Forget carrots and bust out the moss for Santa’s tiny reindeer!
Find out what Rudolph really wants this year
After literally traveling the world all evening long, Santa has had the opportunity to sample and see many a variety of cookie platters. By the time he arrives at your place, it is probably fair to say that he has sampled well over a million cookies. But what about his lovable companions? The ones who are pushing and flying all throughout the night, left alone on a cold roof while Santa fills up by the fire? The poor reindeer are often forgotten when it comes to Christmas Eve treats, or are given a bowl full of unappetizing carrots while Santa practically bathes in decadence.
Not to put too much pressure on you, but the poor animals are bouncing around the globe to bring your little one the best Christmas they can. You owe it to them to not only give them some stellar foods that they actually want. While we are sure if reindeer, or caribou, encountered any of the fruits or vegetables we assume they eat they wouldn’t turn their nose up. But the luxury for such fine eats do not exist in the wild often. Their palettes are much more defined than by a boring old carrot.
Take for instance mushrooms. While reindeer certainly will not request them shiitak-style, they would totally appreciate them over celery as this is what they actually encounter in the wild. If you happen to live in an area where wide open spaces are available, it could be fun to organize a foraging trip with the kids to collect reindeer food. To help you find the perfect bites, we pulled together a list of some of the foods that they love to eat. Check out what they crave in the accompanying slideshow!
The 35 Best Rhubarb Recipes For Spring
From mini hand pies to muffins and a classic crisp, there are endless ways to use rhubarb.
Spring is truly here when those signature pink stalks hit the grocery aisles. Get the most out of the short rhubarb season by starting early, preserving the extras (read more on how to freeze rhubarb below) and and making as many tasty desserts and savoury mains featuring this spring vegetable as possible (yes, it’s a vegetable, even though it’s often used like a fruit). Get inspired with our favourite rhubarb recipes, and read more about rhubarb here, including how to store it:
Akutaq – Eskimo Ice Cream History and Recipes
The native people (Indigenous People) of Alaska have a distinct version of ice cream called Akutaq (also known as Eskimo Ice Cream). It is not creamy ice cream as we know it, but a concoction made from reindeer fat or tallow, seal oil, freshly fallen snow or water, fresh berries, and sometimes ground fish. Air is whipped in by hand so that it slowly cools into foam. They call this Arctic treat akutaq (ah-goo-duck), aqutuk, ackutuk, or Eskimo ice cream. Akutaq is a Yupik word that means mix them together.
This is a delicacy that Alaska Natives have thrived on for thousands of years. This recipe was made by Natives a long, long time ago for survival and was used as a special traveling food. When hunters went out to go hunting, they brought along akutaq.
The women traditionally made Eskimo ice cream after the first catch of a polar bear or seal. The woman (grandmother or mother of the hunter) would prepare the akutaq and share it with the community members during special ceremonies.
Akutaq can also be made with moose meat and fat, caribou meat and fat, fish, seal oil, berries and other Alaskan things. Women traditionally made akutaq after the first catch of a polar bear or seal. Traditionally, it was always made for funerals, pot latches, celebrations of a boy’s first hunt, or almost any other celebration. It is eaten as a dessert, a meal, a snack, or a spread.
Today, Eskimo ice cream is usually made with Crisco shortening instead of tallow and with raisins and sugar sometimes added. The region of Alaska lived in usually determines what berry is used, and each family usually has their favorite recipe for Eskimo ice cream. It is said that your choice of berries used in making Eskimo ice cream is a lifetime decision. It is okay to eat any flavor made by others, but if you are caught making more than one kind, you will lose all social standing.
The people of the Arctic love to serve their favorite dish to cheechakos (newcomers in Alaska). When guests are willing to try their favorite foods, the Inuits feel pride at sharing their culture. At first, the host might be shy to offer any of their food for fear of rejection. If you are a guest and are offered some (you will probably be served first as a guest), at least try a small amount. Please do not express any “yucks” or other words of ridicule. If you really cannot bring yourself to eat this unusual food, accept the serving and find the oldest person in the room and offer the food to him or her. This will show that you have good manners, if not good taste, and that you respect your elders. Then quickly grab a plate and fill it with things that you can eat. Most people who try Eskimo ice cream say it is delicious!
What Gisele Bundchen And Tom Brady Really Eat In A Day
Spoiler: The list of what they don't eat is a lot longer.
If you're thinking Gisele Bundchen and Tom Brady are one of those couples that have ah-mazing bodies, yet swear they eat like, burgers and crap? Yeah, no. Think again. The genetically gifted couple's former personal chef, Allen Campbell, opened up about what the couple actually eats in a day. And he's not sugar-coating anything&mdashliterally and figuratively.
Curious what it takes to get bodies that rocking? Check out the main staples making up the power couple's organic, 80 percent vegetable, 20 percent lean meat diet. But it might be what the duo doesn't eat that's most shocking.
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OK, so this is where it gets complicated. Gisele and the kiddos eat fruit, but Tom? Not so much. According to Campbell, "he will eat bananas in a smoothie. But otherwise, he prefers not to eat fruits." Apparently Tom prefers vegetables.
But only certain veggies make the cut for Brady. Since Campbell claims that nightshades are not anti-inflammatory, he wouldn't serve the quarterback tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, or eggplants.
