Alaska fish to school research with Professor Betty Izumi

“Our future rests on our being able to take care of our kids, teach them how to take care of the land, how to nourish themselves, and how to gather at the table. That is where our culture is passed on to the next generation” -Alice Waters.

Professor Betty Izumi is working with the Center for Alaska Native Health Research at the University of Alaska Fairbanks to connect native and independently owned and operated fishing businesses in Alaska with schools. The schools are in rural, geographically isolated areas where much of the food served is highly processed. The project is focused on bringing salmon into school meals by next year. This is the second year of this community based, participatory project. Her aim is to serve salmon by next year. So far, classroom lessons have been pilot tested and recipes have been developed.  A colleague from the University of Alaska Fairbanks did a taste testing in August.

She hopes to pilot lessons in Oregon next, adapting the lessons that are written for Alaskan children so that they are relevant in Oregon. Alaskans in her area of study have a different lifestyle from Oregon youth; many native Alaskan youth, for example, are part of families with a subsistence lifestyle.  A couple year’s ago, Betty’s grad student worked with ODA to develop Boat to School lessons aimed at elementary students.  They will be finished soon and I can help pilot them in our state.  Eventually, these lessons could be adapted for other schools around the country.

I asked how her program affords salmon. Like some of the programs Johanna Herron told me about, Betty’s sites are accepting donations.  I told her about the affordable option of whiting but she said it isn’t an ideal fish, nutritionally.  If that was an affordable option that schools wanted, she suggests they serve fillets for a healthy option. Whiting is a low fat source of protein, but lacks the Omega 3s of salmon.  It still connects kids with their food source though and it would be a great non processed alternative.

Will the kids even eat fish? We need to establish evidence whether or not they’ll eat it in Oregon. First thing to do is a pilot program, a taste test  at lunch or as a tasting table.  Your next step, find out what kids will eat! I think I have some leads on this. A few schools have approached me in wanting to try it!

Betty Izumi is Assistant Professor of Community Health at Portland State University. Her areas of interest include sustainability, nutrition, the built environment, community-based food systems, health disparities, and community-based participatory research.


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