September 03, 2010

Many Native cuisines, not one

Native cuisine explosion

Chef looks to disassemble the one-size-fits-all concept

By Lee Allen
With a rising popularity of a concept called Native American Cuisine, he had found his calling. But it came with some consternation. “French people eat French food and Italian people eat Italian food. Does that mean that all Native Americans eat Native American food?” he asked and then answered: “It’s not that simple.

“Food is a product of culture and all Native American cultures are different, so how can all Native foods be the same? Within my own Navajo culture, food preferences and preparation differ and the differences of food culture between various tribes throughout the Americas become even more pronounced.”

Bitsoie wants to disassemble the one-size-fits-all concept and by combining aspects of history and anthropology, re-assemble ancient foodways, similarities and differences, to honor the old and adapt past ingredients and techniques into modern kitchens.

“It’s through the old stories that we learn how to respect food, respect culture, and continue to preserve our way of life,” said Bitsoie, who directs the Native American Program at the Classic Cooking Academy in Scottsdale. “Native tribes throughout the Americas need to be respected for their culturally-specific foods and unique dishes they gave to the world without being placed into one generic category of Native American Food.”
Comment:  We've seen several restaurants that serve Native dishes. But as Bitsoie notes, "Native food" is as flawed a concept as "Native culture" or "Native religion." Or as "European food" or "Asian food." You can't combine cultural elements from across a continent and get more than a gross generalization.

For more on the subject, see Native Foods at Fancy Food Show and Bringing Native Foods to the Fore.

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