2021 Network-Wide Read-Along syllabus for Braiding Sweetgrass
provided by Slow Food USA’s Slow Books team
Virtual book club toolkit
Our Slow Books curators have created a comprehensive guide on how to host a virtual book club. Review it to learn some tips on how to host a meaningful book club discussion!
The 2021 Slow Food USA Network-Wide Read-Along is Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants
by Robin Wall Kimmerer.
As Slow Books Curator Cedar Schimke (Slow Food Minnesota) puts it, “When we talk about the culture of food we tend to do it through a lens and with an ideology that goes unseen at worst, unexamined at best. In one fell swoop, Robin Wall Kimmerer shows us a different way of being in relationship with food. And in showing us that each fruit on an apple tree or kernel of corn has its own personality, she automatically highlights the transactional void left by a food system steeped in mainstream, capitalist, patriarchal values. This is a book that warms the heart and the belly. It is as full of grief as it is of triumph—a story of radiance, relationship, and wholeness.”
Publisher’s Website: https://milkweed.org/book/braiding-sweetgrass
Author’s Website: https://www.robinwallkimmerer.com/
Purchase the audio book
Purchase the book from the “Slow Books” Bookshop
Purchase the e-book
Reading & Discussion Guides
(Sample questions also below.)
Interviews, Podcasts & Profiles
Book Riot Book List – List of books about sustainability & environment
Center for Native Peoples and the Environment – Robin Wall Kimmerer is the creator
Emergence Magazine “An Economy of Abundance” – Essay about harvesting serviceberries by Robin Wall Kimmerer (audio transcription of story available)
Kinship Book Series – New publication edited by RWK, among others
How Does “Braiding Sweetgrass” Relate to the Slow Food Movement?
“But imagine the possibilities. Imagine the access we would have to different perspectives, the things we might see through other eyes, the wisdom that surrounds us. We don’t have to figure out everything by ourselves: there are intelligences other than our own, teachers all around us. Imagine how much less lonely the world would be.”
-page 58, “Learning the Grammar of Animacy”
The above quote speaks to the idea of inclusion and inviting diverse perspectives to the table. This is something that the Slow Food Network is actively working on, in an attempt to center equity, inclusion and justice. Take stock. How are we doing? What are we doing well? What could we do better? Are we listening to the “wisdom that surrounds us?” How is your local chapter/community engaging in this work to lean on “intelligences other than our own?”
The Chapter titled “Allegiance to Gratitude” references making the idea of “reflection” less foreign and intercepts the chapters narrative with quotes from the Thanksgiving Address in Onondaga (or, the Words That Come Before All Else). In the following quote, could “Thanksgiving Address” be interchangeable with the “Slow Food Movement?” Why or why not? How does the “Slow Food” ethos encourage us to have gratitude for stewards of the land, those who grow/pick/distribute our food, and others throughout the food chain from (growing in the) earth to (arriving on our) plate?
“You can’t listen to the Thanksgiving Address without feeling wealthy. And, while expressing gratitude seems innocent enough, contentment is a radical proposition. Recognizing abundance rather than scarcity undermines an economy that thrives by creating unmet desires. Gratitude cultivates an ethic of fullness, but the economy needs emptiness. The Thanksgiving Address reminds you that you already have everything you need. Gratitude doesn’t send you out shopping to find satisfaction; it comes as a gift rather than a commodity, subverting the foundation of the whole economy. That’s good medicine for land and people alike.”
-page 111, “Allegiance to Gratitude”
“The Three Sisters offer us a new metaphor for an emerging relationship between Indigenous knowledge and Western science, both of which are rooted in the earth. I think of the corn as traditional ecological knowledge, the physical and spiritual framework that can guide the curious bean of science, which twines like a double helix. The squash creates the ethical habitat for coexistence and mutual flourishing. I envision a time when the intellectual monoculture of science will be replaced with a polyculture of complementary knowledges. And so all may be fed.” (page 139) Kimmerer believes both Indigenous knowledge and Western science can coexist, and help each other flourish, like the Three Sisters. Do you agree? This also reiterates the idea that humans can learn from plants (including food-producing plants). How can (or do) we as “members” not only of the Slow Food movement but as inhabitants of the earth, express our gratitude and responsibility for the gifts of the land? What about the gifts of Indigenous wisdom? What offerings can we give in return? This goes back to the idea of reciprocity – how does the Slow Food movement encourage reciprocity? How does the transparency of learning about where your food comes from incite this kind of gratitude?