"Tomatoes trickle in every now and then, but maybe just once a month," Campbell says. "I'm very cautious about tomatoes. They cause inflammation."
The chef is dedicated to getting the freshest produce possible, sometimes shopping twice a day for groceries.
Gisele helps out a bit in the kitchen, making lunches for her son Benny to take to school. "She packs that herself," Campbell says. But she's also a green juice fanatic, whipping up fruit-and-vegetable drinks for herself&mdashand apparently her little ones, too&mdashbefore posting them to Instagram.
When you think of comfort food, fried chicken or chili might come to mind, but for Gisele and Tom, comfort food is quinoa, brown rice, and other whole grains.
"I'm all about serving meals in bowls. I just did this quinoa dish with wilted greens. I use kale or Swiss chard or beet greens. I add garlic, toasted in coconut oil. And then some toasted almonds, or this cashew sauce with lime curry, lemongrass, and a little bit of ginger. That's just comfort food for them," Campell said.
He's also served them raw lasagna. We're not sure what exactly that entails, but we'd like to see the recipe.
According to Gisele's Instagram posts, she starts every morning with a glass of warm water with lemon. So even her hydrating routine is miles ahead of ours.
The couple sticks to lean meats, but only eats them 20 percent of the time. Campbell's picks include grass-fed organic steak, duck (albeit rarely), chicken, and wild salmon.
The Scientific Reason Why Reindeer Have Red Noses
Some reindeer really do have red noses, a result of densely packed blood vessels near the skin’s surface. Image courtesy of Kia Krarup Hansen
In 1939, illustrator and children’s book author Robert May created Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The character was an instant hit.5 million copies of May’s booklet were circulated within a year—and in the coming decades, Rudolph’s song and stop-motion TV special cemented him in the canon of cherished Christmas lore.
Of course, the story was rooted in myth. But there’s actually more truth to it than most of us realize. A fraction of reindeer—the species of deer scientifically known as Rangifer tarandus, native to Arctic regions in Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Russia and Scandinavia—actually do have noses colored with a distinctive red hue.
Now, just in time for Christmas, a group of researchers from the Netherlands and Norway have systematically looked into the reason for this unusual coloration for the first time. Their study, published yesterday in the online medical journal BMJ, indicates that the color is due to an extremely dense array of blood vessels, packed into the nose in order to supply blood and regulate body temperature in extreme environments.
“These results highlight the intrinsic physiological properties of Rudolph’s legendary luminous red nose,” write the study’s authors. “ help to protect it from freezing during sleigh rides and to regulate the temperature of the reindeer’s brain, factors essential for flying reindeer pulling Santa Claus’s sleigh under extreme temperatures.”
Obviously, the researchers know reindeer don’t actually pull Santa Claus to deliver gifts around the world—but they do encounter a wide variation of weather conditions on an annual basis, accounting for why they might need such dense beds of capillary vessels to deliver high amounts of blood.
To come to the findings, the scientists examined the noses of two reindeer and five human volunteers with a hand-held video microscope that allowed them to see individual blood vessels and the flow of blood in real time. They discovered that the reindeer had a 25% higher concentration of blood vessels in their noses, on average.
They also put the reindeer on a treadmill and used infrared imaging to measure what parts of their bodies shed the most heat after exercise. The nose, along with the hind legs, reached temperatures as high as 75°F—relatively hot for a reindeer—indicating that one of the main functions of all this blood flow is to help regulate temperature, bringing large volumes of blood close to the surface when the animals are overheated, so its heat can radiate out into the air.
In an infrared image, a reindeer’s nose (indicated by arrow) is shown to be especially red, a reflection of its temperature-regulating function. Image via Ince et. al.
A Palace Chef on What the Royal Family Really Eats
Think pleasing your boss is hard? Try cooking full-time for an entire family—the royal family, to be precise. For a little over a decade, British chef Carolyn Robb had just that challenge.
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Robb began her royal career in the Kensington Palace kitchen. There, from 1989 to 2000, she fed Prince Charles, Princess Diana, and Princes William and Harry .
Royal chef Carolyn Robb. Photo: The Royal Touch
After leaving the palace to work in catering and as a personal chef, Robb finally wrote a cookbook of her own. Titled "The Royal Touch," it hits shelves today and includes favored recipes from her time with the royal family. Racked chatted with Robb to find out how she got the gig, which ingredients were verboten, and what it was like teaching a young Harry and William to make spaghetti.
How on earth did you land a job at Kensington Palace?
While I was at Cordon Bleu Cookery, just outside London, a job came up at Kensington Palace with the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, cousins of the Queen’s. I was invited to interview for that. I got the job and they lived right next door to the Prince and Princess of Wales (in the palace, in their own apartment). After about 18 months cooking for the Duke and Duchess, Prince Charles and Princess Diana came for dinner. Shortly afterwards, I was offered a job with them! I was in the right place at the right time.
Did you only cook at the Palace?
Wherever they were, I went and cooked, so at Kensington Palace, at their country house at Highgrove. They traveled a lot so there was plenty of packing and moving food around. We might have had lunch in London and dinner in Scotland. We had to be really organized and a little bit ahead so we could plan.
