Image: Nancy Bundt
The Minneapolis chef behind Owamni is in the mix with the likes of Joe Biden and Lil Nas X.
MSPMAG: Today the global population stands at more than 8 billion people (watch it climb alarmingly here.)
Who are the most influential 100 out of the 8 billion of us? It was announced today that included in Time Magazine’s Most Influential People of 2023 list is: Minneapolis’s own Sean Sherman.
Sean Sherman! Longtime Minneapolis chef, Indigenous food visionary, the force behind award-winning cookbook The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen, and also one of the people behind the Midtown Global Market’s Indigenous food marketplace, as well as the James Beard Award’s Best New Restaurant in 2022: Owamni.
Yes, I have said somewhere in my extremely long Sean Sherman ouevre that he has brought about the most important food in Minneapolis in my lifetime. Highlights of the ouevre, if you want to go deep on Sherman’s importance: When we started getting comfortable about genocide as part of our food scene and how to change it, the gangbusters Sioux Chef Kickstarter for that which became Owamni (co-founded by CEO Dana Thompson), the Owamni announcement, Owamni preview loaded with Minneapolis Native history, and finally my ranting and raving with delight for the Owamni review.
So, obviously, Sean Sherman has been big news here. But also, he has been merely one of us, a person you run into at the Wedge buying carrots. What does it mean that Time Magazine has named him one of the most influential people in this whole wide world?
In prior years such as 2022 and 2021 this list has listed the biggest of the big names, such as Dolly Parton, Tim Cook, Joe Biden, Oprah, and Lil Nas X. What does it mean to Sherman, to the Twin Cities, and to the bigger project of un-f**king our food system that he is now up there with the bigs?
I caught up with him on the phone. “It’s a huge honor,” Sherman began, explaining that he’ll be flying to New York to accept the award at a reception with Steven Spielberg (!) and Nancy Pelosi later this month. Then he’ll stay in New York to lead some cooking programming in Manhattan, May 7-11, with BIPOC Foodways Alliance founder (and sometimes MSP Mag contributor) Mecca Bos, at the new food hall curated by the James Beard Foundation.
So, lotta buzz. How does the Time 100 fit in? With each bump up in his profile, Sherman told me, he can do more good. “Obviously, I’m just trying to do this work, and I’ll use this opportunity to do what I am always trying to do, to make changes for the other people coming up behind me. It gives me the chance to talk to new media, to new people, about the history in this country of race, segregation, health, food, how everything is part of everything. Each one of these awards or invitations opens a door.”
A door to an airport full of Caesar salads? Sherman laughs out loud, and we talk about how his efforts to make everyone else more healthy is often putting him in a position of being served endless prepackaged industrial food on the road. “It really makes you see how most of America eats, the norm is this sea of endless fast-food chains that don’t mean anything, that make people sick, and make the land sick. We’re walking into a water crisis, allowing businesses to drain aquifers to put in plastic bottles or spray away into golf courses in the desert. Did you know there are 120 golf-courses in Palm Springs now? And the climate crisis is already here, you see it everywhere.”
“The question for me,” Sherman continued, “The question becomes: How do you articulate the best message, to get through to the most people and make the most change in the limited time any of us have? I feel like there’s more work than I can do in my lifetime, the best thing I can do is to use my workable years to be out there as much as I can. I did think about going into politics,” Sherman told me, like Time 100 previous list-dwellers Joe Biden and Donald Trump. “But then I thought: I can be more influential where I am right now. This Euro-centric way of turning everything into profit, land extracted for profit, people extracted for profit, healthcare in the hands of politicians and used for profit—it has to stop. And I think I can be most influential where I am right now. I have the energy. Hopefully more and more people will join me and do the work. Everything does not have to be about extracting land-spaces for profit.”
Hallelujah. Go tell Steven Spielberg and Nancy Pelosi and whoever else shows up for this Time 100 reception.
For the rest of us, first, an Owamni update. They’re closed right now because of a small fire, caused by our third snowiest winter’s melt water leaking right onto the main electrical control panel in the newly refurbished building owned by the Minneapolis Park Board. Sherman says the Owamni crew is basically waiting for the park board, the park board’s insurer, and repair people to work it out. While we wait, why not think about what we, the Minnesota restaurant-going and food-thinking public, did over the last 20 years to create the conditions for Sherman to make it to this starry firmament.
We ate local, from restaurants like Heartland that launched Sherman. We supported the many farms that supply our chef, restaurant, and farmer’s market culture, which Heartland and Owamni sprung from. We weren’t afraid to talk about Native genocide and food. We weren’t afraid to try unfamiliar dishes like teosinte. We supported writers like Beth Dooley, who helped Sherman write his cookbook. We supported clean air and water over many generations, which is a good part of why we still have wild rice and freshwater fish. The city of Minneapolis made the waterfront space that hosted Owamni, when they could have just handed the space to Taco Bell. (Remember, it’s always easier to hand stuff to deep-pocket corporations than to work with local entrepreneurs.) Then, we went to Owamni and tried something new.
Have we, the people of the Twin Cities, done something with our last twenty years in this world besides extract land-spaces for profit? We have! And most importantly: Has it worked out for us, with good things to eat and new ways to think and even some reflected glory? It has! So, let’s keep it up, and do more.
“I feel very happy that Minneapolis became part of my life,” Sherman told me. “I grew up with the food scene here, and I love being in Minnesota. Of course, you love and hate the weather some days, and you definitely don’t want it to come through the ceiling. But Minnesota has been so good to me, and for a while everything has felt right here. Oh, and there’s another big award on the horizon I can’t talk about.”
The Heisman Trophy? Stanley Cup? Miss America tiara? Nobel Peace Prize? Let the speculation begin! Whatever it is, we’ll be rooting for you, Sean Sherman, Time 100 Most Influential Person of 2023.