Our research into grain varieties, agricultural practices, and food traditions has broadened our understanding of the role grains play in a vibrant food system, prompting us to dive deeper into the social, cultural, and racial landscape that influences current consumption, or lack of consumption, of grains. 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. For us, this means that we are working to specifically uplift the voices of the Native American, Latinx, and Black contributors to the regional grain network and present-day practices. Racial and ethnic oppression has resulted in exclusionary policy and practice, 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 the typical U.S. diet today 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. Sherman encourages us to connect to origin food ingredients to create a path forward for understanding the significance of indigenous cuisine. In doing so we contextualize the rich traditions that existed prior to the introduction of wheat on North American soil. He says, “To truly understand North American modern cuisine today, you really 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.”
Prior to 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 specific 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, it is our responsibility to share a breadth of perspectives and encourage the reader to adopt a critical eye towards current food practice.