"Trends are cyclical, like 15 years ago everything was about spa food, and ten years before that, everything centered around butter and cream," Ron Dimas, chef de cuisine of Orange Sky Restaurant, told Indian Country Today Media Network. At the EXPO AIGA 2013 "Cuisine Beyond Borders" cook-off in November, held at the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community’s Talking Stick Resort, Dimas took top honors with his Broken Arrow Ranch Venison Loin with a ragout of deer liver and heart, with roasted butternut squash puree and mesquite flour crepes.
Like Dimas' meal, the trend of 2013 is a return to a "healthy food phase spurred by medical concerns. Whatever the reason, I welcome the direction we’re headed in," Dimas says. And Native cuisine goes hand-in-hand with healthy eating. "Traditional cooking is so natural because it comes from the Earth," Dimas adds.
1. Farm-to-Table or Field-to-Plate
The farm-to-table movement, also called field-to-plate, is about eating seasonal foods, based on what is available locally at peak harvest. Nowhere has this trend been more evident than in Native American communities where “self-sustainability” is the goal. Just take a look at tribes in the Northern Plains, where the interest in gardening has skyrocketed.
Some would argue the farm-to-table buzzword has already gone mainstream across the culinary scene, making it a new rule rather than a goal. In light of that, the field-to-plate food ethic that is fueling the growth of farmers’ markets across America proved the most dominant trend of 2013. If it was already spreading, now it has a stronghold.
Take the 2013 James Beard Foundation “Most Outstanding Restaurant” award winner for example. Blue Hill Chef Dan Barber and his brother source their pasture-raised game and organic produce and herbs from a family-owned farm in Massachusetts and one in upstate New York. Blue Hill, tucked below street level in an old speakeasy space in New York City’s Greenwich Village, offers its famous “Farmer’s Feast,” a five-course tasting inspired by the week’s harvest.
2. Indigenous Foods
“Native foods are not a trend,” Nephi Craig, executive chef of the fine-dining restaurant at the White Mountain Apache Tribe’s Sunrise Park Resort Hotel, told ICTMN. “They are a way to recover our communities and decolonize ourselves.”
The award-winning Apache/Navajo Chef makes a good point. We only included it in our list of 2013 food trends, because it's a new concept to mainstream society. Like Craig, we expect this "trend" to stay strong and grow.
This year, ICTMN published a list of the "Best Indian Food of 2013" featuring such mouth-watering dishes as: Smothered Muskrat, Tail Off, Teeth Showing; Salmon Roasted Over an Alder Fire Pit; Slow-Cooked Corn Soup; Red Chile Stew With Pork; and Milkweed Shoots Boiled With Bacon.
Craig has said that Native people are emerging from what he calls “the Great Interruption” in their foodways: “Pre-contact, we were expert farmers, hunters, gatherers, fishermen and cooks. Then we suffered a violent clash of cultures that lasted 500 years and ended in the reservation system and cheap, high-fat, high-carbohydrate commodity foods. They, in turn, produced rampant killers: diabetes, heart disease and obesity.” As a result, he says, healing is the most important ingredient in Native cuisine.
3. Anti-Genetically Modified Foods
Although genetically modified (GM) fruits and vegetables have been on supermarket shelves since 1998, starting with the oversized tomato, more and more GM crops are flooding our diets. Controversy has soared over labeling. People want the choice to consume organic or know when they’re eating scientifically engineered corn, strawberries or the like. And more anti-GM advocacy groups have formed and become more vocal, because we still don’t know the risks of consuming these foods that have been altered at their very core.
Many European countries, and most recently Hawaii’s Big Island, have completely banned the growth and/or sale of GM crops.
In America, however, the focus has sadly remained on keeping produce looking bigger and brighter for the purpose of increasing sales.
At the EXPO AIGA 2013 "Cuisine Beyond Borders", Casino Del Sol chef Alcantar won the gustatory thanks and votes of the general public with the People’s Choice Award for his Braised Buffalo and White Tepary Bean Cassoulet.
