woensdag 8 oktober 2014

The 'Sioux Chef' on the Map

A nice piece came my way via Twitter: "The 'Sioux Chef' Is Putting Pre-Colonization Food Back On The Menu" about Sean Sherman, cook and student of the ethnobotany of his own Oglala Lakota tribe. I like projects like these. Map your Recipe, a website that can find the fruits and vegetables in a recipe and show where they were domesticated, was created with the intent of analyzing exactly such things. I do not have Sherman's recipes of course but using the gallery page from his website it is possible to get some of his ingredients. Here is what happens when you put them on the map:

The graph on the right shows that for these few ingredients as many are native to the new world as are native to the old world. The second thing that is immediately clear is that most of these plants were never domesticated at all.

But what does this mean in regard with the claim of Sherman cooking food from before pre-colonization? As I have been saying all cooking is fusion cooking and the origin of an ingredient has nothing to do with authenticity (the pizza is no less Italian for using the South American tomato). In this case it is even more interesting because it is perfectly feasible for a 17th/18th/19th century non-colonized prairie Lakota to eat plants brought to the continent by European invaders. This is the point made by Alfred W. Crosby in his book Ecological Imperialism. A plant like the humble dandelion was preparing the ground for the European onslaught long before they themselves got that far west.

My great plains anthropology is sketchy but it is to be remembered that this was a way of life made possible by the horse, a European animal. The various nations (or even empires) of plain Indians who learned how to re-domesticate (and later breed) feral horses in order to live out on the prairie are among few recorded examples of formerly sedentary people becoming nomadic. Their way of life was a creative and successful response to new pressures and new opportunities. It makes sense that this creativity would also act on new plants. It is part of their genius. The map is a way to show this.

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