Twin Cities Food Syllabus

Indigenous Food Systems (John Little)

The Twin Cities is located on and near the traditional homelands of the Dakota and Ojibwe Tribes. Due to a federal relocation program in the 1950s to the 1970s, there is a significant urban Indian population in the Twin Cities area. As a result, the Twin Cities has a variety of Indigenous food systems, programs, and even two restaurants. Native people have struggled to maintain control of their traditional Indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing, which have been in use for centuries and which connected them to this place. In particular, researchers, including individuals from the University of Minnesota, have encroached on and sometimes appropriated, wild rice and other Indigenous food sources. More recently, scholars have documented Native resistance to settler colonial food systems. As part of that resistance, Native people have begun to open up their own restaurants, offering decolonized meals. Nevertheless, as Native chefs and entrepreneurs become more recognized, their resistance is often problematically romanticized. 

Elizabeth Hoover, “We’re not going to be guinea pigs;” Citizen Science and environmental health in a Native American community. JCOM: Journal of Science Communication, 14(1), JCOM: Journal of Science Communication, 2016.

Amanda Raster and Christina Gish Hill. “The Dispute over Wild Rice: An Investigation of Treaty Agreements and Ojibwe Food Sovereignty.” Agriculture and Human Values34, no. 2 (2016): 267-81.

Dana Vantrease. “Commod Bods and Frybread Power: Government Food Aid in American Indian Culture.” Journal of American Folklore126, no. 499 (2013): 55-69.

Lynn Armitage. “Sioux Chef Has a Plan: Introduce Traditional Native Cuisine One Region at a Time,” Indian Country Today, 1 September 2016.

Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl, “Sioux Chef Lands A First Home: Water Works,” Foodie: The food & and dining blog, 15 September 2017.

Indigenous Twin Cities Resources: 

Dream of Wild Health

Wozupi Tribal Gardens

Sioux Chef

Racial Geography of the Twin Cities (Hannah Ramer)

As a state, Minnesota has some of the worst racial disparities in the country in terms of income, poverty, home ownership, and education. This inequality is inscribed on the landscape, visible in neighborhoods that are largely segregated by race and class. Spatial inequality in Minneapolis-St. Paul has been shaped and enforced both by state actions – such as racial covenants in property deeds, federal redlining, the siting of interstate highways, and exclusionary zoning – as well as through individual and mob harassment and violence.  Spatialized racial inequality shapes how racialized bodies are able (or unable) to grow, acquire, cook and eat food, and the challenges that some persons encounter when navigating urban space to do so. These readings touch on the deep roots and persistence of spatialized racial inequality in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and the possibilities for alternative food practices to both challenge and perpetuate racial inequality.

Historic Home Owner’s Loan Corporation Neighborhood Appraisal Map 

Mapping Prejudice —

Rondo Neighborhood in St. Paul

Anderson, Elijah (2004) “The Cosmopolitan Canopy” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.595: September, 14-31. 

Slocum (2008) “Thinking race through corporeal feminist theory: divisions and intimacies at the Minneapolis Farmers Market.” Social & Cultural Geography. 9:8, 849-869. 

Alkon. A.H. and C. G. McCullen. (2010) “Whiteness and Farmers Markets: Performances, Perpetuations…Contestations?” Antipode. 43:4, 937-959. 

Slocum (2007) “Whiteness, space and alternative food practice.” Geoform. 38:3, 520-533.

Rethinking Food Deserts, Food Sovereignty and Food Justice 

Minneapolis and Saint Paul contain several neighborhoods that have been labeled “food deserts” –areas without places to buy fresh food.  The label “food desert” has been criticized, though, by activists and community members who point to the need for people to have control over food—not simply proximity to retail.  These readings encourage deep thinking about the role of sovereignty in food justice movements, demonstrate the need for more reliable food systems in the cities, and offer examples of some of the efforts to create anti-racist, just, urban food systems.

Kamal, Rana. (2017)  “Minnesota Among Worst States for Food Deserts.” The CW Twin Cities. Published July 23, 2017. Accessed Sept 2, 2018.

Carolyn Sachs, Feminist Food Sovereignty

Cadieux, K. Valentine and R. Slocum. (2015) “What does it meant to do food justice?” Journal of Political Ecology.22, 1-26.

Slocum, R. and K.V. Cadieux (2015) “Notes on the practice of food justice in the U.S.: understanding and confronting trauma and inequity.” Journal Political Ecology. 22, 27-52. 

