Valerie Pavilonis, Staff Illustrator

The Yale Sustainable Food Program and the Native American Cultural Center co-hosted a two-part online event on Tuesday through the Poynter Fellowship in Journalism, featuring Navajo podcaster and journalist Andi Murphy.

The event’s two parts included an evening lecture and conversation led by Murphy, which discussed the place of food in Indigenous communities. The second part was a cooking challenge, in which Murphy provided a recipe and demo video for a wild rice and bison stuffed poblano pepper with pumpkin seed sauce. Students were encouraged to try to make the dish and post pictures on social media, and some of them will win prizes later this week.

“When I started my podcast, people asked me, ‘What is Indigenous food?’” Murphy said. “I came up with this definition: Indigenous food is the most local food you can have. Indigenous food is the food from that tribe that that tribe tried to cultivate, that that tribe protects. You can boil it down to ‘it’s bison,’ or ‘it’s Three Sisters,’ and you might see those in the media, but it’s very personal about each tribe.”

According to a PBS article written by Murphy, corn, beans and squash are, in some Indigenous communities, called the “Three Sisters.”

Murphy started her podcast “Toasted Sister” in early 2017 as a platform to explore “what Indigenous cuisine is, where it comes from, where it’s headed,” according to the podcast’s website. She noted that she grew up on a Navajo reservation but was rarely exposed to traditional Navajo food — instead, her family mainly ate meat and potatoes, what she called “poor man’s food.” 

After studying journalism at New Mexico State University, she said, she was quickly pulled into the world of food journalism, and she hosted her first show on Native American food for the radio program Native American Calling.

“My eyes became opened to Indigenous food, and to this whole food movement,” she said. “There were lots of different tribes, and lots of different foods, and lots of different food issues.”

At the lecture, Murphy discussed the history of how Native people have been separated from their culture by being separated from their food — colonizers, for example, would sometimes attempt to keep tribes “under control” by destroying their food source. They would also force tribes onto reservations where they didn’t have access to their typical agriculture, Murphy added. 

She noted that now there is a growing support among Native communities for reclaiming Native ingredients and recipes.

“You had these elders, and they held on to this knowledge,” she said. “They held onto the food and the culture. And now, it seems like it’s a safe place to be bringing that back out and bringing it to the community.”

The NACC planned to hold an Indigenous food dining hall takeover last March in Branford College and Saybrook College. The event would have featured Murphy as a speaker, but the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic forced its cancellation. This week’s event was meant to replace last March’s programming with Murphy’s recipe substituting for the planned dining takeover.

Catherine Webb ’23 served as moderator for the event and is a member of the Cherokee Nation. Webb was the inaugural liaison between the Yale Sustainable Food Project and the NACC, and had always been interested in agriculture. 

She said although the event wasn’t what it was originally planned to be, she thought it went well.

“We’ve been planning this event since September,” Webb told the News. “Andi was perfect to speak to the ranging issues and victories within Indigenous culture here. I’m really excited that we could hold this event.”

On top of the demo video for the recipe, Trumbull College prepared Murphy’s dish for lunch on Tuesday. 

Assistant Dean of Yale College and NACC Director Matthew Makomenaw, a Trumbull College fellow, said the meal was a success.

“They were excited to make the dish,” Makomenaw said. “It was wonderful. A lot of people came together to serve Indigenous food. You wouldn’t traditionally think, ‘Let’s partner with dining,’ and I think it’s a terrific opportunity. Food brings out stories. A lot of us, wherever we come from, have a food story.”

The Poynter Fellowship will host an event about Asian alumni in journalism on Friday.

Owen Tucker-Smith | owen.tucker-smith@yale.edu