Food Heritage

Sean Sherman grew up on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota.  As an Ogala Lakota Sioux, he was brought up on government commodity foods.  The Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) brought about a shift in the diet of Native Americans.  Sean grew up with his grandparents, and through them was aware of Lakota food traditions that were quickly being forgotten.  He set as a career goal the reestablishment of the food cultures of Native Americans.

Sean began his career in food as a dishwasher when he was 13.  But he also became acquainted with local plants by working for the U.S. Forest Service in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  During his 20’s, he worked in restaurants, ultimately becoming an executive chef.

During a trip to Mexico, he discovered what would become his passion.  Spending time with the Huichol people, he discovered how they preserved their food traditions that predated the arrival of Europeans.  Sean decided that he would restore the food heritage of his people.

Sean founded the Sioux Chef as a food education and catering business.  He interviewed his grandparents and others of their generation to identify the foods they were brought up with.  He recorded this knowledge in a book called The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen.  The book does not contain any ingredients brought to North America by Europeans.

Sean has also formed a nonprofit called the North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems (NATIFS) as a research and educational organization to identify the food heritage of indigenous persons.  There is a growing interest in the food culture of indigenous people because their diet is “hyperlocal, ultra-seasonal, uber-healthy, and utterly delicious” according to Sean.

Hidden heroes often see a need when others don’t.  Once they act upon that need, the need becomes more apparent to others.  Sean saw a need to preserve the food heritage of his people.  In doing so, he helped maintain a cultural legacy that would have been forgotten.  We often forget that innovations can be the preservation of the past, just as they are looking to the future.

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“We’re not trying to cook like it’s 1491.  We’re trying to take knowledge from the past and evolve it for today.”  Sean Sherman

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