“With a Native foods focus, I decided to go with lean and healthy buffalo short ribs and tepary beans that have been a diet staple for thousands of years—traditional foods cooked in contemporary style,” Alcantar said.
Buffalo is an incredible source of lean protein and iron. When cooked properly, it is tender and juicy.
More restaurants, and especially burger joints, are embracing bison meat as a healthy substitute or addition to beef.
And contrary to previous common conception, eating buffalo actually helps preserve the animals. Traditionally, people who eat a food are more likely to care for and preserve it than those who don’t, reports thehealthycookingcoach.com.
“Deer hunters are more likely to preserve deer than people who don’t hunt and eat them. The Native Americans were better and conserving buffalo than the pale-faced hide hunters who didn’t eat the meat,” the website states. “Instead they ruthlessly reduced buffalo herds from tens of millions to about 1,000 in 1885. Lucky for us, the outcries of individuals and organized groups has let to the preservation and restoration of small herds of these magnificent beasts.
“According to the other NBA (the National Bison Association) more than 3000 people are raising more than 270,000 buffalo today. They would not be raised in these numbers nor would they receive the attention or have the support they do if people were not raising them for food. Eating buffalo helps preserve what was once an almost extinct species.”
5. Gluten-Free and the Paleo Diet
The theory behind the Paleolithic Diet, short-named the Paleo Diet, is that mimicking the diet of our ancestors some 10,000 years ago—prior to the European construction of the agriculture and grain-based diet—is the healthiest way to live.
Also referred to as the caveman diet, Stone Age diet and hunter-gatherer diet, the Paleo Diet is focused on avoiding refined foods, trans fat, dairy and sugar, and consuming lean proteins; fresh vegetables and fruits; and healthy fats through nuts, seeds, avocados, fish oil and grass-fed meat. Among the touted health benefits are improved blood lipids, weight loss, and reduced pain from autoimmunity. And the diet is scientifically proven to help stave off degenerative diseases such as obesity, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, depression and infertility.
Avoiding gluten, and all grains, is part of the Paleo Diet.
Recent increased celebrity and doctor advocacy has made this diet mainstream. Check out this Indian Country Today Media Network list: Eat Like a Caveman! 10 Celebrities Touting the Paleo Diet.
Juice used to primarily refer to orange, cranberry and apple. Now it’s common to hear of people drinking beets, kale, parsley, cucumbers and ginger for breakfast.
And shockingly, these combinations can taste quite deliciously.
The fad is still controversial—mostly when it comes to one week or longer juice fasts. But in a world where some people throw back a diet coke in the morning, who’s to argue with juicing organic veggies? It’s a healthy detox and surprisingly filling.
Nutrient-packed vegetables, fruits and grains are having their heyday. All the praise used to fall to antioxidant-laden blueberries for their anti-aging properties, but now society has broadened our horizons while returning to traditional indigenous foods that offer energy and essential vitamins—like freekeh, amaranth, quinoa, salmon, kale, certain seeds and nuts, and more!
8. Tea & Coffee
Is coffee good for you? The verdict is still out. But according to these studies it could help you live longer and avoid diabetes:
And in 2013, we saw a rise in artisanal coffee and tea blends. People used to drink Folgers coffee and brew tea in pre-packaged bags. Now, more and more, people are thinking before they purchase, opting for fair trade coffee blends that support indigenous communities and loose-leaf teas with anti-inflammatory and other benefits.
Native entrepreneurs are joining in the commercial side of the business, too. Most recently, Indian country welcomed a new Navajo coffee cooperative and a new creative café on the rural Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
9. Native Food Blogs and Journalism
10. Meatballs and Sliders
2013 was the year of sliders and meatballs with specialty restaurants popping up all over major cities throughout the U.S.
The Native version? Game meats rolled into delicious balls or served on buns.
Even Chow.com recommends elk meatballs.