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JOURNAL ARTICLE

Rebuilding northern foodsheds, sustainable food systems, community well-being, and food security

S Craig Gerlach, Philip A Loring
International Journal of Circumpolar Health 2013, 72
23967414

BACKGROUND: Multiple climatic, environmental and socio-economic pressures have accumulated to the point where they interfere with the ability of remote rural Alaska Native communities to achieve food security with locally harvestable food resources. The harvest of wild foods has been the historical norm, but most Alaska Native villages are transitioning to a cash economy, with increasing reliance on industrially produced, store-bought foods, and with less reliable access to and reliance on wild, country foods. While commercially available market foods provide one measure of food security, the availability and quality of market foods are subject to the vagaries and vulnerabilities of the global food system; access is dependent on one's ability to pay, is limited to what is available on the shelves of small rural stores, and, store-bought foods do not fulfill the important roles that traditional country foods play in rural communities and cultures. Country food access is also constrained by rising prices of fuel and equipment, a federal and state regulatory framework that sometimes hinders rather than helps rural subsistence users who need to access traditional food resources, a regulatory framework that is often not responsive to changes in climate, weather and seasonality, and a shifting knowledge base in younger generations about how to effectively harvest, process and store wild foods.

OBJECTIVE: The general objective is to provide a framework for understanding the social, cultural, ecological and political dimensions of rural Alaska Native food security, and to provide information on the current trends in rural Alaska Native food systems.

DESIGN: This research is based on our long-term ethnographic, subsistence and food systems work in coastal and interior Alaska. This includes research about the land mammal harvest, the Yukon River and coastal fisheries, community and village gardens, small livestock production and red meat systems that are scaled appropriately to village size and capacity, and food-system intervention strategies designed to rebuild local and rural foodsheds and to restore individual and community health.

RESULTS: The contemporary cultural, economic and nutrition transition has severe consequences for the health of people and for the viability of rural communities, and in ways that are not well tracked by the conventional food security methodologies and frameworks. This article expands the discussion of food security and is premised on a holistic model that integrates the social, cultural, ecological, psychological and biomedical aspects of individual and community health.

CONCLUSION: We propose a new direction for food-system design that prioritizes the management of place-based food portfolios above the more conventional management of individual resources, one with a commitment to as much local and regional food production and/or harvest for local and regional consumption as is possible, and to community self-reliance and health for rural Alaska Natives.

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