A letter from Diana. Photo: The Royal Touch
Was there anything you were told never to make?
The only thing that was forbidden was garlic. And the reason for that was that they obviously did a lot of public engagements and were in close proximity to people and never wanted to have garlic.
What were some of their favorite foods?
Prince Charles loved to have game from his hunting. At Highgrove, they’d grow their own fruit and vegetables, so almost everything was homegrown. That was the kind of thing he liked most of all—things from the garden, from the estate. Both he and Princess Diana had a really healthy diet.
Did you have to count calories to make sure they stayed trim?
No, nothing like that. But it was a healthy diet in terms of everything being homemade. Everything was from scratch: bread, pasta, ice cream, as well as ingredients like mayonnaise. As a chef, it’s a real privilege where you’re in a job where you’re able to do that type of stuff!
Would you consider the cooking to be super fancy?
Surprisingly [not]. A lot of the product came from the garden. Lamb would come from the estate, milk would come from the cows on the estates. The pheasants and game were shot so that was no cost and the wild mushrooms, we’d pick and use them throughout the year. It was quite economical, the way the kitchen was run. We would do more extravagant things if we were entertaining.
What were meals like? I’m picturing a formal event, like something on Downton Abbey.
It depended. If they were entertaining then yes, it was much more formal than you and I would have: butlers would serve the meal to the table and the food was on silver platters. But if it was just the Highnesses' meal for two in the evening, it was much more informal. It would possibly be sitting on trays in the front of the fire.
Did you ever use any ultra-luxurious ingredients?
A lot of people’s impression of [their] food is that it’s upscale, like always with caviar. But they really didn’t have that kind of diet at all. When they were home, they preferred really simple, fresh, homemade meals. We had things like wild mushrooms, though, that we’d actually pick on the estate in Scotland. Each summer we’d go out there and pick them and dry them and freeze them so we’d have them throughout the year. Sometimes they were given caviar and truffles as a gift and so we’d use that, but we would never buy [those]. I think it might surprise people that [Prince Charles] was conscious of things like that.
Is it true the royal family packs up leftovers in Tupperware?
Yes, the prince was very economical and very much believed that nothing should go to waste. If there were leftovers, they’d be used one way or another. If not for him, then rehashed and used for a meal the following day. But we were always quite careful: he never wanted to have huge amounts of food on the plate. They were always very thrifty and economical. If we made roasted lamb and there was leftovers, we’d probably go and make Shepard’s pie the next night.
Talk to me about Prince Harry and Prince William were they picky eaters as kids?
They were amazingly good. Princess Diana was the one who decided what they were going to eat. Like all children, they had their things they liked to eat, but they’d eat roast chicken, Shepard’s pie, homemade fish fingers. And quite early on, they started eating game. At a young age, they tried to get the boys to eat things that everyone was eating so that later on in their lives they could go off and be in weird, wonderful places eating weird, wonderful things.
Did you cook for the queen? What did she like?
Yes, I did a few times. She came for lunch at Highgrove and to a few major charity events at the Buckingham Palace. I think she has a fairly simple, traditional English diet. I remember cooking pheasant on one occasion. Like Prince Charles, she enjoyed eating produce that was from one of her estates and things that were home-produced.
Was it scary to cook for the Queen? Or Princess Diana?
Yes, it was pretty terrifying, really. But you’re so busy working hard to make sure that everything was perfect that there really wasn’t any time to be nervous.
Did you ever have any massive screw ups?
Well, no—never any major disasters. Once, we had a trip to a castle in Wales and I hadn’t been to that castle, but I obviously had to plan the menu before we got there to bring all the ingredients and equipment. When I got there, the kitchen was an absolute broom cupboard—and a lengthy walk from the dining room. But obviously the menu had been decided and printed already because we had formal dinners. I had a soufflé on the menu the first night, and things like that can be a nightmare because they have to go straight from the oven to the table. I had the butler literally running down the corridor trying to get the soufflé to the table. You don’t really envision getting yourself into that until you visit one of these old castles and find yourself down in the dungeons.
We had a big charity event in a tent in a field in the middle of nowhere once, and we rented equipment and had these massive ovens. When we tried to get the dessert out, the handle broke off and we couldn’t get them out! We had a bit of a mad dash to try and quickly throw something else together in ten minutes.
Was there anyone in the royal family that wanted to cook? If they did, could they, or was that not an option?
Yes. The kitchen was there and they could have cooked if they wanted to. When the boys were quite young, they used to like to come into the kitchen and we did stuff with them like cookies and meringues. As they got older they were really quite interested in learning to cook, even in college. They had access to a kitchen, I think, at the age of 15. When they came home from school on weekends they’d ask me to teach them how to cook spaghetti bolognese or other recipes they were allowed to make themselves. For the most part, they didn’t cook on their own.
Do you know anything about the current royal chef for Kate?
As far as I understand, they don’t have a chef at the moment. They have a small household and can fend for themselves. They’ll probably want to do that for as long as they can. Have a normal family life because that will really change when you have butlers and nannies and cooks around, the house is no longer your own. I'm sure they want to just be leading a normal family life.
Wait, so Kate is cooking for her family?
