Brit Reed (Choctaw) is a member of the 2014-2016 Evergreen State College Masters in Public Administration Tribal Governance concentration cohort. (c) 2014 - All rights of this document belong to her and The Evergreen State College.
Hamelin, Mercier, and Bédard (2010) combine the definitions of food security and insecurity together stating that, “Food security for a household means access by all members at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life. Food security includes, at a minimum the ready availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, and an assured ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially respectable ways (i.e. without resorting to emergency food supplies, scavenging, stealing or other coping strategies).” Although food insecurity and programs addressing lack of food security have existed since the nineteenth century, it has reemerged as a major topic in global governance in more recent times (Margulis, 2013). Today both the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and other major world organizations have taken food security to be a key issue of their organizations. FAO and other’s food aid programs continue to help developing countries address their food insecurity with mixed results. In the United States, many tribes have struggled with the issue of food insecurity since the passage of the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and Indian Appropriation Act of 1851, which forced tribes to relocate from their larger traditional lands to smaller reservations (Lui, et al, 2006). Food programs such as commodities programs and food stamps seek to ease the burden of lack of food but do not address food insecurity at the root level. Dependency on programs such as these persist within tribal communities and non-tribal communities to this day.
In his paper, Native American Embodiment of the Chronicities of Modernity: Reservation Food, Diabetes, and the Metabolic Syndrome among the Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache, Dennis Wiedman (2012) argues that the United States government’s contracting of food and supplies in the northeastern U.S. to distant western reservations to pay out annuities and rations during the 1800s, built the infrastructure for the transportation and food industries that are today’s global multinational corporations that continues the disenfranchisement of Indigenous local foods. With the passage of the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and Indian Appropriation Act of 1851, tribes were moved from their larger traditional territories to smaller reservation lands (Lui, et al, 2006). Removing tribes from their usual and accustomed territories severed their ties with their land and food resources; this was the beginning of chronic food insecurity for tribal nations. In the endeavor to supply troops, The United States Civil War from 1861-1865 developed the industrial and transportation systems needed to supply Native American peoples whom were forced to live on reservations where it was impossible to produce sufficient local food. Wiedman (2012) goes on to state, “The Office of Indian Affairs in Washington, DC, contracted items manufactured in the northeastern states and shipped to Indian Territory primarily through Saint Louis, Missouri. Advertisements for bids were regularly placed in newspapers in Boston, Philadelphia, and New York. An executive committee composed of four non-Indians in Washington, DC, examined accounts of reservation superintendents for Indian goods, annuities, and services. Their goal was to increase the number of bids reducing the costs and amount paid.” Due to the competitive nature of the bids, there was a decline in value on beef in the U.S. markets. Common food rations given out at the time consisted of beef, bacon, corn meal, coffee, salt, sugar, rice, and wheat. Although the commodity selection has broadened widely since the nineteenth century, many of these staples continue to be core items. Through cutting tribal nations off from their traditional foods and food sources, making them dependent on ration and commodity foods, and later forcing tribal nations to utilize western farming practices, the United States government sought to assimilate Native American peoples through food (Wiedman, 2012).
Following World War II, the United States led the push in eradicating hunger as one of the principle objectives of the postwar international system in the United Nations. In 1945, driven by the idea that it was the international community’s responsibility to utilize the immense potential for advances in nutrition and agricultural science to fight world hunger, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) was created as the first to raise nutrition levels, improve food production and distribution, and ensure humanity’s freedom from hunger. Early efforts of FAO, “sought to address the food problems through the international coordination of grain production and trade to redistribute surplus food produced in the West to meet the needs of the hungry in the developing world (Margulis, 2013).” In his paper Impact of Food Aid on Household Food Security: Empirical Evidence, Woldengebrial Zeweld Nugusse (2013) stated, “…the formal food aid was started in the mid of 1950’s because (1) the United States passed Public Law 480 (Food for Peace) in 1954 that linked US farm policy to food aid as the disposal of grain surpluses (2) USA provided famine relief program in Europe officially through the Marshall Plan 1947 (3) Willard Cochrane wrote an article in 1960 claiming that US agricultural surplus (food aid) had promoted the economic development of poor countries (4) Theodore W. Shultz published an article in 1960 to refuse Cochrane’s argument and indicate the adverse effect of food aid on rural farmers in the recipient (5) The first Food Aid Convention initiated in 1967 in the Kennedy Round of GATT negotiation as international burden-sharing.”
