Exploring Ethnobiology is a new series Deconstructing Dinner has been airing since June. Through a scientific lens, ethnobiology examines the relationships between humans and their surrounding plants, animals and ecosystems. With seemingly more and more people becoming interested in developing closer relationships with our surroundings (our food, the earth), there’s much we can all learn from ethnobiologists, and in particular, from the symbiotic human-earth relationships that so many peoples around the world have long maintained.
Food sovereignty is also a subject that permeates much of what airs on Deconstructing Dinner, and similarly permeates much of the dialogue among ethnobiologists. At the 2010 International Congress of Ethnobiology held in Tofino, B.C., a group of ethnobiologists gathered to discuss food sovereignty with a focus on the immaterial or intangible components of food sovereignty. In the first half of the episode, we listen in on some of that discussion and in the second half, we listen to Associate Professor at Cornell University’s Department of Horticulture, Jane Mt. Pleasant, whose research has involved a fascinating comparative look into 17th/18th century cereal grain farming between the Iroquois people of what is now upstate New York and early European colonizers. Her research paints a telling picture of just how much our western food system is built upon a propensity to maintain the status quo instead of adapting to our surroundings and working in closer relationship with the land on which we grow our food.
Justin Nolan, assistant professor, Department of Anthropology, J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, University of Arkansas (Fayetteville, AR) – Justin’s research interests are in Ethnobotany, Cherokee and Ozark foodways and medicine, ethnopharmacology, traditional health beliefs, biodiversity mapping, Native American culture, Native American language, cultural preservation
Lewis Williams, Feasting for Change (Tsawout First Nation near Saanichton, B.C.) – The Tsawout First Nation is one of five bands that make up the Saanich Nation and is located north of Victoria, B.C. near the community of Saanichton. Lewis is involved in Feasting for Change – a project that looks to preserve traditional indigenous foodways on Vancouver Island.
Nancy Turner, distinguished professor, School of Environmental Studies, University of Victoria (Victoria, BC) – Born in Berkeley, California, Nancy moved to Victoria at the age of 5 and she lives there today as a Distinguished Professor in the School of Environmental Studies at the University of Victoria. She earned a PhD in Ethnobotany in 1974 from the University of British Columbia when she studied three contemporary indigenous groups of the Pacific Northwest (the Haida, Bella Coola and Lillooet). Nancy’s major research has demonstrated the role of plant resources in past and present aboriginal cultures and languages as being an integral component of traditional knowledge systems. Nancy has also played an important role in helping demonstrate how traditional management of plant resources has shaped the landscapes and habitats of western Canada. In 1999 Nancy received the Order of British Columbia and in 2009 received the Order of Canada. She’s authored numerous books including, among others, Food Plants of Coastal First Peoples, Food Plants of Interior First Peoples, Plants of Haida Gwaii and The Earth’s Blanket – Traditional Teachings for Sustainable Living.
Linda Different Cloud, ethnobotanist / restoration ecologist, Sitting Bull College (Standing Rock Lakota Nation, ND/SD) – Linda is an ethnobotanist and restoration ecologist of the Standing Rock Lakota Nation in what is now North and South Dakota.
Jane Mt. Pleasant, associate professor, Department of Horticulture, Cornell University (Ithaca, NY) – In addition to serving as an associate professor in the Department of Horticulture, Jane is also director of the American Indian Program at Cornell University, with research and teaching responsibilities in both units. Her research focuses on indigenous cropping systems and plants and human well being. She lectures frequently on indigenous agriculture and its links to contemporary agricultural sustainability, and am considered a national expert in Iroquois agriculture.
Download the audio for this episode here.