As inflation soars, access to Indigenous foods declines

Aug 22, 2022, 3:02 AM | Updated: Aug 23, 2022, 1:04 pm

CHICAGO (AP) — Blueberry bison tamales, harvest salad with mixed greens, creamy carrot and wild rice soup, roasted turkey with squash. This contemporary Native American meal, crafted from the traditional foods of tribes across the United States and prepared with “Ketapanen” – a Menominee expression of love – cost caterer Jessica Pamonicutt $976 to feed a group of 50 people last November.

Today it costs her nearly double.

Pamonicutt is the executive chef of Chicago-based Native American catering business Ketapanen Kitchen. She is a citizen of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin but was raised in the Windy City, home to one of the largest urban Native populations in the country, according to the American Indian Center of Chicago.

Her business aims to offer health-conscious meals featuring Indigenous ingredients to the Chicago Native community and educate people about Indigenous contributions to everyday American fare.

One day, she aims to purchase all ingredients from Native suppliers and provide her community with affordable access to healthy Indigenous foods, “but this whole inflation thing has slowed that down,” she said.

U.S. inflation surged to a new four-decade high in June, squeezing household budgets with painfully high prices for gas, food and rent.

Traditional Indigenous foods — like wild rice, bison, fresh vegetables and fruit in the Midwest — are often unavailable or too expensive for Native families in urban areas like Chicago, and the recent inflation spike has propelled these foods even further out of reach.

Risk of disease compounds the problem: healthy eating is key to battling diabetes, which afflicts Native Americans at the highest rate of any ethnic group in the United States.

“There are many benefits to eating traditional Native foods,” said Jessica Thurin, a dietician at Native American Community Clinic in Minneapolis. “The body knows exactly how to process and use that food. These foods are natural to the Earth.”

But many people the clinic serves are low-income and do not have the luxury of choosing where their food comes from. Food deserts – areas with limited access to a variety of healthy and affordable foods – are more likely to exist in places with higher rates of poverty and concentrations of minority populations.

“In these situations, there are limited healthy food options, not to mention limited traditional food options,” Thurin said.

Aside from health benefits, traditional foods hold important cultural and emotional value.

“It’s just comfort,” said Danielle Lucas, a 39-year-old descendant of the Sicangu Lakota people from the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota.

Lucas’ mother, Evelyn Red Lodge, said she hasn’t prepared traditional dishes of the Great Plains, like wojapi berry sauce or stew, since May because the prices of key ingredients – berries and meat – have soared.

Pamonicutt, too, is feeling the pinch. Between last winter and this spring, the price of bison jumped from $13.99 to $23.99 per pound.

Shipping costs are so high that the chef said it’s often cheaper to drive hundreds of miles to buy ingredients, even with spiking gas prices. She’s even had to create her own suppliers: the 45-year-old’s parents are now growing crops for her business on their Wisconsin property near the Illinois border.

Gina Roxas, program coordinator at Trickster Cultural Center in Schaumburg, Illinois, a Chicago suburb, has also agreed to grow Native foods to help the chef minimize costs.

When a bag of wild rice costs $20, “you end up going to a fast food place instead to feed your family,” Roxas said.

More than 70% of Native Americans reside in urban areas – the result of decades of federal policies pushing families to leave reservations and assimilate into American society.

Dorene Wiese, executive director of the Chicago-based American Indian Association of Illinois, said members of her community have to prioritize making rent payments over splurging on healthy, traditional foods.

Even though specialty chefs like Pamonicutt aim to feed their own communities, the cost of her premium catering service is out of the price range for many urban Natives. Her meals end up feeding majority non-Native audiences at museums or cultural events that can foot the bill, said Wiese, a citizen of the Minnesota White Earth Band of Ojibwe Indians.

“There really is a shortage of Native foods in the area,” she said, But the problem isn’t unique to Chicago.

Dana Thompson, co-owner of The Sioux Chef company and executive director of a Minneapolis Indigenous food nonprofit, is another Native businesswoman striving to expand her urban community’s access to traditional local foods like lake fish, wild rice and wild greens amid the food price surge.

Thompson, of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate and Mdewakanton Dakota people, said inflation is “really impacting the food systems we have here,” which include dozens of Indigenous, local and organic food producers.

At Owamni, an award-winning Indigenous restaurant under The Sioux Chef umbrella, ingredients like Labrador Tea – which grows wild in northern Minnesota – have been especially difficult to get this year, Thompson said.

When an ingredient is not consistently available or affordable, she changes the menu.

“Being fluid and resilient is what we’re used to,” Thompson said. “That’s like the history of indigeneity in North America.”

Inflation is similarly impeding the American Indian Center of Chicago’s efforts to improve food security. Executive Director Melodi Serna, of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians and the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, said the current prices of food boxes they distribute – with traditional Midwestern foods like fish, bison, venison, dairy products and produce – are “astronomical.”

