Interview with a Chef and Indigenous food activist: Amy Foote

Chef Amy Foote foraging produce
Chef Amy Foote foraging produce

Name: Amy Foote, Senior Area Executive Chef 
Location: Anchorage, Alaska 
Education/background: Certified Dietary Manager, Certified Health Care Environmental Services Professional, Associate of Applied Science in Culinary Arts, Constant Learning 
Business name: Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, Nana Management Services 

What led to your passion for indigenous foods? 
I have had a passion for foraging, hunting, fishing and growing my own food for years. When I was fifteen, I fell in love with Alaska.  I loved working summers in Prince William Sound. When I became a chef, it was driven by creativity and artistic expression. I have been cooking for more 25 years now, and I can more deeply understand the healing aspect of food. While working on the frontline in hospitals, I have seen the power of healing through the connection to culture and ancestors.  

Why do you think it’s important to make traditional foods accessible for Natives?  
I believe that food is very intimate and personal. In our homes, it is our daily sustenance. It is a highlight for celebrations and ceremonies. In healthcare, food is medicine. Food offers healing, not just from a physical need but also by providing comfort, connecting to our ancestors and the healing of our spirit. In senior living it is a meaningful social outlet, honoring our elders, our life blood. Food is passion, economics, commerce and community wellness. Food is entertainment, education, training, stewardship and social work. 

What is the importance of an indigenous diet for a healthy lifestyle? 
Food is our connection to each other, to the land, to culture and traditions. It allows us to access healing to our DNA level where our bodies are all unique and designed to utilize our foods. The act of growing and foraging is healing through interaction with the land. The act of sharing and giving is an act of healing between each other. The act of eating gives comfort, nourishment and wellness. 

What other ways (besides your business) are you involved in the education, restoration and accessibility of traditional Native foods, if any? 
Our program at the Alaska Native Medical Center has many partners in making traditional food available to our patients. For example, we are working with the Space Farming Institute in our Food is Medicine pilot program to serve traditional foods, such as nutrient-dense micro-greens. 

The research and development of reliable year-round plant ingredients is necessary to provide best practices and protocols to support our goal of serving as many traditional dishes in our facilities as possible. 

We work with the Spring Creek Farm, operated by Alaska Pacific University, to grow soil and test traditional plants as food. 

We purchase excess grown items from village farms like Tyonek Community Gardens

We have developed relationships with the Alaska Professional Hunters Association to reclaim hunted meats by out of state hunters and serve these to our inpatients. 

We also work with Tribal hunters for our traditional marine mammal proteins, like harbor seal, and we purchase only Alaskan fish and support indigenous fisherman. We bought more than 5,000 pounds of farm-raised bull kelp from southeast Alaskan waters. We are collaborating in research and experimenting with more traditional varieties of seaweed to ensure that we don’t affect the indigenous wild harvest. 

My leadership at Nana Management Services supported a fishing trip to Kotzebue where we harvested Shiifish with Cyrus Harris, a traditional hunter and mentor, and donated all of those to feed our patients. It has been a passion to develop and grow our program to be able to serve more than 27,524 pounds of traditional ingredients since 2014, which was when the Farm Bill allowed for these types of donation programs. ainability, food sovereignty and food security. 

By building engagement, education, policy, indigenous culinary arts and agricultural diversity, we are also supporting our local economy through farms that have a goal of fulfilling traditional indigenous and nutrient-dense plants and proteins. We envision expanding our reach to reindeer and seaweed farms, as well as other cultivated ingredients here in Alaska. Traditional food and modern technology provide food security. 

We are passionate about supporting our local and indigenous cultural food systems and way of life. We are in this together, all of us. What each of us does impacts our region and our entire planet. 

How can community members be involved and support the cause of restoring and protecting indigenous food systems? 
A call to action, I believe on all levels, from federal, state and Tribal governance, to understand your local air and water management is vital. Protect what you love and celebrate all efforts, no matter how small they may seem. 

Wish it, dream it, do it! 

Anything else you’d like to add? 
We are in this together, all of us, what each of us does impacts our region and our entire planet. Listen and learn from to the wisdom of the animals, the land, the plants and the indigenous peoples. 

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