Yes, Kate does quite a lot of the cooking at the moment. You have to remember that she’s not royal. She comes from a normal background and a normal home where she’s always cooked for herself. And what I’ve always heard is that William enjoys spending time with her family because they just eat together at the kitchen table like a normal family. I’m sure that that’s what they still do.
7 things you didn’t know about reindeer
‘Tis the season for reindeer to occupy people’s minds — and decorate their sweaters. But these charismatic cervines are more than holiday icons they are culturally important yet bizarre arctic animals. Here are a few surprising facts about the peculiar creature that is the reindeer.
1. Christmas cartoons got things all wrong
In the 1964 classic animated film, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is thin, brown and wimpy.
Most Christmas decorations depict reindeer in a similar vein, but these portrayals are closer to an amalgamation of other deer species than they are to an actual reindeer.
Reindeer come in 14 subspecies — two of which are extinct — and they look nothing like their cartoon counterparts. While their colors and size vary, reindeer are invariably stocky, with thick necks, big hooves and square noses.
A male reindeer’s transformation from October to November.
2. Reindeer are the same species as caribou.
“Reindeer” is to “caribou,” as “donkey” is to “ass.” They are the same animals, but the word reindeer, like donkey, more often refers to the domesticated or semi-domesticated ones. Still, if you’ve ever seen a majestic caribou, you were looking at the species, Rangifer tarandus — or reindeer.
3. Female reindeer have antlers.
Antlers are branched bones that shed and grow back every year. These ornaments are exclusive to the deer family, which includes moose and elk.
Deer exhibit sexual dimorphism, meaning the males and females have separate and identifiable physical characteristics. In most deer, that means the males have antlers and the females don’t, barring anomalies. Some deer species have no antlers at all.
Reindeer, however, are the only deer species in which females have antlers too.
A male reindeer’s transformation from December to February.
4. Their eyes change in the summer and winter.
Reindeer live primarily in the Arctic, where winter is drastically colder and darker than the summer. Reindeer hooves are soft during warmer months, but in the winter, their hooves become hard and sharp for breaking through the ice to forage vegetation.
As a result of seasonal changes in light levels, reindeer eyes adapt. Their tapetum — the part of the eye behind the iris — changes color from gold in the summer to blue in the winter. However, you wouldn’t notice this shift unless you shined a light in the animals’ eyes.
Reindeer also shed their fluffy winter coats in the summer. Males and females both shed their antlers and grow them back each year, but in different seasons.
5. Reindeer float.
Diabetes researcher Andy Karter lived in Norway herding reindeer for a decade. The temperatures were so cold that they needed a warm material for clothing. So they dressed head to toe in reindeer skins, he said.
The skins are so warm because reindeer have two layers of hair: a dense undercoat, and a top layer of hollow hair. The air-filled hairs “float like a cork,” Karter said, which is useful for migrations. Some populations travel up to 3,000 miles and swim long distances along the way. People have even used reindeer hair to fill life jackets, Karter said.
A male reindeer’s transformation from March to May.
6. Reindeer are the Swiss Army Knife of domestic animals.
For the Sami people, native to Scandinavia, reindeer herding is a major part of the heritage and economy. They, along with other indigenous people in the Arctic and subarctic, raise reindeer primarily for meat, which they eat and sell.
“They are the lifeblood of a lot of indigenous cultures,” Karter said. “It’s not just a way of making money, it’s a lifestyle. They live around the herds, they live with the herds. [Reindeer are] very important to their culture.”
Traditionally, reindeer were used for milk, skins, furs, blood to make blood sausages and the sinews for their sleds. Sami use the antlers for knife handles and tools. Some people even ride Siberian reindeer, which are larger than other subspecies.
However, things have changed with modern reindeer harvesting.
“Now the reindeer are slaughtered in certified slaughterhouses, and roundups are done by helicopter, motorcycle and snow machine,” Karter said. “It’s highly organized. Even though they still hold on to the tradition of free-ranging, for the most part.”
7. Climate change is harming reindeer, and the people who depend on them.
Reindeer eat “reindeer lichen,” and in the winter, they must paw through the ice on the ground to forage.
With warmer temperatures, ice melts, exposing water. The water evaporates, making wetter air and inducing rain. In 2013, unprecedented rainfall coated the ground in Siberia and froze, making it exceedingly difficult for the animals to break through and eat. Instead, 60,000 of them starved to death. A similar situation occurred in 2006, leaving 20,000 dead. A study in November linked these events to climate change.
A male reindeer’s transformation from July to August.
The Siberian government has proposed a cull of 250,000 reindeer before Christmas this year. Officials insist that these killings are being done to reduce animal overpopulation. They worry there are too many animals without enough access to food and that the density of the animals could potentially spread disease. Reindeer herders argue that energy interests are at the root of the killings.
Above: Reindeer at the Cairgorm Herd wait to be fed on December 14, 2014 in The Cairngorms National Park, Scotland. — Reindeer were introduced to Scotland in 1952 by Swedish Sami reindeer herder, Mikel Utsi. Starting with just a few reindeer, the herd has now grown in numbers over the years and is currently at about 130 by controlling the breeding. Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
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In the Arctic, Reindeer Are Sustenance and a Sacred Presence
For the Indigenous communities who herd the animals, safeguarding dying culinary traditions isn’t merely about eating but about protecting a longstanding way of life.
