For Slow Food USA’s second annual network-wide read-along, the Slow Books curators chose Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. The read-along is ongoing through November, and to participate is as simple as picking up a copy for yourself to read on your own. But we also invite you to create a discussion group in your own community! The curator team hosted a facilitator training to help you lead your own reading group, provided a discussion guide, and have put together a virtual toolkit as well.
Slow Books is committed to sharing writing that inspires thought and discussion about diverse food cultures, historical foodways, food justice, and the joy of eating. While we typically use the compass of “good, clean and fair food for all” to guide these insights, the themes of Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass‘ mirror many of the values engrained in that directive, making it a natural pick for our second network-wide read. Read on to learn more about why Slow Books curators Cedar, Katie, Margaret and Tammy chose Braiding Sweetgrass.
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.
It was important for us to choose this book as a network-wide read because of how intersectional its message is with the ideals of Slow Food values. Kimmerer advises us to look towards plants to gain universal knowledge about not just how things grow and thrive but on how to live. She presents these fascinating intersections between science and Indigenous wisdom and illustrates how they are “braided’ and interwoven together. Having reciprocity and reverence for nature is directly related to the Slow Food value of obtaining joy and pleasure from food, whether through nourishment or through those you gather with to eat and break bread with.
I think if you are interested in food and where the food on your plate comes from; and whether or not the person harvesting that crop was fairly paid; and if the crop was produced in a way that is kind to the environment; all of these concerns relate back to how things exist in nature and whether our human interaction is presented in a way that is helping or hurting. Further, given that we are living in a time where most of us are choosing to reckon with our country’s complicated past, Kimmerer’s work is invaluable in that she is passing on indigenous wisdom through the printed pages of her book and sharing that voice with the world.
Braiding Sweetgrass offers a window and a welcome to indigenous culture that does not play off of stereotypes or confirm the notions that I grew up with from the popular images on 1970s TV and film. Rather, this makes real the suffering while also offering up the hope and wisdom that our foodways and our ecologies need right now.
The intersectionality of food and climate, food and culture is timely but also timeless. I loved the combination of storytelling and science which made the lessons accessible, actionable and inspiring. The fact that not every step was a conscious one, such as the pouring of the first coffee while camping, made the book all the more humane and compelling. I hope that we can find a way to follow in the footsteps of Robin Wall Kimmerer, to support the efforts underway and to forge a path for better food, climate and culture.
Braiding Sweetgrass came to me highly recommended by a local farmer and had just generally been on my radar. Reading Ibram X. Kendi’s How to be an Antiracist for the 2020 Slow Books network-ride read prompted me to wonder what other books out there might be pertinent to the region of the country I am in. Additionally, one of the Slow Food USA chapters contacted Slow Books to ask us if we had created any discussion materials for it!
Want to start reading the book or create a book club in your Slow Food network? Get your copy of Braiding Sweetgrass at a discount from the publisher, Milkweed Editions. The code SLOWFOODUSA gets you $5 off the paperback or the hardcover special edition, and the code SLOWFOODUSAEBOOK gets you $2 off the eBook. Want to order a bulk, discounted supply of Braiding Sweetgrass for your book club, school or library? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll be in touch!