How one Alaskan hospital is using Indigenous foods to help patients heal

In Alaska, where health-care centers around the state are grappling with the worst Covid-19 outbreak in the nation, one Anchorage hospital is using traditional Native foods to help Indigenous patients recover and heal, from the virus and other health ailments, reports The New York Times. Along with typical hospital fare like soup and Jello-O, the cafeteria at the Alaska Native Medical Center (the largest tribal-run health organization in the country) features dishes made with Alaska Native foods such as moose, herring roe, wild berries, and seal. The menu is made possible by the hospital’s Traditional Native Foods Initiative, a program that relies in part on donations of hunted and gathered foods, including of big-game meats and marine mammals such as seal and whale, which can only be legally harvested by Alaska Native people. Amy Foote, the hospital’s executive chef, worked with Alaska Native elders to learn how to process the donated meat in a way that is respectful and not wasteful. Patients, some hospitalized hundreds of miles from home, benefit from hearty and familiar dishes such as seal soup and smoked hooligan (a type of smelt)—foods that are not only nutrient-dense, but culturally appropriate and deeply comforting. “To me, there should be a program like ours in every hospital, whether it’s a Native hospital or not,” Foote told the Times. “It should be a connection to the people that you serve.”