IN NORTHERN SAMI, a language spoken in the uppermost reaches of Norway, Sweden and Finland, eallu is a herd, or more precisely, the herd — of reindeer, always, on whose lives the speakers depend. Between 400 and 500 words may be used to single out each animal within the herd, by coloring, girth, stance, stage of life, branching pattern of antlers, even temperament, from the truculent female who resists the rope (njirru) to the plodder whose hooves hardly leave the ground (slohtur) to the one that keeps its own counsel, hovering at the fringes (ravdaboazu). That this is poetic is incidental it is knowledge first, essential to survive. Etymologically, “eallu” is kin, via the proto-Uralic root ela, to ealat, which encompasses both a pasture and the conditions that make it good for grazing, and to eallin: life, which the eallu and ealat make possible.
There are 29 Indigenous peoples, the Sami among them, who have herded reindeer, many for centuries. Although the verb puts humans in the position of authority, to herd is in many ways to submit: to accept the dictates of the animals. “We follow them they don’t follow us,” said Anders Oskal, the 47-year-old secretary-general of the Association of World Reindeer Herders (W.R.H.), based in Guovdageaidnu, a small Sami village in Norway. Some herders follow the reindeer across the treeless tundra, where the subsurface of the soil stays frozen all year, and others through the taiga, thousands of miles of marshy primeval forest just south of the Arctic Circle (66 degrees, 34 minutes north), host to bitter winters and some of the lowest temperatures on Earth. These include a reported drop to minus 89.9 degrees Fahrenheit in 1933 in Oymyakon in eastern Siberia, where the Eveny tend their snow-dusted herds — a depth of cold that the British writer Sara Wheeler memorably described in “The Magnetic North” (2009) as “a level at which trees exploded with a sound like gunfire and exhaled breath falls to the ground in a tinkle of crystals.”
Such places are often considered inhospitable to humans, at least from the perspective of those who cleave to warmer climes. But for the people who make their homes in the highest latitudes, less distinction historically exists between the environment and the lives unspooled within it. As Kathleen Osgood, an American scholar of circumpolar literature, has pointed out, no one term corresponds to the Western concept of “landscape” in the core Sami vocabulary. This is simply practical only the postlapsarian, who have conceded the wild for modernity’s ease, would see oneness with nature as esoteric ancient wisdom, unmoored from necessity. The American environmental historian William Cronon, in his 1995 essay “The Trouble With Wilderness,” cautioned against romanticizing nature as if it were somehow separate from us, as if “by definition wilderness leaves no place for human beings, save perhaps as contemplative sojourners,” a binary that gives us “little hope of discovering what an ethical, sustainable, honorable human place in nature might actually look like.”
IN PARTS OF the world where we’ve grown distant from the sources of our food, much has been made in recent years of the idea of nose-to-tail eating: of not just taking what we want and discarding the rest. If one of the precepts of sustainability is wasting as little as possible, few animals have been honored so completely, and for so long, as the reindeer. Its bones litter campsites from 12,000 years ago along the river Seine, just south of Paris. It’s built for the cold, warmed by a thick undercoat and outer hairs like hollow tubes that trap air and keep it buoyant swimming across icy lakes and rivers. When the pastures are snowed under and seemingly barren, it uses its hooves to unearth buried lichen, herbs and grasses. In the tundra and the taiga, its fur and skin are sewed into clothes, blankets and tents, with its sinews as stitching, and its antlers are honed into sheaths for knives. (Taiga herders do not eat their domesticated reindeer except in times of extremity, but they do milk and ride them, and hunt their wild counterparts.) The relationship between herder and reindeer is not merely reciprocal it is symbiotic. Like the whale to the Inuit and the buffalo to the Lakota, the animal is at once everyday fact and sacred presence — not symbolically so, but in the sense that the sacred is immanent in all things, manifest in the world, in the land and the people of it.
Even today, for many herders, reindeer is the daily meal. Its stomach, washed and inverted, may become a pot for cooking or a storage vessel for preserving meat and brackets of vertebrae. Its milk is soured for yogurt and cheese. The meat is lean and as mild as veal, clean and delicate, tasting of pastures and mountain springs. It might be flash-frozen raw and shaved fine, barely melting in the mouth or hung to dry, smoked, fried, baked in embers or boiled with little more than salt, rye flour, and a crumble of dried, tart cloudberries in shades of orange and red, bearing precious vitamin C. Almost every part of the animal is eaten, not just the great tenderloins but the creamy thymus, the trachea cut in rings, the hooves simmered until they leach jelly, the eyes submerged in soup, the mineral-rich blood reserved for sausages and pancakes and as a dip for raw meat, or drunk warm after a fresh slaughter. To the Nenets, who live on the West Siberian Plain, the heart is revered and must never be cut against the grain or eaten raw. One rule is universal: No one eats the tip of the tongue the Sami believe it will make you lie.
