Begich Introduces Traditional Foods Options Bill

July 25, 2013 5:15 pm1 commentViews: 324
Sen. Begich meets with subsistence users at Copper River July 25, 2013. (Photo from Begich press release)

Sen. Begich meets with subsistence users at Copper River July 25, 2013. (Photo from Begich press release)

U.S. Senator Mark Begich has introduced a bill geared to encourage more access to healthy traditional foods and consumption of them. It’s called: The Traditional Foods Nourishment Act of 2013.

“Many Alaska Native traditional foods are proven to increase physical, emotional and spiritual wellness,” said Sen. Begich. “Traditional foods such as wild salmon, migratory birds, moose and berries are fresher, less processed and retain more nutrients. All of which benefit Alaska Natives who may struggle with diet-related problems like heart disease and diabetes. It makes no sense for the federal government to ban food service programs from offering these options.  If passed, my bill would allow for food service programs in schools, hospitals, and elder care facilities to serve traditional foods. It’s a simple solution to a problem that is well worth fixing.”

As drafted, the bill would grant the Secretary of Agriculture the authority to allow traditional foods for donation, preparation and consumption in public facilities primarily serving Alaska Natives – if certain specific food safety requirements are met. Leaders in the Alaska Native community have attempted to negotiate with the U.S. Department of Agriculture for many years to allow for traditional foods to be incorporated to their food service programs. For instance, NMS Dining Services has been working closely with Alaska Native Medical Center (ANMC) in a joint effort to find ways to incorporate Alaska Native foods into patient menu options. But due to current federal regulations, the food options they have attempted to provide, at the request of customer-owners, have been barred. Changing federal law to allow access to familiar traditional foods would have positive impacts not only for Alaska Natives, but for tribes across the country, said Begich, who is also a member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

Places and organizations in the area around Seward that might be able to benefit from the bill’s passage include the Qutekcak Native Tribe, Chugachmiut Health and Social Services, Seward NYO or Native Youth Olympics, the federal subsistence communities of Cooper Landing and Hope, the AVTEC Cafeteria, and possibly one of the residential units at Seward Mountain Haven.

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A recent National Institute of Health study indicates an increase in the consumption of traditional foods results in positive health effects among Alaska Native people. The study finds that traditional foods from home can stand as a source of comfort when undergoing treatment or recovery.

Expanding food options in schools also can promote more extensive cultural education. Food plays an important part in a community’s culture and lifestyle. A fresh, diverse student menu encourages further investigation and appreciation for local food options.

The bill also could help lower expenses for food service operations. Allowing local subsistence users to make food donations would result in less dependence on imported food, with the savings used for other necessary expenses. “In additional to the health benefits, increasing demand of local produce results in greater economic stimulation, which further develops local communities,” said Sen. Begich. “This is a win-win of better health and stronger local economies for rural Alaska.”

Allowing public facilities to serve local foods donated by family, friends, and community members would encourage community involvement and thus strengthen communities. It also would provide more donation opportunities to sport hunters. Often sport hunters do not hunt for meat, and by accordance with Alaska regulation, are required to harvest all edible meat from most large game. Instead of disposing of this meat, the program would provide them a direct opportunity to donate local game to public facilities, where it would feed residents and students in their traditional styles.

Edited by HZ from a Begich Press Release, 7/25/2013

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