Dining at the Top of the World: Arctic Adaptation, Abundance, and…Ice Cream

You may feel like it's cold where you live, but in the Arctic, the average temperature is well below freezing all year round. In winter, it's also pitch black for weeks on end—not an ideal environment for growing food. Still, for thousands of years, people in the Arctic have thrived in a landscape that most outsiders would find fatally inhospitable. This episode, we point our compasses north on a journey to discover how traditional knowledge, ingenuity, and a lot of hard work—combined with genetics and microbes—have allowed the indigenous populations of the far North to not only successfully feed themselves, but also develop a distinctive and remarkable cuisine. Tune in now for the secrets of a dish that feels like Fourth of July fireworks in your mouth, the story of Iceland's second-most famous celebrity (after Björk), and the science behind how to avoid scurvy on an almost vegetable-free diet. Just don't forget your long underwear!

Catching Arctic char at Sukanga Lake, north of Iqaluit, Nunavut, using a kakivak, an Inuit fishing spear. (Photo courtesy of Sheila Flaherty)

Cyrus Harris

Cyrus Harris is the natural resource advocate for Maniilaq Association, which provides health, tribal, and social services to residents of Northwest Alaska. Cyrus runs Maniilaq's Hunter Support Program as well as Siglauq, its traditional food storage facility.

Zona Spray Starks

Zona Spray Starks is a writer, a researcher of Arctic food history, and a former culinary instructor. You can read one of her articles on Arctic foodways in Gastronomica.

Left, Arctic char hanging to dry at York Sound, in southern Nunavut; right, dried char, known in Inuktitut as bipsi. (Photos courtesy of Sheila Flaherty)

Sheila Flaherty

A resident of Iqaluit, Nunavut, Sheila Flaherty is an Inuit cultural educator and the head chef at Siijakkut, a guesthouse, restaurant, and site for Inuit cultural preservation in Iqaluit—opening soon! You can follow Siijakkut's progress via Sheila's Instagram and the Siijakkut Facebook page.

Jón Haukur Ingimundarson

Jón Haukur Ingimundarson is a a senior scientist at the Stefansson Arctic Institute and a professor at the University of Akureyri in Iceland.

Vilhjalmur Stefansson in Alaska, March 1914. (Image credit: Canadian Museum of History)

Rasmus Nielsen

Rasmus Nielsen is a professor of computational biology at the University of California-Berkeley. We discussed his paper on Inuit genetics, titled "Greenlandic Inuit show genetic signatures of diet and climate adaptation."

Aviaja Hauptmann

You can listen to microbiologist Aviaja Hauptmann's lecture all about Greenland's traditional fermentation practices online here.

The Burroughs Wellcome Fund

This episode of Gastropod was supported in part by the Burroughs Wellcome Fund for our coverage of biomedical research.


Click here for a transcript of the show. Please note that the transcript is provided as a courtesy and may contain errors.