Decolonizing Diet Project: Eating Like Native Americans

By Ramon Gonzalez, TreeHugger

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 percent, while others are committed to eating 100 percent 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?

Related:
Chia Seeds: An Ancient American Super Food
What Kind of Foodie Are You & More on Urban Homesteading
Know What’s In Your Food: Buy Local

37 comments

Dale Overall

Interesting and fascinating but have to admit that I do love that cheddar cheese and home grown tomatoes!

Shirley Z.
Shirley Z.4 years ago

I don't know about a full year, but would be interested in trying it for a bit, just for fun.

Jeni Greenwood
Jennifer G.4 years ago

Cool, I'd give it a try.

Joan Earnshaw
Joan Earnshaw4 years ago

Your article should say the "Native American diet BEFORE they were sent to reservations". Once the Native Americans were on the reservation, they were white flour, lard and refined sugar--none of which is good

Leena K.
Leena K.4 years ago

Good article, thanks fpr something to think.

Julie H.
Julie Hoffman4 years ago

Hell yeaaah! I want to do this!. Its funny because I have the resources I live in North Dakota. I just don't know how? I want to see an article on how to make earth lodges & mudhuts!

Julie H.
Julie Hoffman4 years ago

Hell yeaaah! I want to do this!. Its funny because I have the resources I live in North Dakota. I just don't know how? I want to see an article on how to make earth lodges & mudhuts!

Danuta Watola
Danuta Watola4 years ago

Thanks for another great article.

Laura M.
Past Member 4 years ago

Oh, I also wanted to mention that the plant in the picture is QAL/wild carrot. The roots can be eaten as a vegetable, the seeds as a contraceptive.

Laura M.
Past Member 4 years ago

Sounds like fun to me. If I were to wind up hating it, well, it's only for one year.