When we say that what we eat tells us what we are, in keeping with the 19th-century adage of the French epicure Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, most of us speak nostalgically. We might see in ourselves a sum of remembered tastes, each conjuring a time, place, childhood or heritage. For the reindeer herders, food is more immediate, its pursuit an organizing principle of life in spartan regions where vigilance determines survival. These dishes are almost impossible to recreate outside the conditions from which they came. And those conditions are changing: Surface air temperatures are rising faster here, at more than twice the global mean, altering growing seasons, greening the tundra and inviting nonnative species to thrive and compete for the limited resources. The permafrost is thawing, turning summer pastures to sludge. Winter rains sometimes freeze into a shield of ice that the reindeer can’t break through to reach the lichen — itself receding as the soil gets warmer, encouraging shrubs that cast shadows over the lichen, depriving it of sunlight — and so the animals starve. Grazing lands are further threatened by industrial logging, hydroelectric dams, wind farms and roads by mining for nickel, platinum, diamonds and palladium, ironically a key element in combating climate change, used in making catalytic converters for automobiles to cut down on toxic emissions and by drilling for oil and natural gas. (Arctic fields account for a tenth of the world’s existing reserves, along with estimated billions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic meters of natural gas as yet untapped.)
In the past two decades alone, the reindeer population has declined by more than half, to 2.3 million in 2019. And only a fraction of those descended from the original reindeer-herding peoples still work with the animals that kept their ancestors alive. In their number are thousands from the Sami, along with the Chukchi, Evenki, Eveny and Nenets in Siberia. But among the Soyot and Tofalar, near Lake Baikal, only a few dozen remain and among the Kets in the Yenisei River Basin and the Negidal on the Sea of Okhotsk, almost none at all.
AT ONE IN the afternoon in late September, the sky was pale over Guovdageaidnu, at 69 degrees north. Oskal carried his laptop to the window of his office to show me the view, all the way in New York. He wore a gakti (tunic), royal blue with appliquéd red ribbons, their patterns and placements a kind of heraldic device, designating his family and siida, a community and geographic unit that includes both the physical area covered by his clan’s herds and the relationships of the people within it. The leaves have fallen, he told me. Each night the sun is quicker to bed. But when I asked him when it would stop rising entirely, when the dayless days would begin, he furrowed his brow and for a moment couldn’t remember, despite having spent his entire life above the Arctic Circle. December? January? “We just live it,” he said. He tapped the top of his wrist, which was bare. We think of time differently here, he explained: “Time is not passing. Time is coming.” When you work with the herd, you don’t look at your watch. You work until you are finished.
Oskal, who also serves as the executive director of the International Center for Reindeer Husbandry (I.C.R.), a group funded in part by the Norwegian government to document Indigenous knowledge, was born in a rural county to the west. His was a “stubborn” family, he said, determined to preserve the Sami culture. In early childhood, he and his brother had to take a bus an hour and a half to get to school, where there were few students of Sami descent and even fewer who openly embraced their heritage. Eventually, Sami parents in the area were able to establish a Sami-language school, a victory in a country with a legacy of forced assimilation, from the Lutheran missionaries of the 17th century, who tried to stamp out local shamanism, to the separation of children from their families to send them to boarding schools — a trauma that the Sami share across Fennoscandia and with other Indigenous peoples around the world — which were originally instituted by the church and then taken over by the government in the 19th century and maintained through the 1960s. Oskal was the first in his family to pursue higher education, a path that took him away from the herd, and then returned him to it, as an advocate.
Three years ago, just before the reindeer spring migration, he and his colleagues filed a 161-page report on food security and sovereignty with the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum established in 1996 to address issues of environmental change, whose members include representatives from native peoples and the eight nations with borders that extend above the northern tree line: Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden and the United States. (In 2018, China declared itself a “near-Arctic state” with a stake in the fate of the region and, pointedly, in “the exploration for and exploitation of oil, gas, mineral and other non-living resources.”) The report, titled “Eallu: Indigenous Youth, Arctic Change and Food Culture — Food, Knowledge and How We Have Thrived on the Margins,” was in fact a cookbook — a compendium of oral recipes recorded by young people from the tundra and the taiga, in consultation with their elders, as part of a larger project to protect and revive ancient traditions. Formal policy recommendations shared the pages with tips on preserving reindeer meat in buckets of salt and snow and the difference in cooking times for walrus (long) and bearded seal (short).
A diligent reader could learn to prepare seal intestine, preferably from a young seal (“not as stringy”), braided and stuffed with fat, heart, kidney or lungs, and eaten cold with mustard — or, better, hot, when “it almost tastes like corned beef,” advises Lucy Kenezuroff, an Aleut born in 1930 in the Alaska Territory. For a reindeer version of the Russian dish kholodets, the Sami of the Kola Peninsula simmer hooves and tongues for much of a day, then shred the meat and ladle the broth over it to cool and thicken into jelly. Most recipes require just a handful of ingredients, but these might be difficult to come by as Sandy and Marjorie Tahbone, Inuit from Nome, Alaska, write in an entry on seal blubber and innards, “It is not like you can go to the store and pick up a few pounds of meat and intestines and they are ready to cook.” Half the work is done before the meat arrives in the kitchen: knowing how to choose the right animal to slaughter, and then how to kill it. The Nenets lasso the reindeer by the neck and strangle it swiftly, believing this brings less suffering, spilling none of the treasured blood. The Sami plunge a knife to the heart, so the blood leaks inward, collecting under the ribs.
