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Thought for food: Book on Indigenous Arctic culinary traditions nominated for awards

“This is much more than just a book of recipes”


Reindeer, like these being rounded up near Inuvik, feature prominently in the cookbook Eallu—Food, Knowledge and How We Have Thrived. (PHOTO BY ANEXANDRA PULWICK/EALLU)

Reindeer, like these being rounded up near Inuvik, feature prominently in the cookbook Eallu—Food, Knowledge and How We Have Thrived. (PHOTO BY ANEXANDRA PULWICK/EALLU)

Whatever you do, don’t eat the tip of the reindeer tongue.

If you do, you will become a liar, according to Sámi food etiquette.

So says a cookbook produced by the Arctic Council that has been nominated in four categories of the Gourmand International Cookbook Awards: food heritage, sustainable food, Arctic food, and the main prize—best food book of the year.

Eallu—Food, Knowledge and How We Have Thrived on the Margins was created by a team of young Indigenous authors and features the food cultures of 14 Arctic Indigenous peoples.

In the Sámi language, the term “eallu” means herd, which is closely connected to the word “eallin,” which means life. “This is much more than just a book of recipes,” Mikhail Pogodaev, chair of the Association of World Reindeer Herders, wrote in a news release.

“This is about Arctic indigenous peoples’ deep knowledge about food, raw materials, processing and conservation, food security, health and wellbeing. It’s about our food traditions, our traditional nomadic lifestyles, our local economies, our philosophy and our worldviews.”

The book includes detailed family traditions from contributing writers.

“Certain parts of the spine are designated for different family members,” writes Maret Ravdna Buljo, a Sámi from Norway.

“The tail is for the butcher, the sacrum is for the person who took care of the intestines (usually mother or a female person).

The vertebrae are for father and the other adults, and the vertebrae in the middle are for the youth. The vertebrae on the spine shoulder are for smaller children because it is easy for a child to hold the bone.”

The book also includes information on how to slaughter a reindeer with traditional techniques, how to preserve meats, why meat is stored in reindeer stomachs, and what should and should not be eaten raw.

When it comes to the Nenets of Russia, the only meat they will eat raw is reindeer and some fish.

This is likely due to the fact that living so closely with their reindeer means that herders are very knowledgeable about the health of each animal in their herd, according to the book.

“In addition, the heart of the reindeer is considered sacred,” the book says. “It must not be eaten raw nor cut across the muscles ― it is considered to be a taboo.”

Besides recipes, cultural etiquette and ancient traditions, the book focuses on a need for sustainable development based on the living resources of the Arctic and what that means to Indigenous peoples within the context of their relationships to food.

“The rich food cultures, culinary traditions and traditional knowledge of Arctic Indigenous peoples really represent a repository of food innovations from time immemorial,” the book says.

The book is one of 16 nominees for the Best Food Book of the Year prize, selected out of contributions from 116 countries.

The award ceremony will be held in Yantai, China on May 26 and May 27.

You can download a copy of the book here.

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