Nursing home praised for putting native foods on menu

A nursing home in Alaska is earning praise from residents and their families for a new partnership that brings a taste of traditional native foods to the facility.

The Utugganaat Inaat facility — “a place for elders” in the Inupiat language — has teamed up with a local food processing plant, which accepts donations of bison, venison, moose and caribou meat from local hunters. From the plant, the meat makes its way onto the facility's menu in the form dishes like musk ox meatloaf and caribou stew.

Both the nursing home and the meat processing plant are run by the Maniilaq Association, a regional tribal healthcare organization located in Kotzebue, AK.

The partnership not only brings joy to the native residents who get a chance to enjoy their favorite traditional foods on a regular basis, but saves the facility the cost of purchasing and shipping in meat from Anchorage, facility officials told the Associated Press. Prior to the donation program, native foods were served only at a monthly family potluck.

Similar programs may gain traction across the country, thanks to a federal law passed last year that allows food donations by approved hunters and other sources to nursing homes, child nutrition programs and other public facilities. A nursing home under development by the Navajo Nation in Arizona aims to adopt a similar program when it opens next year, serving traditional foods including elk, squash and beans from farmers within the tribe.

"It opens doors for our tribes and their citizens to continue having access to traditional foods," Leslie Wheelock, director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's office of tribal relations, told the Associated Press. "It eases the way, I think, tremendously."