A delicious way of learning more about a culture is through its cuisine. We’d like to recommend spending 27 minutes listening to Oglala Lakota Sioux chef, Sean Sherman describe My Life in Five Dishes on the BBC podcast Food Chain.
Sherman talks about fry bread, a typical dish. The history of fry bread illuminates some of the history of Native Americans after the European invasion. Fry bread is made from a simple mix of wheat flour and yeast. Flour is not native to the United States; it was brought over by European settlers. It is fried because few Native American homes had ovens.
When Native Americans were removed from their ancestral lands, they were removed from places where they knew where to forage, where to hunt and where their seeds were well adapted for the local soil. As a result, Native Americans became dependent on government provisions which are full of chemicals, preservatives, sugars, and salt. This estrangement from their ancestral foodways led to the health problems that threaten Native Americans’ lives today. One out of two Native American kids are at risk of developing type two diabetes. The life expectancy for women living on reservations is 52; for men it’s 48. Sherman is trying to improve the health of his community and reconnect with ancient footways through his project, The Sioux Chef (see what he did there? “Sioux chef” ~ “sous chef” HA!).
Like so many communities who when pelted with lemons create cultural touchstones around lemonade, Native Americans have transformed the simple dish of fry bread into a comforting symbol that means home, family and love.
Learn more about the dish, its history and get a recipe in the book Fry Bread (aff. link) by Kevin Noble Maillard, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal.