The wisdom of indigenous foodways

top down view of dining table with food being shared

A food summit co-sponsored by Arizona State University brought indigenous voices to the forefront of a conversation about transforming our food system.

The ASU Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems, Food Tank and the University of Hawaii, West Oahu partnered for the inaugural Food Tank Summit, “The Wisdom of Indigenous Foodways.” The event, which took place on January 22 at ASU Skysong, featured 22 speakers, almost all of them Native American or Native Hawaiian. Indigenous celebrity chefs Mariah Gladstone and Sean Sherman, founder and CEO of The Sioux Chef, were also present.

According to Kathleen Merrigan, the executive director of the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems and the former Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the goal of the summit was to “shine light on stories that demonstrate the wisdom of traditional knowledge systems.”

The summit was timely, as more and more people are realizing that indigenous foodways are a massive, yet missing element in the discussion about how to transform our food systems. In an interview with ASU Now, Merrigan expanded on this idea:

“There is increasing recognition among sustainable agriculture advocates that we have paid too little attention to issues of food justice and racial equity. As we build the agenda of the new Swette Center, the opportunity to do something about this is very much on my mind. Among the many things the Swette Center does is convene people to elevate discussion of critical issues. Every year, I become more convinced that if we are to meet the challenges of extreme climate change and transform food systems so that they are resilient and equitable, we must listen to indigenous communities, stand with them and include them in decision-making on land that they have sustained for thousands of years.”

Merrigan also appeared on the podcast “Food Talk with Dani Nierenberg” to discuss the value in learning from indigenous foodways and their incredible success stories. On the podcast, she said: “Diversity is lacking in a lot of our food system work. If we’re going to change the way we do food in this country, we need to change the faces around the decision-makers so that they reflect the real demographics of this country.”

Watch the Food Tank Summit on YouTube:

Read a School of Sustainabilty student recap of the event.