Thus far, international food aid programs have focused on utilizing western agricultural practices and food grains and cereals, in particular, in order to feed food insecure people in developing countries. Often, donor countries provide food assistance for two basic reasons: self-interest and ethical reasons (Nugusse, 2013). Since the formation of the FAO, the world’s major grain producers and donors have been the United States, the European Community, Canada, and Australia (Margulis, 2013). For donor countries, food assistance has the ability to promote economic and/or political interests of their countries. Nugusse (2013) explained, “The economic motive includes disposing surplus production, reducing storage costs, opening access to new overseas markets for donor goods and generating employment for donor citizens. The political ideology interests refer to food aid was a good way to fight communism, compensation for past injustices and frustration for fundamentalists and terrorists. The ethical reason refers to the moral and social obligation to help the poor but not for the interest of the donor countries…. Food producers in the US benefit from food assistance, workers in the maritime industry gain from the cargo preference provision and the US engineering firms gain from contracts associated with infrastructure projects.”
International food aid programs have produced mixed results. In Africa, it was reported that children from households that had high-participation in the food aid program Food-for-work (FFW) were less malnourished than those from low-to non-participating households. In 2010, the USAID reported, “positive effects of supplementary school feeding in post-drought Zimbabwe in reducing levels of school drop-out and increasing the average weight gain in children participating…. Children in communities who received food aid have grown on average 2.0 cm faster in a six-month period than if no food aid were available…. Food aid has offset the negative effect of shock for poor communities (Nugusse, 2013).” In spite of the fact that food aid organizations are helping individuals become less malnourished, grow more, and gain weight, with a heavy focus on cereals and food grains, it is unclear whether or not people participating in these programs are receiving fully nourishing meals. The impacts of these food programs go beyond the personal nutrition of individuals and can have adverse affects on the recipient communities. For example, the food aid program, FFW, negatively affected local economic growth because the produce used for the program was imported rather than purchased from local farmers. As a result, feeling discouraged, farmers produced less food due to the importation of food. Poverty and long-term food insecurity increased slightly due to the increased dependence on food imports and the discouragement of local food production. Further, in Ethiopia, households that received food aid for two consecutive years or more were more likely to develop dependence syndrome than those that received less than two years or none at all (Nugusse, 2013).
Hamelin, Mercier, and Bédard (2010), point out in their article Needs for food security from the standpoint of Canadian households participating and not participating in community food programs, that a common response to addressing household food insecurity over the past quarter of a century has been to provide food support to relieve hunger through various charitable means. However, they go on to state, “After examining common factors in the experience of food-insecure households across 15 countries, Coats, et al. (2006) posited the hypothesis of a common core that goes beyond insufficient food quantity and transcends culture. Their analysis concurs with the concept of a ‘cluster of problems’ that emerged from our interviewees’ overall descriptions. It is not surprising that such a cluster of problems reveals a variety of needs that span from the question of food to more upstream issues such as the basic conditions necessary for food security. From an ethical stand-point, and in the interests of developing more efficacious and efficient intervention strategies, the issue of food insecurity would benefit not only from being understood as a ‘cluster of problems’, but also from being seen as arising from various situations that must be differentiated. It is therefore essential to consider food insecurity more comprehensively, focusing on people and their needs to achieve food security rather than seeing it primarily as a food problem in which food is a commodity. Solutions must therefore go beyond food support, whether in the form of food donations or participatory activities and be differentiated to respond to diverse needs.” In their study of food insecure households participating and not participating in food aid programs in Quebec City, Canada, Hamelin, et al. found that people who were food insecure felt strongly that long-term food security could not be achieved with out basic conditions such as the crucial financial requirements of a decent income, employment and affordable housing for a secure and sustainable livelihood being met. Nobel Prize-winning economist Amarya Sen’s work reflects the idea of the need for a multi-facetted solution to addressing food insecurity. Her work demonstrated that access to food and not just food supply was critical to averting famine; her theory of entitlements recognizes there are multiple causes of hunger that include food supply, availability, utilization, and food access. Sen’s work reoriented international food policies to look beyond traditional western food supply issues and is currently the basis of national and international policymaking (Margulis, 2013).