Bruening, M. et al (2012) “Feeding a Family in a Recession: Food Insecurity Among Minnesota Parents” American Journal of Public Health. 102:3, 520-526.

Goldstein, M. et al “Urban Agriculture: a sixteen city survey of urban agriculture practices around the country” Turner Environmental Law Clinic, Emory Law. 

Hendrickson, et al (2006) “Fruit and vegetable access in four low-income food deserts communities in Minnesota” Agriculture and Human Values. 23:3, 371-383. 

Saadeh, Cirien. (2018) “North Minneapolis Takes Back Food Systems Land through Urban Agriculture.” Twin Cities Daily Planet. Published July 28, 2016. Accessed Sept 2, 2018.

Animals in the City (Tracey Deutsch)

Animals like goats, pigs, and chickens were present in urban backyards through the first decades of the 20th century.  Zoning and cultural changes meant urban livestock and poultry was scarce by the postwar period. Recent efforts to construct local foodsheds and to integrate sustainability into urban life have re-introduced animals into sometimes-unwelcoming spaces.

St. Paul Stockyards:

Baran, Madeleine. (2011) “Goats in Minneapolis?” The Cities: MPR News Blog. Published April 28, 2011. Accessed Sept 2, 2018.

O’Connor, Debra. “Backyard Chickens Welcome, Watchdog says, so long as Owners Follow Rules,” Pioneer Press. June 9, 2012. Accessed Sept 2, 2018.”

Trudeau, Daniel. (2006) “Politics of belonging in the construction of landscapes: place-making, boundary-drawing and exclusion” Cultural Geographies. 13: 421-443. 

Blecha, Jennifer. (2007) “Urban Life with Livestock: Performing Alternative Imaginaries through Small-Scale Urban Livestock Agriculture in the United States” Senior Thesis at University of Minnesota. 

Urban Gardening (Hannah Ramer)

Urban gardening has a long history in the Twin Cities, and gardening efforts have been undertaken for a variety of reasons: for subsistence, city beautification, education of school children, to reduce the cost of living, a sense of civic or patriotic duty, and to maintain cultural food ways.

Urban gardening is tricky to study, because while gardens are a physical presence on the landscape, they are also ephemeral.  For the most part gardens require re-planting each year and constant care over the season. On top of that, gardens are often viewed as a temporary or interim use for chronically vacant land, but not the ‘highest and best use’ in a prosperous city. So, while the desire to garden is a thread that runs throughout the region’s history, the ability to access land for growing food becomes a constant challenge as the urban population of the Twin Cities grows. Studying gardens is also difficult because – like many everyday activities – formalized and top-down gardening movements (for example, Liberty Gardens and Victory Gardens of WWI and WWII) are well represented in the archive, while gardening activities that were more individual, ad hoc, and/or conducted by groups with less social status and power are absent or not well documented.  

In City Bountiful,Lawson provides a readable, broad strokes history of urban gardening movements in the US, with vignettes of local efforts, including a few in Minneapolis. In many ways, the national story that she tells is reflected in the Twin Cities, though gardening efforts were shaped by the particular histories and contexts of the region. The rest of the readings focus on what urban gardening projects in the Twin Cities can tell us about urban gardening movements more generally. This section also includes a list of some organizations in the Twin Cities focused on urban gardening. This set of readings and links is meant as a preliminary resource to stimulate further thought and we welcome additions.

Lawson, L. (2005). City bountiful: A century of community gardening in America.Berkeley, California: University of California Press. (Minneapolis Garden Club p. 109-110).

Glasser, Ruth. (2017) “The Farm in the City in the Recent Past: Thoughts on a More Inclusive Historiography” Journal of Urban History. 1-18. 

[This article uses Waterbury Connecticut as a case study, but makes larger arguments about why urban agriculture is largely missing but closely intertwined with urban development, agriculture, and immigrant history]

Eighmey, Rae Katherine (2016) Liberty Gardens, 1917-1919.

Rae Katherine Eighmey (2005) “Food Will Win the War”: Minnesota Conservation Efforts, 1917-18. Minnesota History. Vol 59, No. 7, pp. 272-286.

Kurtz, Hilda. (2001) “Differentiating Multiple Meanings of Garden and Community.” Urban Geography. 22: April, 656-670.

Lautenschlarger, L. and C. Smith (2007) “Understanding gardening and dietary habits among youth garden program participants using Theory of Planned Behavior” Appetite. 49:1, 122-30.

Lautenschlarger, L. and C. Smith (2007) “Beliefs, knowledge, and values held by inner-city youth about gardening, nutrition, and cooking” Agriculture and Human Values.24:2, 245-258.

