Extreme Locavorism

(Photo: NatalieMaynor)

As part of The Decolonizing Diet Project, a new study at the School of Native American Studies at Northern Michigan University, a group of 25 volunteers will spend the next year eating primarily foods that “were part of the Great Lakes diet prior to the year 1600.” As the blog Found Michigan explains:

The purpose of the study is to explore the relationship between humans and regional native foods; components include an ethnobotanist (for native plant identification), a physician (to check up on participants’ physical changes), group outings and potlucks, daily journaling for research subjects, and a master list of “DDP-eligible” foods. So, things like squash, bison, and wild leeks are in; things like tomatoes, cheese, and chocolate are out. What can’t be bought from local suppliers must be grown, hunted, fished, or foraged—meaning your next meal might be waiting in the woods as opposed to the grocery store.

Marty Reinhardt, the lead researcher for the Decolonizing Diet Project, explains how the experiment is related to locavorism:

Yeah, in fact we have folks who are part of the DDP who consider themselves locavores, but they had only thought about things like, where does my food come from, is it raised on a farm locally, how many resources did it take to get from the farm to my plate? But they hadn’t thought about the cultural or geographic origins of the foods. So they were eating local farm-raised beef and not necessarily thinking, where did this beef come from originally? Or, where did that tomato come from? Of course, tomatoes are indigenous American but they’re indigenous SouthAmerican; they’re not North American. And they’re certainly not something that was in the Great Lakes Region until very recently in our history. So we’re causing some folks to reexamine how they think of the local-ness of food.

Our podcast listeners of course already know that locavorism isn’t necessarily good for the environment

(HT: David Warakomski)


Scurvy is making a comeback I hear

Greg W

Rather that locavorism isn't necessarily better for the environment that non-locavorism.

Michael Moore

The Great Lakes area is a great place to do this. There are plenty of foraging, hunting and fishing opportunities.

The big caveat is going to be if the volunteers manage to put away enough food before winter, since at that point you're basically left with ice fishing (unless you are willing to be a poacher).

Ian M

Get your moose meat and blueberries into the freezer while you can.

Depending on where you live, one could legally snare game most of the season.

Eric M. Jones.

This business of locavorism neglects to consider the availability of local food...which is, after all, at the heart of the matter.

To illustrate, the recent discussion regarding Santa Barbara County neglected to mention that the mighty San Joaquin Valley, the largest food producer on the planet, is just over the hill.

I favor locavorism in the European (actually anyplace else outside of the USA) style. When travelling in Europe (e.g.), you might notice a small corral full of young deer, then a kilometer down the road there is a restaurant featuring venison. You eat local bread, local cheese with local wine, and lots of local seasonal produce...but don't kid yourself, the French import Maine lobster and will kill for iceberg lettuce from the mighty San Joaquin Valley.


I've listened to the podcast on why locavorism isn't necessarily good for the environment. It seems to me that this project avoids the main critique: that local food production is often less efficient due to climate. If they're eating native local food, then the food is being produced in the right place, with the right climate, and should be the most environmentally friendly.

This also goes to the heart of the locavore podcast: if you're eating local, you should be eating seasonally and climate-appropriate foods. If you do that, then you avoid the extra cost to overcome the inefficiencies that Freakonomics cites to discount locavorism.


Quite aside from the locavore argument, this project might usefully teach us about a lot of neglected (and perhaps yummy) foodstuffs. I certainly enjoy going out and picking a couple baskets of pine nuts in the fall.

But even in the European-origin diet, there are many things that were eaten a century or more ago that are hard to find nowadays. How many of you have eaten quince, for instance? Or pigeon? Or how about those four-and-twenty blackbirds in the pie?

paul o.

These guys are going to get skinny. May the biggest problem they have is getting goiter.

Malice in Wonderland

To really do this all authentic-like, all the people participating in this study, whose ancestors had not yet arrived in North America by 1600, should refrain from eating anything at all. Come to think of it, this might address several of the other problems that locavore-types typically get all worked up about.

April E. Lindala

Aanii/hello to the authors,

If some research had been done prior to the publishing of this, the author would have found the territory map of the Decolonizing Diet Project (DDP) led by Dr. Martin Reinhardt. In which case, the author would have realized that this is not extreme locavoism...or even locavoism as I understand it.

Our DDP research volunteers reside near Marquette, Michigan in Michigan's beautiful Upper Peninsula, but have ordered maple sugar from northwest Pennsylvania (as our season was horrible due to weather issues). We consume hand-harvested wild rice from Anishinaabe people in northern Minnesota, approximately eight hours away. Those are just two examples.

I would respectfully request that in the future the authors do some thorough research before making misleading statements about the DDP project. We are here to answer any questions.

Miigwech/thank you for this consideration.


April E. Lindala-Director, NMU Center for Native American Studies