Latin and Native American cultures celebrated during fall meals

Friday, Nov 16, 2018

During September, October and November, Campus Dining joined the campus community in celebrating Latinx Heritage Month and Native American Heritage Month.

Latinx Heritage Month celebrates the contributions of Latin-Americans to American culture and society as well as many of the unique traditions of the various Latinx cultures and heritages. In addition to various events across campus, residential dining halls featured dishes whose recipes were sourced from members of Princeton’s Latinx community as well as decorations and music chosen by the student group, Princeton Latinos y Amigos (PLA). The Center for Jewish Life also hosted a Latin-themed Shabbat.

Native American Heritage Month is nationally observed during November to celebrate the diverse Native cultures and heritage. At Princeton, the culinary teams at Whitman College and Forbes College each drew different inspirations in planning meals.

three sisters salad

The three sisters salad—a mix of winter squash, corn, and climbing beans—was served in several dining halls as part of celebrations of Native American culture.

The Whitman team has built a tradition that began when Emery Bird ’17 approached Chef Jared Gierisch and Senior Operations Manager Greg Billows with the idea to have a dinner that recognized some of the culinary traditions of both his tribe and those of other Natives at Princeton. The team now works with the student group Natives at Princeton to build a menu that continues to reflect the changing makeup of Princeton’s Native population.

“It’s been humbling to work so closely with Natives at Princeton and to honor and experience their culture and traditions,” says Gierisch. “Everything that is harvested is put to good use. Each different crop has a story and purpose. All of the food connects back to the earth that it came from.”

To increase the authenticity of the meals, Gierisch started sourcing ingredients from Ramona Farms in the Gila River Indian Community in Arizona, a connection that was established by Bird, who is from the area. This farm grows traditional Native American crops, including corn, chili peppers, various squash and gourds, Pima wheat, and tepary beans, using traditional harvesting methods. These ingredients were used in dishes including fry bread; poshol, a mix of corn and beans; and three sisters salad, a mix of the three main crops of many Native diets—winter squash, corn, and climbing beans.

At Forbes College, Native American cuisine was on display during the biannual flexitarian dinner. The word "flexitarian" is a combination of the words “flexible” and “vegetarian,” two words that reflect the nature of this diet. Flexitarians eat primarily plant-based foods, with an emphasis on whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, and occasionally smaller portions of meat.

students at a buffet line

Students enjoy plant-forward dishes at the flexitarian dinner in Forbes College in November.

The flexitarian dinner featured an abundance of plant-based options and also featured many of the recipes that Natives at Princeton shared with the culinary team.

The flexitarian dinner also served as a reminder of the importance of sustainability in the human diet. Fruits, vegetables and grains have a far lighter environmental impact than animal products do. Therefore, vegan and vegetarian options were on display. Yet, with inclusivity an important goal, the dinner had options for every type of eater.

During Thanksgiving dinners in the Rockefeller and Mathey dining halls, the team also incorporated the Native American recipes in an effort to commemorate the origins of the Thanksgiving holiday.

Prospect House also acknowledged the heritage months, welcoming two guest chefs who shared their recipes and backgrounds with the Princeton staff and faculty.

In October, Alejandro Cortez from the Guggenheim Museum hosted a three-course lunch in the Garden Room. Cortez shared that he remains inspired by his Mexican-born mother’s love for food and respect for traditional techniques, nurtured by summer trips to Mexico tending to the family farm and cooking the old-fashioned way.

In November, Freddie Bitsoie from the Mitsitam Café at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American India also hosted a lunch. Chef Bitsoie is one of a few Native American chefs at the forefront of preparing, presenting, and educating about foods indigenous to the Americas. He has been featured in America, The Cookbook, The New York Times, “Lidia Celebrates America” with Lidia Bastianich, and NPR.

Both guest chefs met with Campus Dining's Culinary Council to discuss their dishes and share insights into their culinary approaches.

people in a room talking to each other

Alejandro Cortez from the Guggenheim Museum (far left) discusses his dishes with Campus Dining team members.