Collins, Jon. (2013) “Beyond the Feel-Good of Urban Agriculture” Walker Art Center Magazine Accessed Aug 31, 2018.

Lang, Ursula. (2014) “Cultivating the sustainable city: urban agriculture policies and gardening projects in Minneapolis”. Urban Geography. 35:4, 37-41.

Youth Farm– several sites in St. Paul and Minneapolis

Dream of Wild Health– St. Paul/Minneapolis + Hugo

Urban Farm and Garden Alliance – Rondo/Summit-U area of St. Paul

Frogtown Farms– Frogtown neighborhood of St. Paul

Appetite for ChangeNorthside Fresh– North Minneapolis

Project Sweetie Pie– North Minneapolis

NoMi Roots – North Minneapolis

Growing Lots Urban Farm– Seward neighborhood of North Minneapolis

Tamales y Bicicletas– East Phillips in Minneapolis

Home Community – urban gardens– South Minneapolis

Mashkiki Gitigan– Phillips in Minneapolis

Immigration and Farm Labor (Simi Kang)

Sin Fronteras (immigrant food and food sovereignty) “Growing Organic food Sin Fronteras,” New York TimesApril 25 2016 and Farmer to Farmer podcast featuring Eduardo Rivera

Seth Holmes, Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies

Minnesota Food Association

Hmong American Farmers Association

Labor along the food chain – forts, factories, restaurants, and retail  (James McElroy)

The physical and mental exertion of food production, procurement, preparation, delivery, and disposal, in the Twin Cities as elsewhere, is unevenly distributed.  The labor put into the food around us is often underappreciated in our day-to-day interactions, and historiography has played a part in rendering food work and food workers distant or invisible. 

Take the public commemoration of Minneapolis’ history of industry processing.  Read an overview of the growth of the flour mill industry in the city “Minneapolis Flour Milling Boom,”, Then, consider William Milliken’s 2012 critique of the Mill City Museum, “Where’s the Working Class at the Mill City Museum?”, and the lack of attention given to the people who made those city-defining mills go.

Millikan has written an insightful monograph that demonstrates that the power of organized workers early in the twentieth century was such that employers, including the prominent flour mills, founded associations that responded with increasingly violent and repressive measures to roll back the power of trade unions in Minnesota.

More recent scholarship on the history of work involving food cultivation, processing, and sale in and around the state of Minnesota at the end of the nineteenth and into the twentieth has made visible groups that had been marginalized in earlier moments of labor historiography.  Crucially, this work expands our conception of who, historically, are the “working class.”

Around the turn of the 20thcentury, Minnesota’s sugar beet industry attracted migrant workers, including those from the U.S. South and Mexico.  Many workers would leave the unsteady, precarious, and psychically-demanding agricultural work for wage work in industrializing urban centers in the Midwest. 

Recent scholarship has challenged colonial claims of sovereignty in and around Minnesota by incorporated indigenous food procurement into a framework of labor that amends the institutional exclusion of Native actors from histories of work and labor.

Systems of unfree labor introduced by European settlers in what would become the Twin Cities date to at least the founding of Fort Snelling in the 1820s. Racial slavery in the Northwest Territory, while not effecting plantation production as in the U.S. South and the Caribbean, undergirded the status of white settlers, soldiers, and travelers who utilized the bounded legal status of others to garner aspirational and material security right up to the start of the Civil War.  Work on the history of enslaved persons at Fort Snelling is still emerging, but it does not require much historical imagination to conceive that the work of unfree servants included bringing food in from the field and preparing it in the base, particularly since it is believed that a kitchen below a master’s quarters was at one time used as a dwelling for enslaved people. 

Historian Tracey Deutsch reminds us that our contemporary retail spaces are places of work not just for store employees but for shoppers as well.  To understand why grocery stores appear and operate as they do, one must look to the historical work of food procurement done by women and how grocers and policymakers responded to those activities over time.  This is true for Twin Cities’ numerous co-ops, independent grocers, and conventional supermarkets.

In our contemporary moment, paid work within the food chain has not always meant protections for illness and child care, the stability to actualize personal and familial goals, or a living wage.  Author Barbara Ehrenreich’s 2001 book Nickel and Dimedin part documents the precarious housing and living arrangements in addition to the survival strategies of those getting by in the low-wage economy in the Twin Cities.

The inadequacy of jobs in food service, retail, and production has galvanized movements of workers.  Recently, the effects of that mobilization have been reforms to minimum wage laws in the Twin Cities.   

