Commods, short for commodities—it’s a term used throughout Indian Country for the food available through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR).
The lists of food available according to the March 2012 USDA Food and Nutrition Service Nutrition Program Fact Sheet includes frozen meat, canned meat, canned soups, pastas, cereal, bakery mix, flour, peanut butter, dehydrated potatoes; and, in some cases, fresh produce is substituted for the canned fruits and vegetables. Of course, there is also the famous “commod cheese,” also known as “(insert tribal name) gold.”
Yet, throughout the years, many critics of FDPIR point out that the foods available through this program are high in starch and sugar, which can be contributing factors to an increase in diabetes. Therefore, in order to teach about portion management and healthier food preparation, many tribes are taking steps to enhance their food distribution programs with initiatives to increase better nutrition and healthier lifestyles.
The USDA also sees the need to provide positive nutrition education and encourage physical activity habits throughout Indian country. This year, the USDA distributed grant to 17 tribes and tribal organizations in nine states, with stipulations in the grant stating that the projects “incorporate Dietary Guidelines recommendations within the Native American culture [USDA emphasis].
“USDA is committed to working with tribal communities to drive economic growth, create opportunities through business and agriculture, and to improve the health and well-being of native families,” said Agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack. “These grants will help tribal communities promote healthy kids and healthy families by making sure they have access to nutritious food, education and the support they need to ensure healthy habits. With that winning combination we can help to reduce and prevent childhood obesity and ensure a stronger future for Indian Country.”
This year’s list of grant recipients went to tribes in California, Minnesota, Montana, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Washington, Wisconsin, New Mexico and Alaska. The projects of these tribes range from the “Make Half Your Plate Fruits and Vegetables” Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommendations and food preparation classes to community garden and food preservation/canning classes.
One of the participants, the Chickasaw Nation, has been a grant recipient over the past three years. (This year, the Nation received $115,021 in USDA grant funding for nutrition education and physical fitness.) During this time, the Chickasaw Nation has developed and test piloted a nutrition cookbook entitled Recipes Wrapped with Love. By providing tribal families and staff members with ingredients and recipes, the cookbook was tested in Native homes within the first two years of the grant, with emphasis on reducing sodium and using sodium substitutes.
For 2012, Recipes Wrapped with Love will add grab-and-go recipes, shopping lists and sample menus. There are also plans in this year’s grant to provide one-on-one menu planning assistance at the Chickasaw Nation’s three food distribution centers and have the cookbook available in an electronic format.
“Nutrition education is important for Native families, because proper nutrition is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, which helps prevent diabetes and other debilitating diseases,” said Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby. “Eating a healthy diet also helps prevent obesity and provides the energy needed to fully enjoy all the best things in life.”