“Where I could have been able to provide maybe 100 boxes, now we’re only able to provide 50,” Serna said.

For 57-year-old Emmie King, a Chicago resident and citizen of the Navajo Nation, getting the fresh ingredients she grew up with in New Mexico is much more difficult in the city, especially with inflation biting into her budget.

She finds ways to “stretch” the food she buys so it lasts longer, purchasing meat in bulk and freezing small portions to add to stews later on. “I get what I need, rather than what I want,” she said.

But King was able to enjoy a taste of home at an Aug. 3 luncheon at the American Indian Center of Chicago, where twenty elders gathered to enjoy turkey tamales with cranberry-infused masa, Spanish rice with quinoa, elote pasta salad with chickpea noodles and glasses of cold lemonade.

The mastermind behind the meal was Pamonicutt herself, sharing her spin on Southwestern and Northern Indigeneous food traditions. Through volunteering at senior lunches and developing a food education program, the chef is continuing to increase access to healthy Indigenous foods in her community.

“I want kids to learn where these foods come from,” the chef said. “That whole act of caring for your food … thanking it, understanding that it was grown to help us survive.”

___

Claire Savage, Hannah Schoenbaum and Trisha Ahmed are corps members for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Savage reported from Chicago, Illinois, Schoenbaum from Raleigh, North Carolina, and Ahmed from Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Activists hold up posters during a rally against Indonesia's new criminal law in Yogyakarta, Indone...
Associated Press

Indonesia’s Parliament votes to ban sex outside of marriage

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesia’s Parliament unanimously voted on Tuesday to ban sex outside of marriage and insulting the president and state institutions. Once in force, the bans will affect foreign visitors as well as citizens. They’re part of an overhaul of the country’s criminal code that has been in the works for years. The […]
18 hours ago
Leaders attend the plenary session of the Mercosur trade bloc summit in Montevideo, Uruguay, Tuesda...
Associated Press

Tensions over trade deals exposed at Mercosur summit

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (AP) — A summit of the four Mercosur nations exposed tensions Tuesday as Uruguay’s eagerness to seek out foreign markets collided with opposition from Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. Uruguayan President Luis Lacalle Pou said his country must “open up to the world” and it intends to negotiate a free trade agreement with China […]
18 hours ago
A driver fills up his car while sign on pump reads 'Dear Costumers! You can purchase only 2 liters ...
Associated Press

Hungarian government scraps year-old ceiling on fuel prices

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hungary’s government cancelled a state-imposed cap on fuel prices late Tuesday after a recent wave of panic-buying among motorists led to fuel shortages and long lines at filling stations across the country. The prices of gasoline and diesel at fuel pumps will be set according to market rates as of 11 […]
18 hours ago
FILE - A sign at the federal courthouse in Tacoma, Wash., is shown on April 6, 2016, to inform visi...
Associated Press

COVID’s lingering impact prompts Real ID deadline extension

The deadline for obtaining the Real ID needed to board a domestic flight has been pushed back again, with the Department of Homeland Security citing the lingering impact of the COVID-19 pandemic for the slower-than-expected rollout. The deadline to have a Real ID had been May 3, 2023, but DHS announced Monday that it was […]
18 hours ago
Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks at a news conference about a jury's verdict against members...
Associated Press

Garland: Justice Dept.’s civil rights work is key priority

WASHINGTON (AP) — The early work of the Justice Department’s civil rights division meant confronting white supremacists who were intimidating Black voters, and 65 years later, its work is just as urgent amid a surge of hate crimes in the U.S., Attorney General Merrick Garland said Tuesday. “Now more than ever, protecting civil rights is […]
18 hours ago
Associated Press

Mississippi grain company’s ex-CEO indicted on fraud charges

GREENVILLE, Miss. (AP) — The former leader of a Mississippi grain storage and processing company has been indicted on federal and state charges, more than a year after the company filed for bankruptcy, prosecutors said Tuesday. John R. Coleman, 46, of Greenwood, Mississippi, is the former CEO of Express Grain Terminals, LLC. A federal grand […]
18 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

(Desert Institute for Spine Care photo)...
DESERT INSTITUTE FOR SPINE CARE

Why DISC is world renowned for back and neck pain treatments

Fifty percent of Americans and 90% of people at least 50 years old have some level of degenerative disc disease.
...
Children’s Cancer Network

Children’s Cancer Network celebrates cancer-fighting superheroes, raises funds during September’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Jace Hyduchak was like most other kids in his kindergarten class: He loved to play basketball, dress up like his favorite superheroes and jump as high as his pint-sized body would take him on his backyard trampoline.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Here are 4 signs the HVAC unit needs to be replaced

Pool renovations and kitchen upgrades may seem enticing, but at the forefront of these investments arguably should be what residents use the most. In a state where summertime is sweltering, access to a functioning HVAC unit can be critical.
As inflation soars, access to Indigenous foods declines