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Over half of Alaska Native Medical Center’s menu includes Alaska Native ingredients

Over half of Alaska Native Medical Center’s menu includes Alaska Native ingredients
Published: Feb. 23, 2022 at 3:02 PM AKST|Updated: Feb. 24, 2022 at 7:30 AM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage is striving to help patients feel at home while they are visiting the hospital. According to Amy Foote, the executive chef at the medical center, 66% of the hospital’s menu uses traditional Alaska Native ingredients.

This can include items such as moose, wild-caught salmon, and seal and is all part of their “Traditional Food Program.” Foote and her staff will either use traditional means of preparing the food or incorporate it within other dishes.

“We might be taking these traditional (foods) — say wild-caught salmon — and preparing them in a traditional way,” Foote said. “Or, we might be just taking them and using them in a more kind of mainstream way.”

Staff at the medical center said that food is important to the healing process, similar to medication and therapy.

“Food is medicine,” said Medical Nutrition Therapy Manager Jessilyn Dunegan.

Foote said that incorporating traditional dishes and ingredients into the meals her team prepares helps ensure people will eat while at the hospital.

“So, if we don’t have the foods that heal you — that your grandma made, that your auntie made, that you harvested — If we don’t have those available for you here at the hospital, then you might not eat,” Foote said. “And you’re not going to heal if you don’t eat.

Having a sense of food that connects them to home, Foote said, is a sense of spiritual healing.

“These are the nutrients off the land that you’ve always come from,” she said.

Along with helping the physical components of healing, Dunegan said many of the traditional ingredients used in the meals also provide rich nutrition benefits.

“Traditional Alaska Native foods really do present great health benefits and are probably one of the healthiest foods available,” Dunegan said. “... Having fish that’s high in omega-3 fatty acids that help with inflammation, that’s also low in saturated fats which is great for your heart.”

On an average day, Foote said the hospital will create around 3,000 meals to feed both patients and their loved ones. For many of the ingredients, Foote said, the hospital relies on donations to keep their inventory full.

“There’s many ingredients and many traditional foods that we cannot buy. So we’re very reliant on the generosity of hunters and fishermen and gatherers that go out,” Foote said. “Currently we are out of seal. We don’t have seal to be able to serve our patients, which is one of the most requested items.”

Those interested in donating food can reach out to the Alaska Native Medical Center and ask to speak to Foote.

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