried to extinguish traditional systems and cultures and families. I’m also going to include a link with an interview with Chef Nephi Craig, a Navajo chef who gives a broader interpretation of what it could mean for you to decolonize your plate. If you are an Indigenous listener, he encourages eaters to examine what you've been taught around food or nutrition, and to take a deep look to see if the standard American dietary pyramid reflects you as an individual. I really felt that.

And for all of us, he encourages to think through responsibly sourcing our food as well. Are we going to buy the Butterball turkey or go for a wild, heritage breed?

If you’re looking to introduce a dish at your Thanksgiving dinner, he suggests considering Three Sisters, beans, squash, and corn. Very interesting dish which highlights traditional ingredients but also some insights on traditional food science.

And he encourages us all to reflect on the lands where we sit and the ingredients we are eating. Maybe your Thanksgiving tradition is to go around and talk about what you’re grateful for. I’ll close with Chef Nephi Craig’s thoughts on that.

“Consider giving thanks for ancestral landscapes. All over the coasts and the United States, the most fruitful and agriculturally productive landscapes were once territories of native peoples. Rivers, fisheries, waterways, and other sources of food on land have genetic memories of food, just like we do.”

Alright. Thank you for joining me for another exploration of how we can line up our values and what we’re doing with our money. This week we explored the topic of this multi billion dollar Thanksgiving dinner industry, how we can re-examine it, and if we want to try to salvage the holiday, some thoughts on how we might update it to better align with our values.

Whether you’re doing some version of a Truthsgiving or not, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, send me a note anytime at spend donate invest at gmail dot com. We’ve got a lot of holidays coming up, if you’ve been re-thinking how your money and your values line up during those holidays, send me a note. Let’s talk about it.

if you’re wondering how you can support the show, please share an episode with your colleagues, your friends, your family, your frenemies. Word of mouth is still how people discover podcasts. So, thank you for spreading the word. Let’s talk again soon.