“Fast food Workers Strike and Rally on Labor Day in St. Paul for $15 Minimum Wage”

Follow the ongoing efforts of Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en la Lucha (CTUL)

The upshot of the historical separation of labor from the story of food is undervalued –or unvalued – work around food.  More attention paid to the labor along the food chain might germinate a rethinking of those systems of value and a recognition of potential and potent alliances working to materialize a change of direction regarding human work and the work of food in the Twin Cities and beyond.

William Millikan, A Union against Unions: The Minneapolis Citizens Alliance and Its Fight against Organized Labor, 1903-1947. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2001.

Zargosa Vargas, Proletarians of the North: A History of Mexican Industrial Workers in Detroit and the Midwest, 1917-1933. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

Chantal Norrgard, Seasons of Change: Labor, Treaty Rights, and Ojibwe Nationhood, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014.

“The African American Experience in Early Minnesota,” in Incarceration in the Archive, a student-produced digital exhibit and resource guide focusing on unfreedom in the history of Minnesota. Credit to Stefanie Kowalczyk.

William D. Green, “Eliza Winston and the Politics of Freedom in Minnesota, 1854-60,” Minnesota History57, no. 3 (2000): 106-22.

Christopher P. Lehman, Slavery in the Upper Mississippi Valley, 1787-1865: A History of Human Bondage in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2011.

Shannon Prather, “Fort Snelling Story Widens with Stories of Slavery,” Star-Tribune, August 1, 2018.

Mary Wingerd, North Country: The Making of Minnesota, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010.

Tracey Deutsch, Building a Housewife’s Paradise: Gender, Politics, and American Grocery Stores in the Twentieth Century. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010.

Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (not) Getting by in America. 1st ed. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2001.

Food Co-ops (Tracey Deutsch)

Minnesota has long been a leader in cooperative enterprises.  It is home to large agricultural coops as well as smaller consumer coops.  The history of coops is not terribly well documented, in spite of their importance in social movements, immigrant communities, and many people’s everyday lives.  The information here is weighted towards the 1970s, although consumer coops existed much earlier.

These readings reference an infamous moment in Twin Cities history, the “coop wars” of the 1970s, in which some coops attempted to exert central control over their own members and to use warehouses and other resources. Many coops resisted and worked to maintain decentralized and more democratic structures.  This relatively small moment in the history of cooperation generated a lot of writing; we encourage you to add to this list and to include other sources as you find them.

Phil Anderson, “Flour Power: People’s Company Bakery,” Minnesota History(Summer 2014)

“Seward Co-op and the Co-op Wars” Collection Finding Aid and Historical Note. Minnesota Historical Society. Accessed Sept 2, 2018.

Collins, Jon. “When Twin Cities co-ops went to war over margarine” (2014) The Cities: MPR News blog. Published Mar 24, 2014. Accessed Sept 2, 2018. 

Lindeke, Bill. “The Seward Friendship Store sparks return of the co-op war” (2015) Twin Cities Daily Planet. Published July 10, 2015. Accessed Sept 2, 2018. 

Food and Art (Nick Williams)

With as many museums and cultural institutions as are in the Twin Cities, it makes sense that some of them would explore the aesthetics and meaning of food. The links below will take you to photos and essays by the Minneapolis Institute of Art and the Walker Art Center. Together, they speak to the very different forms that cooking and eating can take: efficient, experimental, communal, and even a half-mile-long dinner table in the middle of Victoria Street in Frogtown. For all of these readings “Art” is meant to be expansive; it speaks to the expressive and communal aspects of food perhaps above all else.

Also included here are several blog posts meditating on arts events that took place in Minneapolis and the larger questions they raise about food in public life. These events were about creative expression, writing, and performance, and about the possibility for food to be a way to be vulnerable in public.

The Frankfurt Kitchen

The Walker Kitchen Lab

Seitu Jones and The Community Meal

“Reclaiming Our Food” at The Loft Literary Center (March 2017)

Soul Food Monologues, UMN-Morris (March 2017)

Soul Food Monologues, Hook & Ladder Theater, Minneapolis (August 2017)

Food and Agricultural Science (Nick Williams)

The Twin Cities has been a hub of agricultural science since their founding thanks to the presence of a land-grant university –promoting  scientific research in agriculture –and programs like the Extension Service and 4-H.  This section’s gravitational center is the University of Minnesota. 

