A sustainable diet in Alaska requires gathering, hunting, and fishing
By MARIA ROMFOE
Staff Writer, UAS Whalesong
Subsistence hunting and fishing play a vital role in Alaskan culture and may be the key to eating sustainably in the last frontier.
Eating in Alaska poses some important questions about what foods are most sustainable to consume.
Animal agriculture holds strong links to copious environmental issues including freshwater pollution and depletion, topsoil erosion, degradation of natural habitats, decline in native species, etc.
26 percent of land worldwide is being used for grazing livestock, 33 percent is dedicated to growing animal feed, and approximately 70 percent of the world’s freshwater supplies are being used for agriculture, according to One Green Planet, a platform promoting sustainable diets, industries, and policies.
In places where fresh, local, organic produce can be accessed year-round, the solution is simply converting from an “all American diet” of steak and burgers to a plant-based diet of fruits, vegetables, and grains.
However, this can de difficult in Alaska since it is a state that imports 95 percent of its food consumed, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.
Professor of Social Science, Dr. Lora Vess, breaks down what the high import of produce really means.
“In Alaska only five percent of produce sold is grown in state, “ said Vess. “A majority of the produce found in Alaska has burned hundreds to thousands of miles worth of fossil fuels to get here.”
Breaking away from the industrial food system and relying on foods that naturally exist on the land, of which Indigenous Alaskans have survived off for thousands of years, is the best option.
Indigenous Alaskan’s diets emphasize the consumption of wild berries (i.e. salmonberries, blueberries, and crowberries), a wide variety of fish (i.e. salmon and trout), and large game animals (i.e. moose and caribou), according to the Alaska Traditional Diet survey.
UAS student Austin Alderfer explained his experience with sustenance deer hunting.
“I hunt for blacktails, and it supplements all of our (family’s) food. It makes the grocery bill a lot shorter and less expensive. Not to mention it’s a lot better for you than beef and other meats that are commercially farmed,” said Alderfer.
Hunting and fishing can benefit the environment in more ways than one.
Fees collected by the Department of Natural Resources for hunting and fishing licenses, park permits, and other fees are funneled back into the environment to improve and maintain natural areas.
In addition, the DNR can issue a certain amount of hunting and fishing tags to help manage unbalanced wildlife populations.
For example, tree sapling survival rates will decline if moose over populate a landscape, so by increasing the amount of moose tags given per year, the tree-moose relationship can be equalized.
Furthermore, hunters and fishers can help control invasive species, as is being done in Texas with wild boar and Florida with Lionfish.
Choosing fish and game over factory farmed meat reduces the amount land, water, and grains required to raise the livestock as well as the water, land, and air pollution that is produced during the process of raising, slaughtering, and transporting meat.
The World Watch Institute estimates that up to 51 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to agriculture making it a major driver of global climate change.
To supplement fish and game, native fruits such as blueberries, huckleberries, salmonberries, and crowberries can be harvested and consumed when in season.
Vess offers some additional tips to decrease diet-related environmental impacts when purchasing food from the grocery store.
“Some basic steps are to eat in season, eat as “locally” as possible, support local growers, eat less processed foods (which are worse nutritionally, but the more a food has been processed, the less money a farmer makes), try to pay attention to where something is grown (how far has it traveled), avoid excessive packaging (reuse bags, buy in bulk)… buy organic, transitional, or pesticide-free produce… and support agricultural workers by paying attention to boycotts.” Vess said.
By responsibly foraging, fishing, hunting, using traditional Alaskan diets as guidelines, and making eco-conscious decisions at the grocery store we can relieve the Earth of the strains that animal agriculture and the processed food industry place.