Hidden Heroes: Sean Sherman and Food Heritage for the Future

November 10, 2022

Hidden Heroes: Sean Sherman and Food Heritage for the Future

November 10, 2022

Sean Sherman foraging Wild Ramps, by DThompson 1313, CC Attribution-Share Alike 4.0

Born in 1974, Sean Sherman grew up on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. As an Oglala Lakota Sioux, he was brought up on government commodity foods. The Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) brought about a shift in the diet of Native Americans, introducing foods of low nutritional quality. Sean grew up with his grandparents and through them was aware of Lakota food traditions that were quickly being forgotten. He set as a career goal the reestablishment of the food cultures of Native Americans.

Sean began his career in food as a dishwasher when he was 13. He also grew acquainted with local plants by working for the U.S. Forest Service in the Black Hills of South Dakota. During his 20s, he worked in restaurants, ultimately rising to the level of executive chef.

During a trip to Mexico, he discovered what would become his passion. Spending time with the Huichol people, he discovered how they preserved their food traditions that predated the arrival of Europeans. Sean decided that he would work to restore the food heritage of his people.

In 2014, Sean founded the Sioux Chef in the Minneapolis as a food education and catering business. He interviewed his grandparents and others of their generation to identify the foods they were brought up with. He recorded this knowledge in a book called The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen. The book emphasizes locally-sourced food and doesn’t call for any ingredients that are not native to North America.

Sean has also formed a nonprofit called the North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems (NATIFS) as a research and educational organization to identify and reclaim the food heritage of indigenous persons. According to Sean, there is a growing interest in the food culture of indigenous people because their diet is “hyperlocal, ultra-seasonal, uber-healthy, and utterly delicious.”

Hidden heroes often see a need when others don’t. Once they act upon that need, the need becomes more apparent to others. Sean saw a need to preserve the food heritage of his people. In doing so, he is helping to maintain a cultural legacy that might otherwise have been forgotten. We may often forget that innovations, while looking to the future, can also reclaim and preserve the past.

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“We’re not trying to cook like it’s 1491. We’re trying to take knowledge from the past and evolve it for today.”  Sean Sherman

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