Farm to Table Food History in Minnesota

Identity and Culture

Food is not only fuel for our bodies, and a major business that has contributed to the growth of Minnesota. It also can shape our identity as individuals and communities.

Minnesotans take pride in our cultural identities, and that pride is often expressed through food. We share food at family gatherings, large community banquets, cultural festivals, and schools.

We also share food at special events and holidays that shape individual and group identities. The food we serve is often familiar, traditional, and comforting while at the same time providing an opportunity to introduce others to new flavors, new recipes, and new traditions at cross-cultural events.


Family and Community

We gather with our families and communities around food to celebrate births, deaths, anniversaries, graduations, confirmations, and many other life events. We host events with food for fundraisers and organizations. Special foods, like cakes, are made specifically to celebrate birthdays, graduations, weddings, and anniversaries.

Female students eat dinner in Lawrence Hall, St. Cloud State University, St. Cloud, Minnesota
Community picnic, Morris, Minnesota
Three Happy Families at Lunch, Hibbing Oliver Club Picnic, Hibbing, Minnesota

Holidays

Holidays are a favorite time to enjoy traditional food. People spend all day preparing special food for their families. Family recipes are shared from generation to generation, and people learn how to make these dishes from their elders.

Dinner table at the Clarence Swenson home, Blue Mounds Township, Minnesota
Holiday celebration at The Swedish Hospital School of Nursing, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Plitman family Seder in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Christmas dinner in the mess hall at the Hovland Civilian Conservation Corps camp, Hovland, Minnesota
Irving Waldman family dinner, St. Paul, Minnesota
Dining room decorated for Christmas, American Swedish Institute, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Food Traditions

A variety of food traditions have come to Minnesota from the homelands of various immigrant groups. Some of these traditions are not only cultural but also religious, such as kosher or halal foods. Many traditional dishes are still enjoyed today—both by those who share that ethnic heritage, as well as by those who appreciate new flavors, textures, and food experiences. We honor our family history by eating foods our ancestors would have eaten.


Reviving and Reinventing Traditional Foods

In recent years there has been renewed interest in producing and eating local food, especially that which is native to Minnesota. People have been learning how to grow and prepare traditional foods from Native American groups and others.

This interest in traditional foods means that food harvesting and preparation instruction is now included in cultural education alongside language, art, and dance. George Dick, Red Lake Ojibwe elder, explained the importance of teaching kids about wild rice and maple syrup harvesting at Fond du Lac, and how they in turn will teach young people.

There's a lot of things I teach here at the school here. The drum, songs. All the things I teach to the students here of what I've learned over the years, the singing, dancing, the language, are traditions. [Even] the harvesting of wild rice or the maple syrup in the spring. We have persons that do that, and they're pretty good at it. And they learn, too. I did that when I was growing up with my grandparents. I used to be in the sugar bush. I used to haul maple syrup and maple sap, and get wood and the whole works, and eat the taffy and sugar cakes and all that stuff, good stuff. And it's here at Fond du Lac. It's nice that they have that. They teach that here. We teach that to our, our young people today, the language, culture… I always tell them someday it's going to be your turn and someday you're going to teach your children, your grandchildren, or the Indian community here at Fond du Lac.

– George Dick, Red Lake Ojibwe elder

Interview with George Dick, 1999


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