Our research into grain varieties, regenerative agricultural practices, and food traditions broadened our understanding of grains’ role in a vibrant food system. As a result, to better understand the forces that shaped the current consumption of grains or lack of consumption, we dove deeper into the historical, social, cultural, and racial landscapes. A critical piece of restoring local grain networks and encouraging people to eat more whole grains is understanding how a select few grain varieties came to play a leading role in the American diet. The history of grains is fraught and complex, and our research highlights the significance of including previously marginalized stories. We are learning by listening to the voices of the Native American, Latinx, and Black contributors to regional grain networks, and to the solutions and innovations they bring to present-day food systems. Racial and ethnic oppression has resulted in exclusionary policy and procedures, denial of land ownership, and making participation in regional grain cultivation more difficult for contributors from these groups compared to their white counterparts. Recognition of this systemic injustice encourages us to understand that today’s typical U.S. diet is a cloth woven from a history of colonialism.
Indigenous chef and food educator Sean Sherman is a leader in modernizing Indigenous cuisine and increasing Indigenous food access in native communities. Sean encourages us to connect to origin food ingredients to create a path forward toward understanding the significance of Indigenous cuisine. In doing so, we contextualize the rich traditions that existed before the introduction of wheat on North American soil. He says, “To truly understand North American modern cuisine today, you have to understand the Indigenous perspective because that’s the basis of it…that’s what was here first, and countless generations of humans were here long before Europeans settled here.”
Before European settlement, corn and wild rice were the dominant grain sources in North America. Specific grain varieties were geographically dependent and were often paired with other regionally particular ingredients. This historical context strengthens the modern food culture landscape in imperative ways that we hope will prompt the reader to explore foodways as fluid and evolving. Within this conversation, we underscore the role of class as a determinant of access that continues to foster a non-inclusive grain culture. The spirit of the Grain Guide is to revitalize a connection to whole grains to feed our bodies and nourish our communities. Everyone deserves healthy food. As stewards of localized grain networks, we are responsible for sharing a breadth of perspectives and encouraging the reader to adopt a critical eye toward current food practices.