“You can tell they are sisters: one twines easily around the other in relaxed embrace while the sweet baby sister lolls at their feet, close, but not too close – cooperating, not competing. […] The firstborn girl knows that she is clearly in charge; tall and direct, upright and efficient, she creates the template for everyone else to follow. That’s the corn sister. […] …the middle sister is likely to adapt in different ways. This bean girl learns to be flexible, adaptable, to find a way around the dominant structure to get the light that she needs. This sweet baby sister is free to choose a different path, as expectations have already been fulfilled. Well grounded, she has nothing to prove and finds her own way, a way that contributes to the good of the whole.”
-page 133, “The Three Sisters”
“‘If we use a plant respectfully it will stay with us and flourish. If we ignore it, it will go away. If you don’t give it respect it will leave us.’” -Lena (page 157) This statement almost mirrors the Slow Food initiative of the “Ark of Taste” and the ethos “eat them to save them.” How does eating a plant show it respect and encourage its proliferation/growth?
*(See also page 162 – criticism that harvesting a plant will damage the population, however, “the surprise was that failing plots were not the harvested ones, but the unharvested controls. […] Picking sweetgrass seemed to actually stimulate growth.”)
The chapter titled “The Honorable Harvest” seems to relate this idea of moving towards more sustainable meat production and prioritizing (as consumers) animals that are raised for consumption as having “one bad day.” Is it possible to have respect for an animal and its life when it is in essence being raised to be slaughtered? “These animals will die by his hand, but first they will live well, in part by his hand.” (page 194) Are we playing “god” by being a society that continues to eat meat on such a commercial scale? How are campaigns like “meatless Monday” and buying from independent family farms and butchers part of the solution? Additionally, we often say “vote with your fork.” Kimmerer is referencing this concept when she says “We can use our dollars as the indirect currency of reciprocity.” (page 195) After reading this chapter/book, are there ways you will seek to “vote” with your dollars for systems that encourage reciprocity? (i.e. will your actions change – spending more money at co-ops, farmers markets, CSA’s etc?)
“‘A writer who practices the art of forestry and writes in trees. The practice of forestry may be changing, but I am unaware of any instances where proficiency in the arts is sought as a professional qualification by timber companies or schools of forestry. Perhaps that is what we need. Artists as foresters.’”
-Franz Dolp, page 290, “Old-Growth Children”
This quote is a reminder that there is an artistry involved in the act of living as well as in the act of advocating for change. As Slow Food advocates, how does artistry intersect with the work that we do, as a movement or as an individual? Slow Food was founded by a collective of activists, artisans and passionate cooks, among others, and encourages an appreciation of the pleasure we find in enjoying food, and enjoy it amongst the company of others. In essence, encouraging us to relish in the fact that all these things are connected – food, pleasure, reciprocity. Isn’t this similar to offering gratitude towards a crop for the bounty it offers? Or thanking a tree for the shade it provides, as well as the home it sustains for countless other living creatures?
“Despair is paralysis. It robs us of agency. […] It’s not enough to grieve. It’s not enough to just stop doing bad things.” (page 328, “The Sacred and the Superfund”)
There is a quote from Carlo Petrini that mimics this sentiment, it says “If you want to change the world, don’t do it with sadness, do it with joy!” How can we work to center joy as well as inclusion in our work moving forward? How do we keep potential members from feeling too overwhelmed to get started and take action? As one Slow Food Leader (Jim Embry) put it in an address at the 2019 Slow Food Nations, how do we become “Snails on Skateboards” – speeding up the progress, while still being mindful of sustainability, stamina, sanity?
Suggested Further Read, Watch, Listen Guide
9780593109649 – Children’s Picture Book
Archer, Micha. “Wonder Walkers.” New York, NY: Nancy Paulsen Books, 2021. Print.
9781524860929 – Children’s Activity Book
Bell, Lucy. “You Can Change the World: The Kids’ Guide to a Better Planet.” Kansas City, MO: Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2020. Print.
9788469865965 – Children’s Activity Book (Spanish Edition)
Bell, Lucy. “Tú Puedes Cambiar El Mundo: Guía Para Ayudar a Salvar El Planeta.” Madrid, Spain: Anaya, 2020. Print.
9780688115609 – Adult Non-Fiction
Bierhorst, John. “The Way of the Earth: Native America and the Environment.” New York, NY: Morrow, 1994. Print.
9780593326213 – Middle Grade
Bruchac, Joseph. “Rez Dogs.” New York, NY: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2021. Print.
9781566560412 – Children’s Picture Book
Campbell, Nicola I. “A Day With Yayah.” Northampton, MA: Crocodile Books, 2018. Print.
9781897476895 – Children’s Picture Book
Cook, Earl N. “Wild Berries: Pikaci-Minisa.” Vancouver, BC: Simply Read Books, 2013. Print.
