Andrea Bersamin, associate professor of nutrition at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Center for Alaska Native Health Research, led a fish-to-school program at two Southwest Alaskan elementary schools. Bersamin and her team developed a purchasing guide for schools and are planning a modified pilot program across the state to get students used to eating more fish.
Q: What was the goal?
A: To promote local subsistence and traditional foods in order to improve diet quality and food security. This is a region where traditional native diets are still being consumed to a greater extent than other parts of the country with native groups. So they depend a lot on seafood, mammals and wild greens, but what we’re finding is that kids are eating fewer traditional foods than their parents and grandparents, and there are a lot of benefits to eating traditional foods.
Q: What were your findings?
A: We took pictures of student lunch trays before and after they ate, and found that the salmon was always gone at the end. We looked at attitudes, beliefs and behaviors toward traditional foods, and found they did improve over time.
Q: What was the most universal aspect?
A: Getting the students involved in the decision-making process through taste tests and talking about where the food comes from, and how they have the power to make healthy decisions, not only for themselves but for their community—I think that’s really empowering.