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Alaska lawmakers learn about a subsistence superfood

The House Resources Committee got an update on the traditional foods movement in Alaska.

It’s becoming more common for public facilities in the state to accept wild-harvested donations, such as deer or seafood. Seal soup has been added to the menu at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage.

But places like schools, nursing homes and hospitals have yet to incorporate one of the most requested subsistence foods. Melissa Chlupach, from the University of Alaska Anchorage College of Health, called it “Alaska’s condiment.”

“Seal oil is a superfood. It has a high amount of omega-3s that are so healthy for us,” Chlupach said.

The state’s food safety codes don’t allow seal oil in public facilities yet. That’s because it’s been implicated in several botulism outbreaks in Alaska. Rep. John Lincoln, a Democrat from Kotzebue, asked why a food considered safe to eat by many villages raised red flags.

Chlupach and a colleague explained that the rendering process differs across Alaska. There’s a lot of variability.

Chlupach told lawmakers there’s still more work to be done to incorporate a variety of subsistence foods on the menu at public institutions. She encourages people to tell their stories.

“That’s how we can get these foods into our facilities and help heal our patients, help provide foods to the Elders so they can eat the foods they’ve grown up on,” Chlupach said.

Maniiḷaq Health Center in Kotzebue is onthe forefront of this effort.

The long-term care facility there has been working with the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, the University of Wisconsin and the Kodiak Seafood and Marine Science Center to determine the safest rendering techniques for seal oil, with the hopes of someday serving it to residents.

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