Monday, November 8, 2010

Native American's & Milk by Mona Halcomb

Recently, while talking to other cultural practitioners the topic of food came up. Many of us had just read the book, “Nature’s Perfect Food: How Milk Became America’s Drink” by Melanie Dupuis. It was a very comprehensive history of how milk was transformed from “white poison” to being the “most complete food.” It was disappointing to me as a Native American to not be included in a book about “America’s” drink; once again I am a member of the invisible Indian populace. In Ms. Dupuis’s defense she does not include a lot of information on diversity in her book. In a section entitled, “Milk, Race, And Nation” she only compares immigrant families to an “American child” who is obviously of European white racial ancestry. Perhaps not being included in this book is more revealing for Native Americans, as it speaks volumes about National Identity.

We thought it would be interesting to compare if milk has influenced our traditional cooking. I knew this would be an impossible task to find a “Native American recipe” that would be representative of over 500 Native American tribes and therefore, settled on a recipe that would be familiar at lot of Native gatherings. This would have to be the infamous “fry bread”. If you attend any pow wow you are likely to find a long line of people waiting to buy some.

My colleagues had the pleasure of asking their mom’s for family recipes for their dishes.

Since my mother’s recipe consists of a pinch of this and a tad of that…and my husband (who is a far superior cook than I) never uses the same ingredients twice to cook with, but relies on the, “hmm, that seemsabout right…method”, I was forced to look up recipes for fry bread.

This proved to be another enlightening exercise in it’s own right. Here are two unedited recipes just as I found them:

The earliest recipe we have for modern fry bread dates to the early 1930s:

"Squaw bread..2 tablespoons Royal baking powder, 1 quart like warm water, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon compound, flour enough to make about like biscuit dough. Roll and cut any shape desired. Fry in kettle of boiling compound. Recipe from Nancy Rogers Ware (Cherokee)"

---Indian Cook Book, The Indian Women's Club of Tulsa, Oklahoma [1932-33] (p. 7)[1]

A more modern recipe was:


1/2 Cup DRY Milk

2 Tbls. Baking Powder

1 Tbls. Salt

6 Cups Unsifted Flour

2 2/3 Cup Warm Water

Lard for Frying.


Mix together dry ingredients 
Mix in water & knead on floured surface 'till it isn’t sticky anymore. 
Then I usually put the dough in a plastic bag or wrap with plastic wrap to keep the dough from drying out. Heat lard in cast iron frying pan, but don’t let it smoke! 
Pull off a piece of dough about the size of an egg & shape into about a 9 inch round. 
Poke a hole in the middle & add to hot lard & fry on each side until golden. 
Drain on paper towels (I use pieces of brown paper bags, it's cheaper & works just as well!!) 

Note: Don’t ask me why this recipe has dried milk in it!!! It’s great so I have never questioned it!! I always use lard, though if you are worried about how healthy this is, you could use oil.[2]

The very first thing that jumps out at me is the term Squaw bread, as it is often offensive to most modern Native American’s. Secondly, in the more modern recipe we have the inclusion of dry milk. Native American’s don’t even rate the real “white poison” and we are given a substitute that is given as aid to third world countries. Nestlé is one of the primary dry milk companies. There has been some controversy over the stability of dry milk in certain temperatures and recently in China there where there was Adulteration of dry milk to fake higher protein content and the result was thousands became ill and some children died after using the product. [3]

Another very interesting discovery I made in my search for recipes was the Native American food pyramid! Here is the wording from the food pyramid: “The native American Food Pyramid Food Pyramid Comparisons:

The Asian Food Pyramid is very different from the American Food Pyramid. It has recommendations for what you should eat monthly, weekly, and daily (optional). It also has a separate group for seeds & nuts, as well as, vegetable oil. The Asian pyramid has recommendations for daily beverage (saki, water, and tea) intake. However, they also show that daily physical activity is just as important as food nutrition.

The Native American, Italian, and Mexican food pyramid are similar to the United States’ pyramid. They have all the same serving sizes. They all suggest eating grains (6-11servings), vegetables (3-5 servings), fruit (2-4 servings), and meats
(2-3 servings), milk (2-3 servings), and using fats and sweets (sparingly).[4]I didn’t even know that one existed. Let alone one that recommends 2-3 servings of milk. Many Native Americans are lactose intolerant! How can a Food Pyramid make this kind of recommendation? When it is coming from the United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Library! [5]They are the Government. They have to have Native American’s best interest in mind right?

A study from the University of Arizona on Native Nutrition and Foods Initiative Research conducted in 2005/2006 states:

Concerning milk, Native American hunter-gatherer tribes did not domesticate animals for milk purposes. Further research supports that 80% of the global population is allergic to milk after a young age due to the lack of specific enzymes to break down the milk lactose (sugar). An individual’s enzymes naturally decrease with age. Therefore, milk is best suited for babies and youth, preferably mother’s breast milk (ibid.). Native Americans consumed calcium nutrition found in berries, leafy plants, stems, and roots. Today, most Native people report milk intolerance and subject to physical ailments as a result of taking in milk and milk products. Studies have shown that Native Americans were strong people in body, mind and spirit. Their Native ancestors were lean with well developed bodies, sound teeth, dense bones and healthy before the introduction of cultivated and processed agricultural and diverse dairy foods (ibid).[6]

Native Americans health has suffered from the poor nutritional quality of Government rations. One in four Native Americans has diabetes today for example then before they relied on these rations.[7] Food rations that were part of treaties where land had been given in exchange for promises by the Government; promises that only one part of the bargain was kept, to take the land, but in some cases Indian Agents would choose who they felt deserved these rations.[8]

The simple task of comparing how milk has influenced our cooking has really made an impact on me. I see how the intercessions of large corporations like Nestlé continue to supply questionable products to the populations who are least likely to have the time, resources, or strength to look into any controversies surrounding their product. In this great nation where our Declaration of Independence boast, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…” I must ask where is the equality? Where is our Government using their “just power” to secure that all are treated equally with the same nutritional food to ensure the Life of all who are protected by this document?




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