Traditional foods nourish our people

July 9, 2018

For years, Alaska Native leaders negotiated with the U.S. Department of Agriculture for permission to serve traditional foods to those who could most benefit from their healing and comforting effects. ANTHC is a long-time advocate for the positive aspects of harvesting and eating traditional foods – and the ability to serve them to our patients and visitors at the Alaska Native Medical Center.

ANMC Food and Nutrition Services currently serves a variety of traditional foods to our people who are inpatient at the hospital or just stopping by to dine and visit. ANMC inpatients can order a variety of dishes with reindeer, moose, salmon, sheefish, beach asparagus, fiddlehead ferns, herring eggs, fish pies, a variety of Alaskan berries and even Eskimo ice cream!

Every Tuesday, ANMC Food and Nutrition Services serves inpatients a special traditional foods treat, which has come to be known as “Traditional Tuesdays.” Recent Traditional Tuesday offerings have included seal stew and smoked hooligan. The hooligan recently served was provided by Keith Shumway, an ANTHC employee. He donated 77 gallons of fresh hooligan which were smoked and are currently offered to our inpatients on their in-room menu.

“The smiles we receive from the patients and their families who eat our food is the best gift one can ever receive,” said Cynthia Davis, ANMC Food and Nutrition Services General Manager.

This spring, gardens featuring Alaska plants traditionally used as foods were planted in the ANMC Food Court courtyard to have more traditional foods dishes available in the future. The gardens highlight the bounty of Alaskan edible plants and includes three regional categories: tundra garden, bog garden and birch forest garden. The tundra garden includes a plot of tundra imported from Nome, and the other two gardens feature paper birch, blueberry, red currant, chocolate lily, high bush cranberry, Labrador tea, field mint, moss log wild rhubarb, Haida potato, soap berry, service berry, wild chives, wild rose and yarrow.

Traditional foods are also featured in the Patient Housing Café dining location. The Patient Housing Café recently introduced the Traditional Foods Station — the first station to be seen as a person enters the café features baked fish, sticky rice and steamed veggies every day.

“Traditional foods not only heal the body, but they heal and comfort the soul too,” added Davis.

ANMC Food and Nutrition Services is able to provide our inpatients special traditional foods because of generous donations from local hunters and foragers.

While there are a number of traditional foods that our inpatients can order at ANMC, there are still many items that we are not permitted to purchase and serve, but can serve if donated. At the top of our wish list is caribou, moose, seal and whale. These are the proteins that our patients consider comfort food, which are the foods that help heal them. If you are interested in donating any of these items, or have questions about traditional foods being served at ANMC, please email

Related: Traditional foods have been a part of ANTHC’s work and services throughout our 20 years of Tribal leadership. Read about our work in traditional foods in the April – June issue of the Mukluk Telegraph by clicking here or hear from ANTHC staff on traditional foods on ANTHC’s YouTube channel.

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