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Global indigenous Cuisines


Indigenous peoples throughout the world have historically depended on a wide variety of species of food. These traditional foods are widely referred to as first foods in native communities. First foods formed the backbone of many indigenous societies by virtue of their religious, cultural, economic and medicinal importance, in addition to their importance to the diet of indigenous peoples.


First Foods

These First Foods are the foods that were eaten pre-contact, and are still eaten now to this day,” said Valerie Segrest, a Native Foods Educator and Muckleshoot tribal member. “They’re foods we’ve organized our lives around for 14,000 years—or as an Elder might say, since time began.

Indigenous communities have been working towards not only re-creating authentic original recipes for their traditional foods but a major component of this work is to re-build the systems of agriculture that worked for the people before colonization.

Writers, chefs and foodies are being made aware of white supremacy in our food systems and the burgeoning movements that promote food justice and food sovereignty are now beginning to finally have a wider audience. Indigenous foods are not limited to North American First Nations people, the Maori, the aboriginal people of Australia, the Mayan people, African nations along with Asian and pan-Asian peoples who have all suffered at the hands of colonizing nations.

“The global population of Indigenous Peoples is approximately 476 million, living in 90 countries and speaking 4000+ distinct languages. Indigenous Peoples represent the oldest continuous surviving cultures in the world. The biodiverse food systems of Indigenous Peoples have contributed to the health of populations through time. Indigenous Peoples’ use of traditional food (foods native to the local environment) has aided the transfer of cultural knowledge, the health of the ecosystem and the land and waterways, and health and well-being.

Settler colonialism has forcibly and continually displaced Indigenous Peoples in many parts of the globe from their lands and People groups and has prohibited or actively discouraged access to traditional food. Settler colonialism seeks to replace the Indigenous Peoples’s territory with foreign settlers and establish an ongoing system of control and domination that includes the exploitation of ancestral lands and resources of Indigenous Peoples. Traditional diets undergo rapid and drastic change with settler-colonial policies impacting on natural environments and Indigenous Peoples’ access to and use of their land and waterways, and results in a greater reliance on an introduced food system and, for many, intergenerational loss of skills in the procurement of traditional food.”

In Australia and the Torres Strait Islanders, the belief is that all the plants and animals are created by the ancestral Spirits of the Dreaming. The Dreaming refers to a period of time when everything was created.

Each food was created by these spirits and certain groups or individuals are linked to particular foods which become their “totems”. These linked foods cannot be eaten with the exception of some particular ceremonies.

The main food providers outside of the male hunters were of course women. It was the women who planted and gathered the foods like taro, yam, cassava, eggs, shellfish and small mammals for meat.

The Bush Food industry in Australia began in the 1970s and 1980 up until then Bush Tucker or really what was considered aboriginal foods became popular with chefs and cooks looking to source sustainable and local meats and produce.

Bush Tucker was essentially a denigration of the foods consumed by the aboriginal people. It wasn’t until much later that foodies and researchers began to realize that the local native species of plant foods, seafood and meats were healthier and much easier to obtain than products that were not native to the country.

The Indigenous Food culture of New Zealand

In New Zealand, the Māori people were traditionally hunters and gatherers who gathered their food from the land and the ocean. The Māori came to New Zealand from the Polynesian Islands and brought with them staples such as yam, taro and kūmara (which is a sweet potato). For meat, they had the Kiore – a Polynesian rat and a Polynesian dog called kurī. The Māori also hunted a wide range of birds such as the Rakiura muttonbird, and the Moa.

Indigenous food culture in Africa

In the time before recorded history, Africa was not only the birthplace of humans but also the food basket. Plant migration out of Africa and into this vast continent took the route of trade between Africa, Asia and Indonesia. Foods including banana, sugarcane and rice began new agriculture and with colonization and the resultant abhorrent slave trade, a number of new crops were introduced. These crops included Sweet potato, tomato, beans, chilli peppers, pumpkin, corn, peanuts and cassava.


Indigenous foods of Australia

Australia’s Indigenous peoples are two distinct cultural groups made up of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. But there is great diversity within these two broadly described groups which are apparent when you take into account the over 250 different language groups spread across the nation.

Each food was created by these spirits and certain groups or individuals are linked to particular foods which become their “totems”. These linked foods cannot be eaten with the exception of some particular ceremonies.

The main food providers outside of the male hunters were of course women. It was the women who planted and gathered the foods like taro, yam, cassava, eggs, shellfish and small mammals for meat.

Bush Tucker food culture

The Bush Food industry in Australia began in the 1970s and 1980 up until then Bush Tucker or really what was considered aboriginal foods became popular with chefs and cooks looking to source sustainable and local meats and produce.

Bush Tucker was essentially a denigration of the foods consumed by the aboriginal people. It wasn’t until much later that foodies and researchers began to realize that the local native species of plant foods, seafood and meats were healthier and much easier to obtain than products that were not native to the country.


Indigenous food culture in Africa

In the time before recorded history, Africa was not only the birthplace of humans but also the food basket. Plant migration out of Africa and into this vast continent took the route of trade between Africa, Asia and Indonesia. Foods including banana, sugarcane and rice began new agriculture and with colonization and the resultant abhorrent slave trade, a number of new crops were introduced. These crops included Sweet potato, tomato, beans, chilli peppers, pumpkin, corn, peanuts and cassava.


Asian Indigenous Food culture

The Asia and the Pacific region is home to the largest number of Indigenous Peoples of over 260 million or more than 70% of the world’s total indigenous population.


Some of the Indigenous people of Asia are the Veddas of Sri Lanka, The Jarawa of the Andaman Islands India, Kalash of Pakistan, Naga from northeastern India and northwestern Myanmar, Lhop of Bhutan, the Bodo of Nepal and the Giraavaru of the Maldives. In Japan, the two indigenous peoples the Ainu and the Okinawans, live on the northernmost and southernmost islands of the country’s archipelago.

Southeast Asia has a long history of using fermentation in the production and preservation of foods and is widely recognized for its prominent use. Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Korea, Japan and the Philippines, all have their own indigenous fermented foods including kimchi, kombucha, natto, miso, Douchi – a black bean paste and Mianchi – white bean paste in China. From the Philippines Bagoong and Puto.


We have only glossed over this vast topic, one could write an epic book on a topic like this, it's the stuff of a doctorate degree. Perhaps it will inspire you to explore one or mor of these geographical regions in more detail. Hope you all have a great start to your week! Cheers.

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