Guest blog by Cathy Edgerly, ITCM Program Manager, Food Farmacy
As I realize the unmistakable feeling of hunger, a gnawing in the pit of my empty stomach, I reluctantly stop what I am doing and make that ever-important decision. Do I find something “quick” to snack on, or do I take the proper time to prepare the nourishment that my body needs? Like many people, I often find myself in this situation, which is not surprising, as the body was made to receive nourishment for every single day that we are on this earth. One would think that by now, we would all have a smooth meal system in place. In the past, a two-parent household sufficed with one person working outside the home and one working in, taking on the important tasks of meal planning, grocery shopping, food preparation, food storage, and clean-up.
But in current times, the everyday task of preparing good healthy food, and preparing it properly, aka as “cooking”, may fall by the wayside due to competing priorities such as work, school, sports etc. Caving into the convenience of quick pick-me-ups including beverages full of high-fructose corn syrup or fast “junk” food has become the norm for many. And for the sake of time, I won’t even go into the issues related to the affordability of nourishing foods or the knowledge and skills necessary to select, cook, and store these wholesome foods.
So, what do I do when hunger makes its presence known? Honestly? Well, I always have good intentions. I start out in a good way by only purchasing foods that are real foods, whole and unprocessed. I do know that I will become busy with life, so I try to stock on healthy snacks that meet these criteria such as fruit, nuts, and whole food-based protein bars. Like many, I have a sweet tooth, so I try to keep a bit of chocolate on hand (dark even though I prefer milk) or sometimes I allow myself a spoonful of raw unprocessed honey when the sugar monster becomes all consuming. You might think that I have my act together when it comes to eating well each day. The truth is that I don’t schedule adequate time for advance meal preparation or for cooking into my busy day. I often find myself feeling quite hungry, right as I am in the middle of a project, and with little time to do more than grab a snack. This is not ideal, I lecture to myself, and that I, of all people, should know better.
A little background to this statement; I work for the Inter-Tribal Council of MI in the Health Education and Chronic Disease Department with a variety of chronic disease prevention programming. So, when our Department Director, Ms. Noel Pingatore, offered the opportunity to work with two nutrition projects saying that I would enjoy the change and that they would be “fun”, I wasn’t sure what to think.
I, like many who work in the public health field, understand the importance of living a healthy lifestyle. Basic nutrition information is widely available, and I would think it is safe to guess that most people know that an unhealthy diet (and lack of physical activity and using commercial tobacco products) are related to a multitude of chronic diseases. But how could I reinvent the wheel, working with project work plans aimed at reducing obesity and increasing the consumption of healthier foods among the Native American population?
I knew that the nutrition project workplans were following evidence-based strategies but that there needed to be more to meet the needs of the unique Native American communities that we serve. Which is why I focused on these proven strategies:
1. Data Gathering: Working with project partners from the MI Public Health Institute helped to collect survey information from the Food Distribution on Indian Reservations’ (FDPIR) Managers. We learned that the USDA funded program- FDPIR offers a wide selection of healthy foods including fresh, frozen, and canned produce along with a decent protein selection and some traditional foods.
The USDA FDPIR program respects cultural food preferences and utilizes input from tribal representatives to decide which traditional foods (walleye, salmon, squash, wild rice, etc.) should be included in their program “food package”. We learned from our community member survey that even though the participants who qualify for this income-based program may select from an impressive variety of food, they were not selecting the fresh produce or healthier foods as often. And, that some people did not know how to cook non-processed foods or how to keep some of the fresh foods from perishing or they lacked an understanding of the health benefits of eating these types of foods.
2. Community-Based Approaches: Listening to the feedback from the tribes, we tailored program objectives 1) increasing selection and consumption of healthy traditional foods from FDPIR programs 2) increasing cooking skills and culturally appropriate nutrition education through in person cooking demonstrations and handouts and 3) strengthening relationships between FDPIR sites and tribal Dieticians for sustained nutrition education outreach.
Oh-Oh, something happened in 2019-2021 and all planned in person activities came to a screeching halt, can you guess what it was? Dare I say it? COVID-19. Enough said.
3. Culturally Appropriate Modifications: With feedback from participating tribes, we revised our nutrition education outreach to be digital/virtual, while also culturally appropriate and engaging.
To my surprise, what began as another public health project, increasing the access and consumption of healthy foods, resulted in a beautifully designed and uniquely illustrated collection of Anishinaabek inspired recipes, cooking demonstration videos, cookbooks, posters, and recipe cards known today as the Anishinaabek Cooking Resources (ACR). I could not have imagined that I would be working so closely with those in the creative world. Noel was right, this was fun!
4. Dissemination: We encourage the wide distribution of these ACR with the hopes that others may also enjoy the benefits of healthier eating and the Anishinaabek inspired recipes. The ITCM is re-featuring these recipes and materials through its Facebook and Instagram.
I have tried several of the recipes and to date, my personal favorite happens to be the recipe featured for March, the Walleye Chowder. I was fortunate to be able to use Walleye that a friend caught and gave to me, it was so delicious, I am going to make it again and soon. Probably on a Sunday though, when I have a little more time.
Cathy Edgerly has worked with the Inter-Tribal Council of MI for over 20 years in its Health Education and Chronic Disease Department managing a variety of disease prevention programs. She is happy to report that her cooking skills have improved since the inception of the ACR initiative.
*The five participating program tribes include the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, the Hannahville Indian Community, the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, the Keweenaw Bay Indian Tribe, the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, and the Bay Mills Indian Community.