The Decolonizing Diet Project is Teaching Volunteers to Eat Like Native Americans

Mike Haller/CC BY 2.0

Can you give up cheese, tomatoes, and beer in exchange for dandelions, sun chokes, and valley grasshopper for a year?

Freakonomics recently highlighted the Decolonizing Diet Project, a study at the School of Native American Studies at Northern Michigan University, where a group of 25 volunteers are spending the next year eating only foods that were part of the Great Lakes diet prior to the arrival of Europeans.

The study is exploring the personal relationship between humans and the experience of eating regional native foods. The volunteers are all participating in the project at varying levels of commitment. Some are following the Decolonizing Diet Project at 25%, while others are committed to eating 100% native food items.

Found Michigan has an interesting interview with Dr. Martin Reinhardt, an assistant professor of Native American Studies at NMU, and the lead researcher for the Decolonizing Diet Project.

If the project sounds like locavorism for the hardcore who are sustaining themselves on grubs and pine bark-think again. There’s a Master Food list and DDP Grocery Food list to help participants navigate their food choices, which isn’t always easy as Dr. Martin explained to Found Michigan:

Yeah. I did mess up, I already can’t claim 100 percent. I was out shopping and bought some parsnips; in my memory, parsnips were part of the diet. I did not have my master food list with me and I was going based on what I remembered. So I got home and I cooked up some nice hashbrowns with parsnips, using sweet potatoes and sunchokes, and then I was reading through the master food list afterwards and that’s when it hit me that it wasn’t parsnips on the list—it was actually cow parsnips. That just goes to show you it’s not an easy diet to follow by any means. You have to really know your foods.

Besides the lists of acceptable foods, the group regularly meets for potlucks and shares recipes on the DDP group recipe forum. From browsing through the recipes it doesn’t sound like these volunteers are missing out as many of the recipes sound delicious.

Could you adhere to a diet the Native Americans would’ve followed before Europeans arrived?

Tags: Food Miles | Great Lakes | Local Food | Michigan | Recipes