Mt. Airy chef and former food truck owner heads to Italy to represent US at culinary conference

 Sue Wasserkrug in her food truck in 2012. (Lane Blackmer/for NewsWorks, file)

Sue Wasserkrug in her food truck in 2012. (Lane Blackmer/for NewsWorks, file)

Mt. Airy resident Sue Wausserkrug opened a food truck to spread awareness about Native American foods. But when the focus shifted away from learning, she gave up the business and refocused.


Now, she has been sent to Italy as a U.S. food representative at a slow-food conference.

The Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre Conference in Turin, Italy — a reaction an increased interest in slow food and artisanal food products —accepted Wasserkrug as a U.S. delegate for her expertise on education on the origin and sustainability of Native American foods.

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A mission in food education

Wasserkrug was educated as an anthropologist — she holds a Bachelor’s degree from Oberlin and a Master’s Degree in Medical Anthropology from Arizona State University. But she also has a strong interest in Native American culture, despite not being of Native American heritage herself.

She has fond memories of living with a Navajo family while on a cross-country summer camp as a teen and living on a reservation while she served as a legal intern in law school (yes, she has a degree in that too) for a South Dakota Native American tribe.

Since she has a talent for cooking, Wasserkrug thought she could introduce and education people on the culture she’s so fascinated with through food. She launched her food truck, Zea May’s, in 2012. But it didn’t last long.

What went wrong

It wasn’t that her Zea May’s wasn’t successful — it was. Wasserkrug was even featured for her bison hot dogs on the Food Network UK’s Andy Bates’ American Street Feast.

However, Wasserkrug wanted to emphasize that she was using ingredients introduced by Native Americans. Instead, she felt it had turned into a quirky lunch.

“I wasn’t doing it because I wanted to do a food truck, I was doing it because the truck was a vehicle for the idea I had,” she says. “Because food trucks became so popular, it became hard for me to focus on the concept as opposed to cranking out the food.”

So Wasserkrug traded in her wheels for a regular 9-to-5 job. But she still wants to educate others on traditional Native American food so she has partnered with Awbury Arboretum to offer educational food programming to children during Thanksgiving.

Wasserkrug also serves on the Weavers Way food justice committee where she helps raise awareness for a range of issues from fair trade to affordable health food for low-income families.

Representing Native American foods in Italy

Her anthropological work, as well as her work with food and education, are the reasons she’s a U.S. delegate to the Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre Conference in Turin, Italy from Oct. 23 to 27.

Wasserkrug will sample her blue corn biscotti at the conference during a seminar on using food as a source of social and cultural awareness. Her biscotti, she said, ties in with the subject.

“It’s the quintessential Native American food and it’s this heritage heirloom,” she said. “The cornmeal that I get is from a local organization that partners with indigenous farmers in Mexico.”

In addition to sampling, Wasserkrug will also run a workshop on the Native American contributions to global cuisines. While corn is the food most commonly associated with Native Americans, Wasserkrug says other foods, like potatoes, also have Native American roots.

“Everybody associates potatoes with the Irish, but potatoes were cultivated first in Peru,” she said. “Everyone associates tomatoes with Italian food, but tomatoes were first cultivated in Central America, in Mexico.”

In addition to being able to educate people worldwide on Native American ingredients, Wasserkrug hopes to learn a thing or two herself.

“I hope that I can use whatever momentum that I get from going to the conference to get out the message of slow food,” she said.

As far as starting up a food business again, Wasserkrug has no plans to do so, but she doesn’t know what the future will bring.

“I don’t at this point have any plans to have the business be a full-time endeavor,” she said. “That could change, I just don’t know.”

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