Although there is a distinct lack of data concerning food insecurity for First Nations, Métis, and Inuit populations in Canada as well as the more than 558 federally recognized tribal nations in the United States, available data indicates that indigenous North American populations struggle with many of the same issues concerning food insecurity that non-tribal populations experience (Brown, et al., 2007). Additionally, due to long-term systemic dependency on food aid, other issues for North American indigenous populations have arisen.
In their article “We Are Not Being Heard”: Aboriginal Perspectives on Traditional Foods Access and Food Security, Elliot, et al, (2012) state, “Although [the United Nations FAO food security] definition is intended to be inclusive of the dietary needs and food preferences of “all people,” concepts beyond the conventional food system, for example, traditional or country foods, are often overlooked in food security discussions. Two food systems – conventional and traditional – play on food security of indigenous peoples in Canada, referred to as Aboriginal peoples…. The conventional food system, with which most readers are familiar, prioritizes agribusiness products intended for global consumer markets (market foods). The traditional food system… “includes all of the food species that are available to a particular culture from local natural resources and the accepted patterns for their use within that culture” and incorporates the sociocultural meanings of these foods, their acquisition, processing, and use within a specific culture. This unique perspective is often missed in mainstream food security discourse; therefore, we argue that integrating Aboriginal knowledge and perspectives in whole of society strategies is imperative in creating food security for all people.” Elliot, et all, continues saying, “Evidence suggests that traditional foods are more nutritious than conventional diets consisting of market foods. Studies in Canada found that traditional foods contain higher amounts of nutrients and less fat, sodium and carbohydrates (especially sucrose) than market foods…. Due to the health benefits of traditional foods, researchers have warned of the dietary and health risks associated with the “nutrition transition” – a gradual westernization of Aboriginal diets to include more preprocessed market foods and drinks and less traditional foods.” (Elliot, et al, 2012, p 2)
Reports examining both traditional and contemporary food use show that tribal communities living on reservations consume traditional foods only occasionally (Brown, et all, 2007). Participants in a study concerning food insecurity in Canadian First Nations, Métis, and Inuit urban populations by Elliot, et all (2012) stated that traditional knowledge is being lost over generations. Additionally, the youth stated they have fewer opportunities to learn from Elders, and that many do not have the knowledge or skills to gather and/or prepare traditional foods. In that same study, participants identified that both government policies and changing environment continue to have a large impact on the acquisition of traditional food. In Canada, much like in the United States, governmental entities – such as the Department of Fisheries in Canada – do not allow First Nations, Métis, or Inuit peoples to fish outside of their territory, which only extends to reservation boundaries. This narrow view of “territory” by the Canadian government severely limits access to fishing, hunting, and gathering grounds. Furthermore, governmental policies regarding licensing fees in combination with transportation and equipment needed to hunt, fish, and/or gather foods leave many tribal families unable to afford to engage in acquiring traditional foods. Presently, there is an underlying concern within tribal communities that traditional foods will become something only those whom are rich are able to access (Elliot, et all, 2012). Although focus on Native American, First Nations, Métis, and Inuit populations generally focus on those on reservations and reserves in the U.S. and Canada, large populations of indigenous peoples from those groups reside in cities and other urban settings. Despite the fact that traditional foods are often shared through family networks, due to distance and/or disconnection from reservation/reserve community, Native peoples living in the city are further restricted from obtaining traditional foods.