Food

Giving Thanks for Native Foods

posted by Ben Jacobs November 22, 2017

In the world we live in as restaurant operators, chefs, food service professionals and really, just all-around lovers of food and cuisine, every day is a good day to talk about food, but none better than this week, especially when you come from food representing an indigenous background. I wanted to talk about native foods this week because I feel it is only right, and what better time than now? I will not get into the arguments for or against this holiday.  The thing I would like to discuss is something I feel is lacking in the national celebration of this holiday. First off, I do think it is beautiful to be openly thankful for the good things in all of our lives and in very general terms the story of this day began as attempt by the native people at friendship, gathering, and sharing, especially of food. Obviously, for this conversation the food is the most important aspect.

Many food and ingredient items have become staples and national favorites during Thanksgiving, but my question is, do the majority of us realize the origins of these foods? At Tocabe, we in no way attempt to be a fine dining or highbrow establishment. We have always wanted our food and interior environment to be accessible for all to enjoy. These decisions even come down to our foods. We use simple ingredients at Tocabe. You will find variations of squash, from yellow to zucchini to butternut to delicate, multiple variations of beans, corn, tomatoes, many types of berries – black, blue, cran – and wild rice, maple syrup, and sage in our kitchen on a day to day basis. I bring this up because it is not all that uncommon for guests to ask why we use particular ingredients. I feel we are lucky to have so many cultures in our country sharing foods and ingredients important to their identity, but due to the abundance of food options we may be losing the origins particular foods.

I have said many times we use basic beans, tomatoes or squash not only for their importance as an indigenous food but also as a way to reclaim the identity of the items. By reclaim I merely mean giving items their story back, their cultural origin. Most people associate Bison as an indigenous animal, but what about plants and vegetables? Many people may not know the ingredients I stated before have indigenous origins as well. Where we are now with Tocabe, I think we can begin to share more obscure ingredients but I also believe it is important to help share the stories of even the most basic of ingredients such as your corn, beans, squash and berries. I want people to understand these items were and still are staples of Native food systems and, in many ways, have become staples in the American diet. Look at any grocery store vegetable and fruit section and you will see many simple foods with indigenous origins.

As Americans become more and more obsessed with food, restaurants, home cooking, cook books and food television, let’s not lose the origins of the foods we cook and eat. Turtle Island has given so much to the world in terms of food, among many other things. Cultures around the world would not have some of their staple ingredients if not for the Americas, so this week let’s remember the importance and origins of many of the foods we will share upon our tables. Remember the first “Thanksgiving” only had Native foods, so while we are thankful for our loved ones and friends we should also be thankful that if it were not for the sharing of food we may not have this day to celebrate.

Please check out some of the purveyors we source from and learn more about them here. Help support quality Native food producers:

Red Lake Nation Foods – Wild Rice and 100% Maple Syrup

A Native American owned company dedicated to producing unique specialty products that represent the cultural heritage of the over 10,000 members of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians.  Red Lake Nation Foods is located in the northern Minnesota counties of Beltrami and Clearwater, approximately 30 miles north of Bemidji.

Seka Hills – Olive Oil and Elderberry Balsamic Vinegar

Named for the blue hills of northern California’s Capay Valley, the Yocha Dehe tribe tends to their ancestral homelands as they have for thousands of years.  As good environmental stewards, the Yocha Dehe practice responsible water usage in their certified organic fields and use traditional wisdom to preserve the natural balance of the landscape.

Ramona Farms – Tepary Beans and Wheat Berries

Ramona Farms began on a ten-acre allotment on the Gila River Reservation in southern Arizona.  Over time, the farm expanded to grow an array of NON-GMO heirloom products, like the ancient tepary bean, without the use of pesticides or herbicides.  Ramona Farms is committed to preserving culture and promoting the value of traditional foods to daily life.


Bow & Arrow – Indian Corn and Blue Corn

Between Four Corners Monument and Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe began producing high quality corn products in 1962.  On their 7,700 acre farm at the base of the Sleeping Ute Mountain, Bow & Arrow uses state of the art sustainability practices to grow, harvest, and mill their award winning NON-GMO products

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