Hello Fresh, Blue Apron and other “meal kit” services have helped time-stressed families choose home-cooked meals over fast food and pizza delivery. The same concept was also innovatively embraced recently by northern Minnesota’s White Earth Nation to help families access and rediscover the wild rice, bison and other nutritious foods their forebears once relied on.
This state has been fortunate to be at the forefront of a national movement to improve health in American Indian communities by encouraging a return to traditional foods. The metro’s Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community launched the Seeds of Native Health campaign in 2015. Since then, the high-profile effort has received acclaim for its work to promote healthier food choices and spotlight diet-linked health problems that disproportionately affect indigenous people, such as Type 2 diabetes.
The new meal kit effort, funded through Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota’s philanthropic arm, complements this worthy work. Blue Cross established its Center for Prevention in 2006 after receiving settlement dollars from its historic lawsuit against Big Tobacco. In March, the center announced new opportunities through its “Catalyst Funding Initiative” for community-driven, culturally specific health improvement projects.
The White Earth project was one of 15 to win funding, with each recipient receiving $25,000 or less. This project’s melding of the modern (meal kits) with the past (traditional foods) is a particularly savvy idea that could serve as a model for other Indian nations aiming to take a back-to-the-future approach to better health. Also praiseworthy: the project’s enlistment of many community members to develop recipes for the kits and procure locally grown products for them.
That collaboration created excitement across the White Earth community and ensured a positive reception for the food chosen, according to Zach Paige, a food sovereignty specialist with the tribe. Bison meatloaf was one of the meal choices. Wild rice blueberry pancakes with local maple syrup was another. Elders and families especially appreciated the convenience.
The project was temporary, with the meal kits provided periodically this fall, ending in December. But the effort generated enthusiasm about healthier food choices and how they’re entwined in the community’s proud heritage. Blue Cross deserves credit for its support. The project’s success is an excellent foundation to build on as White Earth leaders continue their efforts to promote healthy, local foods and boost access to them on the reservation.