Chef Brian Yazzie normally spends his days traveling around the country as a food consultant and private chef; working with restaurants, hosting pop up dinners, catering events, filming instructional videos, and promoting local indigenous ingredients. These days he finds himself closer to home, now working to support a community of local Indigenous elders in South Minnesota during the COVID-19 crisis by cooking and delivering daily meals. The project is aptly named #FeedingOurElders.
Yazzie, originally from the northern area of the Navajo Nation in Arizona, has become a prominent name in a slowly widening acknowledgment of Indigenous cuisines within more ‘mainstream’ outlets in America. Amongst him are chefs like James Beard winner Sean Sherman (The Sioux Chef), Ray Naranjo (Head Chef of Pueblo Harvest), permaculture expert and author Roxanne Swentzell (The Pueblo Food Experience) and radio producer and podcast host Andi Murphy (Toasted Sister), who are using their voices and knowledge to help bridge the gap between Indigenous foodways, ancestral knowledge, and modern life. Their collective goal is to help raise the appreciation and recognition of a wide variety of Indigenous cuisines, whilst improving the health within these still largely underserved and underrepresented communities.
Yazzie works alongside a team community volunteers; staff from the temporarily-closed Gatherings Café and an exceptional volunteer baker named Vanessa Casillas (from Ho-Chunk Nation) out of the Minneapolis American Indian Center kitchen to prepare and deliver 100-120 meals each day, five days a week. They have now served over 2,200 meals over the course of the last four weeks, and are nowhere near done yet. Whilst the work is partially funded by a grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield MN, #FeedingOurElders is reliant on donations of labor, funds, and ingredients to fill in the remaining gaps.
“Indigenous peoples have always been put on the back burners, especially during these trying times. As an Indigenous Chef, I have to focus on my community and make moves” says Yazzie.
The team has spent the last month cooking and delivering daily freshly-made, nutritious meals largely based on an Indigenous (pre-European) diet, to communities of isolated older Indigenous residents of South Minneapolis. Medicinal herbs and teas are also included whenever there is enough supply. Though they are currently only serving elders in South Minneapolis are, Yazzie and his colleagues are working even harder to bring the community resources together in order to extend and expand their efforts to St. Paul in the coming weeks.
Chef Yazzie is no stranger to feeding vulnerable groups in times of crisis, having helped lead a mobile kitchen at Standing Rock in 2016, feeding and supporting protestors working to protect water resources and sacred tribal lands and oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Today he delivers meals like Elderberry Barbecue Grilled Chicken with Jicama Coleslaw, Bison & Hominy Tacos, Turkey & Kale Salad, and Red Chile Pozole with Wild Rice & Enoki Mushrooms.
The #FeedingOurElders effort embodies the grit and fortitude of community, connection, and resilience in the face of overwhelming obstacles; a template for communities everywhere on how to work together in order to support the most vulnerable and build connection in a time of crisis.
As the grant funds run out and the need for expansion continues Yazzie and the team are welcoming public donations so they may continue to keep their community fed. You can help support #FeedingOurElders by donating through his personal PayPal account:
Contact: Brian Yazzie
*All images were provided by Brian Yazzie. Thank you, Chef!