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food desert on their website as, “…Urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. Instead of supermarkets and grocery stores, these communities may have no food access or are served only by fast food restaurants and convenience stores that offer few healthy, affordable food options…. USDA’s Economic Research Service estimates that 23.5 million people live in food deserts [within the United States]. More than half of those people (13.5 million) are low-income. A one-mile marker may not be appropriate to use in rural areas where the population is more sparsely distributed and where vehicle ownership is high. To further refine the number of people affected by a 10-mile maker is used to consider food access in rural areas. 2.3 million people live in low-income rural areas that are more than 10 miles from a supermarket.” For many reservations, geographic isolation complicates access to food. Brown, et al, observe, “Long distances to adequately stocked stores and lack of public transportation often mean that reservation residents have poor access to sources of high-quality food.” (Brown, et all, 2007, p. 39) In Washington State, seventeen reservations were found to not have a supermarket on their reservation; however, most supermarkets were around ten miles away from tribal headquarters (O’Connel, et all, 2011). In other areas of the United States, people living on reservations may have to travel even further to reach grocery stores or supermarkets. For example, tribal members living on the Fort Belknap reservation in Montana must travel an average of 30 miles to access full-service grocery stores and supermarkets. However, lack of public transportation between the reservation and the nearest city limit the ability for tribal members to acquire healthier foods (Brown, et all, 2007). In O’Connel, et all’s, (2011) study brief Food Access and Cost in American Indian Communities in Washington State, it was found that there were far more convenience stores on and near reservations; grocery stores, while less prevalent than convenience stores, were found to be more prevalent than supermarkets on or near reservations. O’Connel, et all, (2011) go on to say, “[On-reservation] convenience stores had the fewest number of total items, while supermarkets had the most, and grocery stores an intermediate number of items. Availability of individual items by food group and for the market basket in total was greater in supermarkets than in both convenience and grocery stores. In addition, items in the fresh fruits/vegetables, canned or frozen fruits/vegetables, and fats/oils were more available in grocery stores than convenience stores. In general, items from the dairy and sugars/sweets group were the most prevalent, while items in the meat/protein and fresh fruits/vegetables groups were the least across all stores…. Overall, eggs, white bread, and whole milk were the most consistently available items among all visited stores. The most common item in convenience stores was eggs and granulated sugar in grocery stores. All nine supermarkets had apples and oranges, the availability of which was higher than in both convenience and grocery stores. In addition, all nine of the supermarkets had frozen French fries, white bread, whole milk, and granulated sugar, while eight of the nine also had eggs and margarine. The cost of white bread, whole milk, and granulated sugar were higher in both convenience and grocery stores than supermarkets.” (O’Connell, et all, 2011, p 1377) In the case of the tribal community on the Round Valley Indian reservation in Mendocino County in Northern California, Jarnigan, et all, (2011) states that the Round Valley Health Center found that although there was a farmer’s market within the county, tribal members did not feel welcome to shop there due to the cost of the produce being too high.
