With processed foods filling the shelves of every grocery store, it can be hard to imagine life without packages and preservatives; the Center for Native American Studies brought the Decolonizing Diet Project (DDP, project # HS11-415) to Northern in the hopes of learning how getting back to indigenous foods can affect the human body.
DDP is a yearlong study on the biological, cultural and legal political aspects involved with eating a diet consisting of 25 to 100 percent indigenous food.
The study also features an added exercise regimen designed to help participants reach an activity level close to that of the early indigenous peoples. Voluntary research subjects will self monitor their progress through journals, photos and other media to log their results.
“It provides data about the relationship between humans and indigenous food in the Great Lakes region that is not well studied at this point,” said Dr. Martin Reinhardt, principal investigator for DDP. “We include multidimensional study: biological, cultural and legal political aspects.”
The implementation of the study began on March 25, 2012 and will end at midnight on March 24, 2013. Participants can choose what level of commitment to the diet works best for them, ranging from 25 to 100 percent. Reinhardt is one of a few to commit to the whole 100 percent.
The different foods that participants can eat for this project must fall under these stipulations: items have to be native to the Great Lakes region or introduced by indigenous peoples prior to 1600, they must be derived from a native or introduced species that were in the area prior to 1600 and they cannot be genetically modified organisms (GMO).
“This food is not convenient food,” Reinhardt said. “It takes a lot of preparation and a lot of research.”
Because of these stipulations, participants are facing a variety of cultural and legal political problems. Culturally, these participants are dealing with not being able to go out to eat with friends, a key part of socialization, according to Reinhardt.
Where the legal political issues becomes apparent is in problems with treaty rights. While tribal members may be able to harvest certain animals and plants with treaty rights, non-tribal members can’t, according to Reinhardt.
Where the line becomes less clear for legal political problems stems from rules implied with institutions such as movie theaters. If a participant were 100 percent committed to the diet, the only thing they could legally consume at a movie theater would be the water bought on site. The participant could choose to bring their own food to the theater, but that would be breaking the rules of that institution and could have negative results, according to Reinhardt.
Biologically, some of the participants are already seeing improvements. Reinhardt himself said he has lost about 38 pounds since March.
“I am so much more healthy right now,” Reinhardt said.
The idea for the project was conceived by Reinhardt about two years ago following NMU’s annual First Nations Food Taster in November 2010. He wanted to learn how his ancestors ate prior to the colonization of America.
The following months were spent discussing this idea amongst the community of the Center for Native American Studies and it grew into a research project to find out how a decolonized diet can affect the human body, according to Reinhardt.
DDP was then approved by NMU’s Internal Review Board. This board reviews all research projects through the university to ensure the safety of human subjects involved. They also ensure that there are no issues with confidentiality, ethics and they keep the best interest of the participants in mind, according to Derek Anderson, chairman of the Institutional Review Board.
“We need to make sure it’s physically safe for participants to be eating in that manner,” Anderson said.
The board consists of individuals with a wide variety of backgrounds including ethical police, community representatives, prosecutors and physicians to ensure that all aspects of a research project are thoroughly considered.
“Research is the backbone of higher education,” Anderson said. “We want students and faculty to do research.”
Once the research portion is complete in March, Reinhard said he is interested to learn from the research subjects how the transition back to “normal” food goes.
Although he himself hopes to maintain at least 50 percent dedication to the diet once the project is complete, Reinhardt already has his first post-DDP meal planned, which includes a double cheese vegetarian pizza from Villa Capri and a pumpkin shake from Culvers.
“We’re not trying to ram the DDP down anyone’s throat,” Reinhardt said. “We want people to get a taste for indigenous foods.”
For more information about the DDP, including a master food list, indigenous recipes and other resources, visit www.decolonizingdietproject.blogspot.com.