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“You are what you cook;” Native Chefs and Culinary Justice

Authors: Elizabeth Hoover*, Brown University
Topics: Food Systems, Indigenous Peoples, Ethnicity and Race
Keywords: Native american, chef, gastrodiplomacy, culinary appropriation, native american food, food sovereignty
Session Type: Paper
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The Native American food sovereignty movement has been supported in part through a rise in the number of Native chefs who are working to promote and elevate the traditional cuisine of their people through “gastro diplomacy” (using food to educate people about a tribal nation’s traditions, as well as broader Native American culture), seen in contrast to “culinary appropriation”—the unauthorized ‘borrowing’ or usurpation of Indigenous cuisine by non-Natives. In this context, Native culinary justice is seen to lie in a delicate balance between making healthy traditional foods available to Native community members, as well as financially supporting chefs through serving a broader, elite, “foodie” public. For Native chefs, food sovereignty also includes a focus on “reconnecting the trade routes” to supporting tribal food producers. These trade routes have necessitated a reconsidering and rejection of settler constructed borders in conceiving of what has been considered Indigenous food to ‘the Americas.’ This has also entailed the inclusion in the movement of Indigenous chefs whose tribal communities lay south of the constructed United States border, who have encouraged US tribal communities to be more inclusive of who they consider “Native American” and “Native chefs.” This paper is based on interviews and participant observation with 12 different Native chefs, ranging in age from their late 20s to their late 70’s, some working catering businesses out of their home kitchens, others from within their own restaurants, and each serving diverse audiences-- from reservation based relatives to patrons at the James Beard House.

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