Many families on reservations rely on food assistance from the USDA’s Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) to ease the burden of household food insecurity. According to Jernigan, et all, (2011), on some Native American reservations in the US, over 85% of residents receive food assistance from the FCPIR. Concern has been expressed about the quality of the FDPIR due to the high rate of usage among tribal communities (Cantrell, 2001). There has been a historic low availability of high-fiber, low-fat foods in food aid given to American Indians since the reservation era began in the mid-nineteenth century, which continued when the USDA took over the food rationing program to reservations in the 1950s and began calling it the “commodities program” (de Cora, 2001). Many FDPIR programs continue to include four out of five in their commodities that one First Nations youth described as the, “five white sins: flour, salt, sugar, alcohol, and lard.” (Elliot, et al, 2012)
In 1953, in The Corrosion of Indian Rights, 1950-1953: A Case Study in Bureaucracy, Felix S. Cohen famously wrote, “Like the miner’s canary, the Indian marks the shift from fresh air to poison gas in our political atmosphere, and our treatment of Indians even more than our treatment of other minorities reflects the rise and fall of our democratic faith.” While researchers’ warnings concerning the “nutritional shift” from traditional foods to western foods may still be useful to those internationally in developing countries who receive food aid, Native Americans – having been the earliest populations to depend on the U.S. government for industrially produced caloric dense foods for generations – are a stark example of what can happen to populations who rely on non-traditional food aid and commodities for extended periods of time (Wiedman, 2012). Thanks to the nutritional shift from traditional foods and decreasing physical activity, there are currently epidemic levels of obesity, diabetes, dyslipidemia, hypertension, glucose intolerance, cholesterol, and raised blood lipids within Native American populations (Wiedman, 2012). Wiedman (2012) states, “Diabetes was unknown prior to 1940 among all Oklahoma Native Americans; reaching epidemic proportions by the 1960s. From 1943 to 1970, annual deaths because of diabetes per 100,000 people for whites were 15, compared to 22 for blacks, and 27 for Indians. Death rates had doubled for each of these populations in 2003 and 2004 when whites were at 30, and blacks at 43, and Indians at 48 deaths per 100,000. The Strong hard Dietary Study initiated in 1988, is the largest and longest longitudinal study of American Indian nutrition, health and risk factors for diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Focusing on 13 tribal nations in three regions of the Dakotas, Arizona, and southwestern Oklahoma, the medtabolic syndrome prevalence was 43.6 percent for men and 56.7 percent for women.” (Wiedman, 2012, p 597)
The acquisition of traditional foods required a lot of physical activity and exercise. Although Native American populations had been receiving food aid from the U.S. government since the mid-nineteenth century, the 1940s is marked as the dramatic turning point in health due to the shift of modernity within tribal communities. In The Diabetic Plague in Indian Country: Legacy of Displacement, de Cora (2001) says, “Before moving to reservations, some tribes were already expert gardeners, others were expert hunters, but most were both. In the reservation environment, everyone began to garden, adding fresh vegetables to a diet of government subsidies. Every family built a drying rack to dry meat, garden produce, and the wild foods they gathered. Gardening and drying were hard, physical work, keeping people active every day from spring to fall. As a result, Indians were much healthier people then.” (de Cora, 2001, p 12) Wiedman’s (2011) work reflects de Cora when he wrote, “…Within ten years there was a dramatic demographic, technological, and cultural transition among the Cherokee of the Okalahoma Ozarks. In a matter of ten years, from 1936 to 1946, there was a critical juncture with modernity when the Cherokee transitioned from subsistence agriculture to a cash economy, from self-produced to store bought foods, from vigorous household activities to the comforts of labor saving appliances, and from actively walking to riding in trucks and cars. Cherokee were freed from the seasonality of the weather and immediate natural resources. New technologies reduced the seasonal variation in physical activity energy expenditures while processed energy dense foods increased from distant environments. Cars, trucks, and tractors replaced horse-drawn wagons and plows. Reonfigured house floor plans and new household technologies significantly reduced both male and female physical activity levels. One outside in separate buildings, cooking and bathrooms were moved into the main house. Rather than wood burning stoves, electric and gas stoves controlled fire, heat, and smoke better, while also dramatically expanding cooking methods, especially baking and frying. Electric refrigerators enabled storage of larger amounts and kinds of foods for longer periods of time making exterior smoke houses and root cellars for food storage unnecessary. Indoor pluming reduced the energy expended in carrying water for drinking, bathing, and cooking. Later indoor bathrooms with flush toilets eliminated the walking to an outhouse. Radios and televisions connected people to local, national, and global information and to commercials advertising industrially produced foods and products.” (Wiedman, 2011, p 597) Many studies report that there is a distinct critical juncture with the introduction of modernity and the rise of diabetes and other metabolic disorders throughout the world (Wiedman, 2011).
