Native Foodways and Davidson’s Food Culture

Alyssa Tirrell ‘22

Staff writer

On October 26, 2018, four professors from the University of North Carolina at Pembroke (UNCP) gathered in the Lily Gallery for Davidson’s first Native Foodways Symposium. Foodways is a developing, interdisciplinary field of study that focuses on the ways in which food and food production shape culture. These four speakers integrated their respective fields of American Indian Studies, Biology, and Nursing into a discussion that reflected the complexity of food throughout Native history and spoke to the ongoing effect of this history in contemporary Native communities, such as Pembroke.

Because of the cultural and spiritual importance of food in Native communities, food was “an intentional target of colonization efforts,” explained Jane Haladay, a Professor of American Indian studies at UNCP.

“Native people have become very separated from their land,” said Dr. Mary Ann Jacobs, a member of the UNCP American Indian Studies department and a citizen of the Lumbee Nation. Jacobs explained that removing Native groups from traditional land disrupted a knowledge base of environmental patterns which had been built upon for centuries.

Beyond the loss of these traditional knowledge bases, other aspects of colonization, such as residential school systems, affected Indigenous peoples’ abilities to pass this information on to the next generation and the communal aspect of food production and consumption was disrupted as well. Native Foodways, as explored by the panel, is the study of how our relationship to food historically reflects our past and may give us opportunities to better our future.

How then is the Davidson community shaped by its relationship with food? Yancey Fouche, Director of Sustainability at Davidson College, uses the “farm-to-table-to-compost” system at Davidson as an example of a sustainable way in which the community engages with food production.

Despite the fact that managing food waste may not be as urgent as climate-centered sustainability efforts, Fouche believes that it can help individuals begin to engage with the subject of sustainability and feel that they are making a difference. A student may not be able to “give Davidson solar panels,” said Fouche, “but food waste can be an entry point into sustainability. I’m glad to see that it has been getting so much attention on campus.”

Even eating houses are altering their self-selection “toppings” tradition to be more food waste conscious and sustainable by using paint instead of condiments.

Dr. Rose Stremlau, Assistant Professor of History at Davidson College, agreed that the compost and farm-to-table initiatives at Davidson are beneficial in a sustainability sense, but she wonders about the cultural aspect of our relationship with food.

“Higher education has normalized values of efficiency and low cost over physical and social nourishment,” said Stremlau. Stremlau feels that understanding and applying Native Foodways principles can serve not only as a “path to sustainability” but also as a means of reinventing our own cultural interactions which center around food.

Davidson will soon have an opportunity to experience Native Foodways in a tangible way, beyond a theory or a field of study. Sean Sherman, an internationally celebrated Oglala Lakota chef, has been collaborating with Craig Mombert and other Commons staff to provide a meal which is reflective of Native Foodways. On November 9th, Commons lunch will feature customized Wild Rice Bowls, Sunflower-Crusted Trout, Three Sisters Mash, and more. As a leading advocate for both the restoration and reclamation of Native Foodways, Sherman develops his menus with the intention of integrating Native cuisine into mainstream American Foodways.

Comments are closed.