Instead of shoving the report into a suitcase or handing it off to an underling, the delegates on the council did what was apparently unthinkable: They read it. Oskal recalled Rex Tillerson, then the U.S. secretary of state, asking if he could adapt the recipes for the whitetail deer he hunted back home. Only 70 copies had been printed, and they almost immediately disappeared. The book wasn’t glossy or destined for a coffee table the photographs — a crowded platter of reindeer eyes, reindeer being butchered in bloodstained snow — were documentarian in approach and intentionally unaestheticized. The young researchers wanted “to show the reality,” Oskal said. “To show everything.”
A YEAR LATER — after the calving and the reindeer shedding their thick coats for summer, after the nubs of their antlers grew back to regal height, after the notching of ears to mark the herds and then the long night of winter and hooves scrabbling at the snow — “Eallu” won the top prize, Best Book of the Year, at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards, administered by the Madrid-based Gourmand International. More than 10,000 cookbooks from 216 countries had been submitted for consideration “Eallu,” which had never been formally published, was up against clothbound volumes from the likes of a chef of a three-Michelin-star restaurant in France. At the outdoor ceremony in Yantai in eastern China, Oskal and nine colleagues, including five teenage contributors, lined up onstage, stunned. Taking the microphone, Oskal said, “The food traditions of Arctic Indigenous peoples are probably among the least explored in world cuisine.”
They are not entirely unknown: A few Arctic ingredients have made their way to balmier zones, via Nordic cooking, which gained 21st-century renown under the banner of René Redzepi’s Noma in Copenhagen, prompting chefs from Cleveland to Houston to experiment with reindeer lichen, a composite organism of fungus and alga, faintly bitter to the taste, that some Indigenous peoples harvest from the stomach of the animal, half-digested. But this ascendance has rested in large part on a celebration of terroir, the unique character of an area’s ingredients, that focuses on the land without necessarily taking into account the people in it, especially those at its fringes.
Magnus Nilsson, the chef of the now shuttered Faviken in western Sweden, broadened that notion of terroir in his weighty testament “The Nordic Cookbook” (2015), for which he traveled across the region, interviewing people and “eating with them in their homes,” he writes, to give his readers context for not only what but “why and how” they eat. Out of more than 700 recipes in his book, three are Sami: reindeer heart stew, thick rye flatbreads plush with reindeer fat and pancakes suffused with golden syrup and reindeer blood. They come from the chef Elaine Asp, a Swede who until this year ran the restaurant Havvi i Glen in a Sami village in Jamtland with her now ex-husband, Thomas Johansson, a reindeer herder, serving a luxe, nine-course tasting menu that once featured salted smoked reindeer meat with crispy elk nose, potato gratin and a pesto of angelica, an herb used in Sami medicine, suggesting a bridge across both cultures and time.
Still, the wonder of “Eallu” lies not in its recipes alone but in the youth of its authors, who are neither trained chefs nor writers, and are as much rescuers as chroniclers. Edouard Cointreau, the French founder of Gourmand, said after the ceremony that “Eallu” was a book that could “change the life of Indigenous families, their nomadic communities and villages,” whose very existence has been a point of contention since outsiders began to encroach on their territory in the 16th century. In Sweden, from the 1920s through the 1950s, the Sami were subjected to medical experiments by the State Institute for Racial Biology Indigenous remains were taken from burial grounds and tested to support theories of racial difference, and some Sami women were forcibly sterilized. Soviet collectivization policies in the 1930s tried to turn herding into just another job that workers punched in and out of, rather than a way of life. Wheeler writes that during the economic crisis in the Russian Federation in the 1990s, doctors witnessed scurvy among Chukchi who, suddenly bereft of modern food supplies, had “forgotten which berries or whale organs to eat to fulfill their vitamin C requirements.”
More recently, the Norwegian government has called for the culling of herds, ostensibly for environmental concerns, to protect the land from overgrazing, even as controversial mining projects have been allowed to proceed. In 2016, the Sami artist Maret Anne Sara stacked 200 severed heads of freshly killed reindeer on the lawn of the courthouse in Tana in northeastern Norway, in support of her brother, who was suing the government to protest the reduction of his herd a year later, in front of the Parliament building in Oslo, she hung a curtain of 400 reindeer skulls embedded with bullets — a nontraditional means of slaughter, revealing “the colonial killing system’s disrespect for Indigenous processes that would have preserved and utilized every part of the dead animals,” Katya García-Antón, the director of the Office for Contemporary Art Norway, later wrote — and arranged in weathered tones to evoke the stripes and blocks of color in the Sami flag. Shortly after, Norway’s highest court ruled against the artist’s brother, concluding that his rights had not been violated.
IN EARLY MARCH, Guovdageaidnu was readying for the first Arctic Indigenous Peoples’ Food Congress, organized in part by W.R.H. Then the number of Covid-19 cases in Norway began to rise. There is a history of dangerous illnesses in the Arctic, including the tuberculosis epidemic brought to what is today Alaska by European and American visitors in the late 18th century — as recently as 1934, more than a third of native deaths in the area were because of TB — and the Spanish flu, whose mortality rate in Guovdageaidnu was four times higher than in the rest of the country. Viruses and bacteria may sleep in the ice for centuries in 2016, scientists theorized that high summer temperatures in Siberia’s Yamal Peninsula had caused the permafrost to thaw and disclose the decades-old carcass of an animal felled by anthrax, releasing spores that infected reindeer by the thousands, along with dozens of their herders. W.R.H. thought it wise to cancel the food event, and shortly after, Norway went into lockdown.
