Nutrition and American Indians and Alaska Native (AI/AN) Cultures

Nutrition and Culture

  • For hundreds of years American Indians and Alaska Native people incorporated food into native culture, not just for nourishment, but in many other ways
    • Food is used to make people comfortable, to welcome them and to demonstrate the hospitality and good will of the person, family or tribe who is receiving the guest(s)
    • Food is a delightful way to bring people together, families and whole communities. As we always say, if you want Indians to show up, you better have food
    • We celebrate special occasions and honors received by sponsoring feasts.
    • We always feed those who have come to support us at the wakes and funerals of our loved ones
    • We gave thanks with dinners and feasts. And we honor revered spirits with food offerings
    • And some of our cultures use food or food products, such as corn pollen, in prayers and blessings
  • So food has many important roles in our native cultures
  • But over the past one hundred years of major changes within our tribal communities the actual foods that people eat have changed drastically.
  • We have gone from breastmilk (nature's most perfect food in the safest and most nurturing container!) to formula, from lean game meats to Spam and Big Macs, from fresh and dried berries to Twinkies and from clean spring water to soda pop
  • One modern misuse of food is to make ourselves feel good. Much like alcohol and cigarettes, some of our people treat their feelings of sadness and grief with food without being able to perceive their bodies' signals of hunger or fullness
  • In order to nourish our bodies and our souls we need to take a lesson from our ancestors. We need to reexamine how our people used to eat and learn how to adapt those same principles to today's lifestyles and food sources
  • In this module we will talk about what nutrients we need from food and ways to get nutrition during the tough times of cancer treatment. We'll also look at examples of traditional foods and at what science already knows about foods which help prevent cancer