Many programs have been created for reservation communities to address the chronic diseases that have arisen over the past 74 years. Many of these programs work to get tribal members to understand the connection between their diet and the prevalence of diabetes within their community. These programs encourage tribal members to eat healthier western foods and traditional foods. However these programs do not take into account the many barriers that tribal communities face in acquiring traditional foods and western nutritious foods. In order to fully address issues of food insecurity and health on reservations, as with non-tribal communities, more economic development needs to occur in order for significant and long-term food security to be achieved. In native communities it is imperative that a variety of native owned businesses are created where native people can be employed in administration, middle management, and lower tier positions. This method reduces money “leakage” from tribal communities and allow for self-sustaining communities (Sainnawap, et al, In the book Original Instructions: Indigenous Teachings for a Sustainable Future, Dennis Martinez remarks, “We need economies in our wild lands that will keep tribal people in their local communities long enough for the kids to keep the language and keep the knowledge, and maintain the connection between Elders and youth.” (Mohawk, et al, 2008, p 114)
Having depended on the U.S. food aid since the nineteenth century, U.S. tribes have served as the ‘miner’s canary’ for the international community. It is clear that food aid programs, particularly in the long-term, create mixed results. Long term use of food aid leads to dependency, possible undermining of recipient economy, and chronic health issues for recipient communities. In order to effectively address the root cause of food insecurity for both native and non-native communities internationally, food insecurity should be looked at and addressed as a “cluster of issues.” Community-based participatory research and solutions should be utilized to find solutions that address the unique issues that lead to food insecurity for those communities.
Brown, B., Noonan, C., Nord, M. (2007). Prevalence of food insecurity and health-associated outcomes of northern plains Indian households. Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition, 1(4), 37-53.
Cantrell, B.G. (2001). Access and barriers to food items and food preparation among plains Indians. Wicazo Sa Review, 16(1), 65-74.
de Cora, L. (2001). The diabetic plague in Indian Country: Legacy of displacement. Wicazo Sa Review, 16(1), 9-15.
Elliot, B., Jayatilaka, D., Brown, C., Varley, L., Corbett, K.K. (2012). “We are not being heard”: Aboriginal perspectives on traditional food access and food security. Journal of Environmental and Public Health, 2012, 1-9.
Hamelin, A., Mercier, C., Bédard, A. (2011). Needs for food security from the standpoint of Canadian households participating and not participating in community food programs. International Journal of Consumer Studies, 35(1), 58-68.
Jernigan, V.B.B., Salvatore, A.L., Styne, D.M., Winkleby, M. (2012). Addressing food insecurity in a Native American reservation using community-based participatory research. Health Education Research, 27(4), 645-655.
Lui, M., Robles, B., Leonard-Wright, B., Brewer, R., Adamson, R. (2006). The color of wealth: The story behind the U.S. racial wealth divide. United States: The New Press.
Margulis, M. E. (2013). The regime complex for food security: Implications for global hunger challenge. Global Governance, 19(1), 53-67.
Nelson, M.K. (2008). Original instructions: Indigenous teachings for a sustainable future. Rochester, Vermont: Bear & Company.
Nugusse, W. Z. (2013). Impact of food aid on household food security: Empirical evidence. African Journal of Business and Economic Research, 8(1), 109-125.
O’Connel, M., Buchwald, D.S., Duncan, G.E. (2011). Food access and cost in American Indian communities in Washington state. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 111(9), 1375-1379.
Sainnawap, B., Winter, N., Eprile, P. (unknown). Aneshenewe machitawin: Human-centered community development. Toronto, Ontario: Participatory Research Group.
USDA (unknown). Food Deserts. Retrieved from apps.ams.usda.gov/fooddeserts/fooddeserts.aspx
Wiedman, D. (2012). Native American embodiment of the chronicities of modernity: Reservation food, diabetes, and the metabolic syndrome among the Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache. Medical Anthropology Quarterly, 26(4), 595-612.