It’s no secret that part of living a healthy life is to eat food that is good for you. And we all know how hard it can be to stick to a diet without anything sugar-coated or deep-fried – the temptations are everywhere and are sometimes unavoidable.
This fall, villagers of Igiugig in Southwest Alaska decided to improve their health with a community-wide Native Foods Challenge. Among the participants was BBNC shareholder AlexAnna Salmon, who took up the experiment with her teenage daughter.
Based on the Michael Pollen book, “In Defense of Food,” the community challenged themselves to eat a traditional Native diet over a six-week period, starting in September and to last until the end of October.
“The first week was the hardest,” says Salmon, who planned meetings to gather food for participants. “I had to take two naps a day. But by the eighth day, there was a turnaround. I was tasting food for what it really was, and it was delicious.”
In the months leading up to the challenge, partakers worked together to harvest and store produce and meats traditionally eaten by their ancestors. As the weeks rolled on, a support system grew within the community. According to AlexAnna, sharing also became integral for everyone. “There was a lot of trading,” she said, “I traded some dried fish for berries, and eggs for honey. A friend sent over smoked king salmon. There was definitely a support system so that everyone participating in the challenge could make it.”
Sticking to the traditional plan meant getting creative with meals. AlexAnna found herself modernizing a menu of subsistence foods. “We used caribou meat to make caribou jalapeno burgers, and heart and tongue soup,” she said. “My kids are so much more aware of a healthy diet than I ever was at their age.”
Along with the new additions to her family dinners, Salmon made a few surprising discoveries about herself and her community. “I was surprised at how much I had left over from what I harvested,” she explained, “and surprised at how delicious everything tasted. There was this amazing feeling of community bonding and that we were all in it together, and we were going to support and encourage each other. We were so proud.”
When the challenge ended, AlexAnna was excited to discover that her health had significantly improved. “Within one week, my blood sugar dropped 40 points, and I lost seven pounds. Altogether, I lost 13 pounds! I felt so good I wanted to do more.”
This experience also strengthened the connection to her family. “I’ve never felt more like my grandmother – she never wasted anything. When you ate dinner, you appreciated having food because you worked so hard for it.”
As the success of the challenge spread across Igiugig, AlexAnna reflected on the resilience of her community. “We can aspire to be as strong as our ancestors,” she said. “We live those values all the time. This challenge, and how we provided and supported each other, it really emphasized all the values we already live.”
BBNC congratulates the village of Igiugig, on such an outstanding accomplishment!