The global outbreak of COVID-19 has disrupted food systems in the Chugach region. Tribal Members’ food environments are rapidly changing in both their external dimensions – food availability, prices, vendors–as well as personal dimensions – geographical access, affordability, convenience, and desirability. These rapid food environment changes are influencing the consumers’ dietary practices and can lead to a deterioration in both individual and country-level nutritional and health status. Traditional food has implications beyond physical health; it also plays an important role in the formation of identity, in the everyday lives of Alaska Native people and communities, and in the development of community, economic, and social institutions. People and their health and nutrition status are what counts. Not only are certain foods central to the ceremonial and epistemological belief systems of many Tribes but communities also face unique issues as they try to feed their people in a world of increasing prices and less access to healthy food. As the CDC’s own Traditional Food Project (2016) noted, several factors contribute to significant health disparities in Indian Country, and traditional diets have proven crucial to battling a number of health-related risks such as heart disease and diabetes, which also contribute to increased morbidity in COVID-19 patients. Issues of hunger, food insecurity, access to traditional food sources, and geographic isolation make accessing fresh and healthy foods a challenge for many Alaska Native communities, families, and children.
Without access to healthy foods, Tribal Members, particularly those at risk or or suffering from food insecurity and those with preexisting non-communicable diseases, are at a heightened risk of becoming severely ill with the virus. With funding from the CDC and Chugach Alaska Corporation,CRRC has been able to provide individual Tribal households with items that support food sovereignty, such as pressure canners, dehydrators, recipe books, gathering and processing books and material, and other food processing equipment, so that during this time they would be able to be self-sufficient in stocking their cabinets and freezers with food.