The first set of readings speak to these histories of science and agriculture, both in Minnesota and elsewhere, as well as the more problematic parts of these histories. The most striking—and dangerous—part of these histories is the ease with which agricultural scientists and plant breeders moved from selecting ideal traits in plants to selecting ideal traits in humans, using the same logic they used to intentionally breed specific plant traits to openly support eugenics.

The second set of readings explore the famous starvation experiment at the UMN during WWII, in which conscientious objectors volunteered to starve themselves so scientists could study the effects of prolonged starvation and rehabilitation.

Agricultural Science, Plant Breeding, and Eugenics

  • Colin R. Johnson, Just Queer Folks: Gender and Sexuality in Rural America(Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2013)
  • Gabriel N. Rosenberg, The 4-H Harvest: Sexuality and the State in Rural America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016).
  • Jack Ralph Kloppenburg, First the Seed: The Political Economy of Plant Biotechnology, 1492-2000, 2nd ed. (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2004)
  • Barbara A. Kimmelman, “The American Breeders’ Association: Genetics and Eugenics in an Agricultural Context, 1903-1913.” Social Studies of Science vol. 13 (1983).

University of Minnesota Starvation Experiment:

Foodways and Immigration in the Twins Cities (James McElroy)

From the groundswell of historical work published over the last two decades on migrant foodways and cuisines-in-transit – a body of scholarship that is rich in both description and theory – we can better appreciate how integral food has been for community preservation, identity formation, adaptation, and survival.  Examining the foodways of migrant and diasporic people and the cultural meanings behind what is eaten within these communities has allowed scholars to challenge popular historical memory and tell unexpected stories.  A non-exhaustive list of some works that stand out include in this regard includes: 

Yong Chen,Chop Suey, USA the Story of Chinese Food in America, New York: Columbia

University Press, 2014.

Hasia R. Diner, Hungering for America: Italian, Irish, and Jewish Foodways in the Age of

Migration, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001.

Marcie Cohen Ferris, Matzoh Ball Gumbo: Culinary Tales of the Jewish South, Chapel Hill,

N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 2005.

Adrian Miller, Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time,

Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013.

Frederick Douglass Opie, Hog and Hominy: Soul Food from Africa to America, New York:

Columbia University Press, 2008.

Alongside the academic literature, memoirs and cookbooks produced by diasporic communities not only reflect the importance of shared meals to familial and communal ties, but, in their dissemination, can themselves be repositories of knowledge that retain and circulate strategies of adaptation and survival, both past and current.  Home to many historical migrant and diasporic communities, the Twin Cities are full of chronicles that highlight the centrality of food culture for groups of people who have journeyed across continents and oceans to settle in large numbers in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

Two thoughtful and inspiring memoirs remind us that food can be key to sustaining connections across great distances and serve as a node around which survival and adaptation strategies coalesce.  In Evelyn Fairbanks’ memoir recalling the once thriving Rondo community of St. Paul, food practices attend familial, religious, and community-sustaining activities over the course of the narrative, whether it was traditional Sunday dinners, fishing the Mississippi River, or packing a picnic basket for a train ride to Georgia to visit relatives.  In The Days of Rondo, food stories illuminate the multigenerational experiences of the Great Migration in the Twin Cities.

Kao Kalia Yang’s The Latehomecomeris a personal memoir recalling the experiences of a Hmong family’s journey as refugees from Southeast Asia due to the intervention of the U.S. military to settlement in the Twin Cities.  At several junctures, the story documents how negotiations around food proved defining not only for the survival of Yang’s family, but for the transformations of identity and belonging taking place.  After arriving in Minnesota, meals mark the spawning of a new American identity, as when pizza is ordered to celebrate the move into a new home, but also persistence through the combination of old comforts with newer favorites, as when Kao helps to arrange a meal for her ill grandmother – fawm kauv with a bottle of Sunny Delight:

Evelyn Fairbanks, The Days of Rondo. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Press, 1990.

Kao Kalia Yang, The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir, Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 2008.

A recently published cookbook makes clear that adaptations in cuisine continue apace in the Twin Cities.  A collection of Somali and Somali-American students, with the help of the Wariyaa program organized by the Minnesota Historical Society, have produced a culinary guide to preparing heritage staples while incorporating the modifications necessary due to the climate of Minnesota and ingredients’ varying availability:

Wariyaa, Soo Fariista/Come Sit Down: A Somali American Cookbook, St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2018.

Now taking place, from June 23, 2018—June 9 2019, is “Somalis + Minnesota”, an exhibit on Somali history and culture at the Minnesota History Center in the 3rdFloor Gallery.

Minnesota History Center

345 W. Kellogg Blvd.

St. Paul, MN 55102