But Oskal still hopes to build on the momentum from the “Eallu” win. “The most important thing about this prize is that it reinforced the faith of our youth in their own cultures, their own knowledge,” he said. One of the cookbook’s 55 authors, Elvira Okotetto, a computer-science and engineering student born into a Nenets reindeer-herding family on the Yamal Peninsula, was astonished that outsiders had even noticed. “I thought it was just us,” she told him. “Just me and my friends who were interested.” Among these unexpected allies from afar is the New Zealand-based chef Robert Oliver, who grew up in Fiji, and who today hosts the TV show “Pacific Island Food Revolution,” a crusade to revitalize Indigenous foodways in the guise of a genial cooking competition. His cookbook “Me’a Kai: The Food and Flavors of the South Pacific” (co-written with Tracy Berno and Shiri Ram) was Gourmand’s 2010 Book of the Year, and at a 2019 Gourmand event at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, he and Oskal announced a culinary north-south alliance — a pact between the regions most vulnerable to climate change. As ice melts in the north, seas grow warm and rise in the south.
To achieve sustainability, Oliver and Oskal agree, they must affirm the resilience of original food systems. W.R.H. is trying to expand the global market for reindeer meat — a product that was promoted with some success in the U.S. in the 1920s, when the Minnesota-born meatpacker Carl Lomen arranged for Santa to ride on a reindeer-drawn sleigh in Macy’s Christmas parades across the country, before the cattle lobby pressured Congress to limit reindeer ownership to Native Americans — although Oskal wonders if this could cause the price to escalate “to the point that people can’t afford to eat their own food anymore,” he said. “Are we going to be producing the best meat but eating industrial sausages?”
Processed foods have increasingly come to replace the old ingredients in both the Arctic and the Pacific, out of convenience and a sense, enforced by the long-imposed hierarchy of native and intruder, that anything modern must be superior to what’s in your own backyard. That attitude is slowly changing, although in the rest of the world, those who preach seasonality and localism are most often those who can pay to do so. In a recent Zoom, late evening in Norway and early morning in New Zealand, Oliver joked that doctors talk about an apple a day when guavas have more than 60 times as much vitamin C. Oskal said simply, “Cloudberries.”
HOW DOES A culture on the world’s periphery survive? “We could all turn around, leave this ancient civilization behind,” Oskal said. “Or we could stay in the tent and close our eyes.” Neither is a solution: “We have to do something in between.”
In the 272nd poem in “The Sun, My Father” (1988), a collection by the Sami multimedia artist Nils-Aslak Valkeapaa, who was born in Enontekio in northwestern Finland, eallu takes shape in the form of words moving across seven and a half pages that are otherwise as white and blank as the tundra. Harald Gaski, a Norwegian professor of Sami literature, notes in the introduction to the book’s 1997 English edition how the words of poem No. 272 denote each reindeer individually, this one inky black and pale-bellied, that one ringed white around the eyes, along with the herders among them and their movements, some inscriptions pure sound, the landscape responding to each hoof and footfall. But the poem exists only in Northern Sami: Valkeapaa requested that it be left untranslated. To those who do not know the language — all but perhaps 25,000 people in the world — it is unreadable, “an ironic commentary upon the inability of the majority language to fully express Sami experience,” Gaski writes.
Yet there is still a possibility of understanding. John M. Weinstock, a professor emeritus at the University of Texas at Austin, has put together an online glossary to accompany an animation of the text, pages scrolling horizontally, first the lead reindeer and herder in single file, then the widening formation, antlers swaying, matching the rumble that is both of hooves and of the tundra below. We meet the herd, but it doesn’t meet us it moves toward and then away from us, until we are left in its wake, tracks of ellipses drifting across the page. The procession of words is slow, befitting the pace of the migration. Here is the coarse rasp of an angular bell, there the creak of a lumbering, weighed-down sleigh. At times verbs stand in for the animals themselves, as if there were no division between action and being: the desire to get somewhere, the tentative gallop, the sudden bolt. The one that refuses to be held. And late, toward the end, at the snowy edge, the appearance of an unknown reindeer, a stranger to the crowd, which opens nevertheless which takes it in.
8. Reindeer evolved for life in cold, harsh environments.Geoffrey Reynaud/iStock via Getty Images
Life in the tundra is hard, but reindeer have it easy-ish thanks to their amazing evolutionary enhancements. Their noses are specially adapted to warm the air they breathe before it enters their lungs and to condense water in the air, which keeps their mucous membranes moist. Their fur traps air, which not only helps provide them with excellent insulation, but also keeps them buoyant in water, which is important for traveling across massive rivers and lakes during migration.
Even their hooves are special. In the summer, when the ground is wet, their foot pads are softened, providing them with extra grip. In the winter, though, the pads tighten, revealing the rim of their hooves, which is used to provide traction in the slippery snow and ice.
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