This Native American Ethnobotanist Is Using Science To Restore A Lost Food Culture

Uproxx knows that science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines are driving the future of this planet forward. Every day, we see new ideas, fresh innovations, and bold trailblazers in these fields. Follow us this month as we highlight how STEM is shaping the culture of NOW.

Tashia Hart grew up on the Red Lake Reservation of Northern Minnesota. Her childhood was spent exploring the wilds with her father and two brothers — fishing, hunting, and foraging for food. During these adventures, she developed a deep love for animals and a passion for science.

After studying biology at Bemidji State University, Hart met Sean Sherman, a chef fighting to recover the Native American food culture of Minnesota, and soon began working with him as a “Culinary Ethnobotanist.” Whether in the lab or in the kitchen, she uses scientific methods to uncover plants that we can cook and eat, applying a modern approach to the age-old act of foraging. In doing so, she’s become a sort of Indiana Jones for foods and flavors, rediscovering the past and sharing it with others.

Together, Hart and Sherman are fighting to restore a food way which was nearly obliterated by colonization. It’s important work, which led to the most quickly crowdfunded restaurant ever.

As part of STEM Innovators Month, we sat down with Hart to talk about the importance of using scientific methods to uncover long forgotten foods in the United States. She also spoke about how the nature-driven Native American food culture might change the way we eat, by making us more aware of how our local ecosystems can nourish us.

Where did you grow up?

I spent a lot of time growing up on the Red Lake Reservation in Northern Minnesota.

When did you discover that the natural world around you was full of food?

From an early age, my dad did everything he could to instill a love and respect of the land, plants, animals, and people. He’d take me and my two brothers everywhere with him. In the spring we went to the creeks so he could spear suckers. In the summer he’d take us pole fishing. We’d go out all over on the backroads of the rez, scouting for upcoming sources of things like blueberries, looking for deer trails, and we’d go around checking on how the rice was coming, along on the water.