BY HOLLY FISHER
Staff Writer, UAS Whalesong
UAS Native and Rural Student Center’s (NRSC’s) Food Sovereignty Friday series features a new food or product made of ingredients seasonally harvested from the surrounding areas. The series is aimed at educating students on the extremely nutritional food that Alaska can offer.
Food Sovereignty Friday began four years ago as a means to create a formal educational event for UAS students, faculty, and staff. Before its inception, the NRSC had been hosting casual harvesting gatherings for its members on a regular basis, according to NRSC Coordinator Kolene James.
Students and staff would come multiple times, and later would start bringing interested roommates and friends. Those who had not grown up with hunting and harvesting practices were fascinated by the gathering and production of Native Alaskan foods and medicines.
They wanted to know when to harvest and where, how to dress and store the food, and what ways were best to cook it. The NRSC staff took this interest and used it as the core of the new, more involved program. Ultimately, Food Sovereignty was born out of students’ curiosity.
The event is held three times a semester, with each one focusing on a specific item. Deer, salmon, and berries are especially popular foods that gather large crowds of interested taste-testers.
While enjoying delicious foods, time spent in the center is also great for learning for both experts and novices. The events highlight seasonal gathering techniques, as well as safety tips for the inexperienced gatherer. If a dish or item is from another part of the state, or based in a different Native Alaskan culture, the NRSC staff endeavors to invite someone knowledgeable from that area.
Beyond the food items themselves, Food Sovereignty Friday emphasizes the health benefits of a traditional diet. The high nutritional value of fresh fruits and game meat, along with the powerful medicinal qualities of many plants, are excellent additions to any lifestyle.
The need for good, healthy food is especially high among students who are often subsisting on a diet of fried foods and snack packs.
The American diet in general is plagued by crises of cancer, diabetes, and other food-related conditions. Harvesting natural resources addresses these problems on multiple levels. Individuals who participate in food gathering get plenty of exercise and fresh air, while coming home with delicious, wholesome ingredients.
Food Sovereignty Friday has been fostered without a core political element, focusing directly on its primary goal of education exchange. However, it does provide an opportunity to discuss signs of global change based on harvesting experiences. With the unusually long berry picking seasons of the last two years, gatherers are seeing first hand signs that are beginning to appear.
People from all over the state donate items, but our faculty and staff here at UAS provide the bulk of it from their own harvested foods.
Based on the positive effects of these foods, there is an interest in future discussions with the university’s dining department about offering more traditional dishes. Ideas like halibut chowder, or salmon and potato soup, have been brought up.
There is one more Food Sovereignty Friday event this semester, featuring herring eggs. This may depend on availability of the eggs, as we are still in the early stages of the season, but it promises to be an educational experience no matter what is collected.
The NRSC would like to welcome anyone to the event, but especially native and rural students.
Look for the program’s schedule on both the campus calendar and in the Whalesong calendar.