Chef Amy Foote and the Traditional Foods Program of Alaska Native Medical Center
As executive chef at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage, Amy Foote is determined to provide the hospital’s Alaska Native and American Indian patients with traditional foods that are both healthy and culturally meaningful, which Foote says can aid healing. Foote’s kitchen provides 5,000 meals a day to inpatients, outpatients, and visitors at the campus hotel.
“Our traditional foods program accepts donations, but we also collaborate to see what can be hunted, fished, gathered, or grown. We have Alaska Native-raised reindeer, wild-caught salmon, and seal donated by Alaska Native hunters. I also work with farms and Alaska Pacific University to grow traditional plants, including hydroponically, so we can get the foods that really heal and comfort our patients.
I love my job. It requires building partnerships and sometimes getting people to think differently, like when we work with fishermen to reclaim edible parts of fish that are slated for fertilizer. That includes salmon heads, which we cook down into a healthy broth rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
I also figure out how to get the foods on the menu. Our patients have different traditions from across Alaska. And some are urban and prefer a fusion diet, like maybe putting fiddleheads on pizza. It can be challenging, but traditional foods connect patients to their land and culture, which can be healing.
Food security in Alaska is important to me. I hope we see more year-round hydroponics here. By the time produce reaches Alaska, there’s not a lot left to it, but if we can grow it closer to home, we can have better quality and better health.”