May 19, 2009

Frybread = prison food

A home for Indians' beloved fry bread

History served healthfully. Despite the dish's link to a painful memory in the West, "It's a part of who we are," says Tocabe's owner.

By Electa Draper
Ethnic foods, especially comfort foods, tell tales about the past. Few comfort foods, however, have their origins in circumstances as riveting and tragic as those of fry bread and the American Indian.

In 1864, scout Kit Carson and the U.S. Cavalry forced more than 8,000 Navajos from their lands in Utah, Arizona and New Mexico by destroying their dwellings, herds and crops. Troops drove Navajos on "the Long Walk"—300 miles to Fort Sumner in New Mexico, along which thousands died of malnutrition, exhaustion, exposure and bullets. The Navajos were just one of many tribes forcibly relocated across the country.

The natives' Army rations were flour, salt, lard and water. Fry bread was survival food, not a treat.

Tribes debate among themselves who first concocted fry bread, but Navajos get much of the credit for popularizing it. For many Indians, fry bread symbolizes resilience.

For critics, such as Suzan Shown Harjo, an Indian-rights activist and journalist, fry bread is "junk food" that is not really traditional but rather emblematic of forced marches and confinement in concentration camps and on reservations.

"Fry bread was a gift from Western Civilization from the days when native people were removed from buffalo, elk, deer, salmon, turkey, corn, beans, squash, acorns, fruit, wild rice and other real food," Harjo wrote a few years back in an infamous column for Indian Country Today that set computer and phone lines buzzing for months.
Comment:  I agree with Harjo about this. Frybread isn't a traditional food, and Natives aren't eating enough of the foods that are traditional. The solution is obvious: Less frybread and more healthy foods.

For more on frybread, see Modernizing Frybread. For more on the Tocabe restaurant, see Review of Tocabe and A Strictly Native Eatery.

1 comment:

Simone said...

One of my many food obsessions is quick breads from all cultures- skillet corn bread, fry bread, scallion pancakes, crepes, nan. What I find fascinating is that each recipe is similar and familiar despite being different.

I see keeping the tradition of making them not as a reminder of how they were introduced to a culture but as the culture's ability to adapt and own what helped them to survive.

Now I want some maple syrup with bread!