9780807028360 – Non-Fiction
Gilio-Whitaker, Dina. “As Long As Green Grass Grows: The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice, from Colonization to Standing Rock.” Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2019. Print
9780941532778 – YA Folklore
Goble, Paul. “All Our Relatives: Traditional Native American Thoughts About Nature.” Bloomington, IN: World Wisdom, 2oo5. Print.
9780884487609 – Children’s Picture Book
Greenlaw, Suzanne. “The First Blade of Sweetgrass: A Native American Story.” Thomaston, ME: Tilbury House Publishers, 2021. Print.
9781517902223 – Non-Fiction
Larsen, Soren C. “Being Together in Place: Indigenous Coexistence in a More Than Human World.” Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2017. Print.
9780807049396 – YA Non-Fiction
Mendoza, Jean and Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. “An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People.” Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2019. Print.
9780806163215 – Non-Fiction
Mihesuah, Devon A. and Elizabeth Hoover, ed. “Indigenous Food Sovereignty in the United States: Restoring Cultural Knowledge, Protecting Environments, and Regaining Health.” Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2019. Print.
9780816522590 – Non-Fiction
Nabhan, Gary Paul. “Enduring Seeds: Native American Agriculture and Wild Plant Conservation.” San Francisco, CA: North Point Press, 1989. Print.
9781610919197 – Non-Fiction
Nabhan, Gary Paul. “Food From the Radical Center: Healing Our Land and Communities.” Washington, DC: Island Press, 2018. Print.
9781571313652 – Non-Fiction
Nezhukumatathil, Aimee. “World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments.” Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions, 2020. Print.
9781324001683 – Non-Fiction
Nijhuis, Michelle. “Beloved Beasts: Fighting for Life in an Age of Extinction.” New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 2021. Print
9780393356687 – Fiction
Powers, Richard. “The Overstory.” New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 2018. Print.
9780399589720 – Non-Fiction
Redniss, Lauren. “Oak Flat: A Fight for Sacred Land in the American West.” New York, NY: Random House, 2020. Print.
9780525510314 – Non-Fiction
Sheldrake, Merlin. “Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures.” New York, NY: Random House, 2020. Print.
9780316279291 – Non-Fiction
Thomas, Leah. “The Intersectional Environmentalist: How to Dismantle Systems of Oppression to Protect People + Planet.” Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company, 2022. Print.
(Available for pre-order, publishing 3/8/2022.)
9781646140459 – YA Non-Fiction
Treuer, Anton. “Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask: Young Readers Edition.” Montclair, NJ: Levine Querido, 2021. Print.
9781594633157 – Non-Fiction
Treuer, David. “The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to Present.” New York, NY: Riverhead Books, 2019. Print.
9781555916374 – Non-Fiction
Wildcat, Daniel R. “Red Alert!: Saving the Planet with Indigenous Knowledge.” Golden, CO: Fulcrum, 2009. Print.
9781571311375 – Fiction
Wilson, Diane. “The Seed Keeper: A Novel.” Minneapolis, MN : Milkweed Editions, 2021. Print.
97808735157652 – Biography
Wilson, Diane. “Spirit Car: Journey to a Dakota Past.” St. Paul, MN: Borealis Books, 2006. Print.
9781771642484 – Non-Fiction
Wohlleben, Peter. “The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate: Discoveries from a Secret World.” Vancouver, BC: Greystone Books, 2016. Print.
Atlas Obscura: “How to Stock Your Pantry With Native American Foods From Across the Continent.” August 13, 2021.
Atlas Obscura: “Reagan Wytsalucy is Restoring Native American Peaches to the Southwest” July 28, 2021.
Black Culinary History: “High on the Hog Reader”
Civil Eats: “20 Solutions-Focused Food and Agriculture Stories for your Summer Inspiration.” August 2, 2021.
Modern Farmer. “Indian Farmers are Producing Apples Where They Never Grew Before.” August 16, 2021.
PBS News Hour : “Drought Reignites Decades-Old Conflict Between Oregon Ranchers, Indigenous Peoples.” August 2, 2021.
Gather (How to Watch)
High On the Hog (Netflix)
Minari (How to Watch)
BBC News World Service, The Food Chain Podcast, “Sean Sherman: My Life in Five Dishes.” Aired August 30, 2021.
Heritage Radio Network, Speaking Broadly Podcast, “Indigenous Wisdom from the Kitchen: Felicia Ruiz.” Aired March 8, 2021.
Whetstone Magazine, Point of Origin Podcast, “Indigenous Foodways: The Decolonized Diet.” Aired May 5, 2020.