Traditional Native foods are the key ingredient in the Sioux Chef’s healthy cooking

AMNA NAWAZ: Now the story of a chef who is
working to reintroduce Native American culinary traditions that existed long before Europeans
arrived. Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports
from Minnesota. It’s part of his series Agents for Change. FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The celebration begins
with well-known Native rituals. But organizers at this American Indian community
center want to draw attention to the long-forgotten Native culinary heritage. SEAN SHERMAN, Founder and CEO, The Sioux Chef:
Because indigenous peoples had to be resourceful. FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Taking center stage was
Sean Sherman, a chef better known by his brand, Sioux Chef, as in S-I-O-U-X. SEAN SHERMAN: So, there’s some dandelion. There’s three kinds of mushrooms. We have pattypan squash that we actually grew
in our garden. FRED DE SAM LAZARO: He uses Native ingredients
common to the Americas for hundreds of years before white settlers arrived. SEAN SHERMAN: Part of our challenge to ourselves
was to cut out colonial ingredients, so we stopped using dairy, wheat flour, cane sugar. FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For chef Sherman, it is
also a way to push back against processed foods that he and others blame for grave health
consequences in the U.S. today. DR. MARY OWEN, University of Minnesota, Duluth:
The foods that all of us are eating today, most of us are eating today are killing us. You know, they are the sources of our diabetes,
our chronic disease, our cardiovascular disease. Native people have known how to grow and harvest
food for a very long time. FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Mary Owen is a professor
of medicine who also practices at a nearby reservation. She says poor diets are linked to two leading
causes of death among Native Americans, cancer and heart disease. DR. MARY OWEN: Native people in this state die
10 years sooner than non-Natives, or white folks, actually. FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Forty-five-year-old Sean
Sherman grew up poor in the Black Hills on the remote Pine Ridge Reservation in South
Dakota and began his career in Minneapolis, working for years in restaurants, where he
learned various cuisines. SEAN SHERMAN: Just all of a sudden, I realized
that there was no Native foods. I just realized the other absence of indigenous
perspective anywhere in the culinary world, nothing that represented the land we were
actually standing on. You want me to write this to? FRED DE SAM LAZARO: He set out to change that,
researching ancestral food systems and compiling it all into a book. “The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen” won
the 2018 James Beard Award for best American cookbook. SEAN SHERMAN: What were my Lakota ancestors
eating and storing away? How were they getting oils and salts and fats
and sugars and things like that? So it took me quite a few years of just researching,
but it really became a passion. We have all these beautiful ingredients around
us. FRED DE SAM LAZARO: With his business and
life partner, Dana Thompson, he travels around the world to promote healthier and traditional
diets, appearing at events like the Duluth Food Expo. Here, traditionally harvested wild rice is
added to the medley dished out in samples. NATALIE SMITH, Cook: Well, it’s very different
from the things that I normally eat. It was really fresh and kind of tasted like
earth. STEPHANIE HEILIG, Retired Principal: It was
an absolutely phenomenal, to think that you could put dandelion in a food and have it
taste amazing. FRED DE SAM LAZARO: There’s no argument that
fresh organic ingredients like these on display are good for you. There were demonstrations at the food expo
of how they can be turned into delicious dishes. The problem for many people, especially living
in Native communities, is affordability and access near where they live. DR. MARY OWEN: Between the cost of putting them
together and the time that it takes to prepare them, that is more costly for so many. You know, there is a huge problem of poverty
in our community. People are working more than one job oftentimes. They come home, and they’re tired. FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Fresh foods and produce
are scarce on reservations, particularly rural ones, where many people rely on convenience
stores for their groceries. Sherman and Thompson want to tackle the challenge
of these so-called food deserts. SEAN SHERMAN: Even if we could just get some
of those gas stations and just have one section, one shelf of healthy indigenous options to
choose from, you know, just take away one big shelf of chips, right? FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Isn’t it true that those
chips would be a lot cheaper than the healthier options that might replace them? DANA THOMPSON, Co-Owner and COO, The Sioux
Chef: It’s cheaper on the front end. And if you look at the cost of treating all
of those food-borne illnesses, it wipes that price of the chips right out. FRED DE SAM LAZARO: There is even a cheaper
option, they say, foraging. DANA THOMPSON: People can just go into their
backyard. FRED DE SAM LAZARO: We tag along at an organic
farm and garden run by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Tribe near Minneapolis, as Sherman and
Thompson pick berries, plums, sunchokes, wild herbs and greens. SEAN SHERMAN: Well, we have some cedar. We have some hyssop and some bergamot. FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Back in a kitchen in St.
Paul, they whip up a delicious dish with the ingredients they gathered, plus a few staples
like wild rice. SEAN SHERMAN: It’s like autumn on a plate. FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Mmm. Mmm. Mmm. That is unlike anything I have ever tasted
in my life. SEAN SHERMAN: Yes. Like, around here, you can’t get more Minnesotan
than those foods, because they have been here longer than Minnesota was a concept. FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Most of The Sioux Chef’s
income today comes from a catering business. They plan to open a nonprofit kitchen to train
Native chefs next year, and later open their first restaurant. For the “PBS NewsHour,” this is Fred de Sam
Lazaro reporting on, and eating off, the land in St. Paul, Minnesota. AMNA NAWAZ: And Fred’s reporting is a partnership
with the Under-Told Stories Project at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.

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