A few years ago, I had the opportunity to visit a Native American Reservation in Idaho. This one was relatively large and was populated by the Shoshone and Bannock tribes. This visit was due to an annual celebration they were having, uniting tribes across the nation. The main attraction consisted of drum circles and dancing, with crafts and food being sold on the perimeter. After observing the beautiful festivities for a few hours, I began reading more about the culture. A striking similarity between these reservations and the big bend area was the designation: Food Desert.
After seeing this, I read articles published by Native American tribes and reports by NPR. The latter detailed that most Reservations are food deserts (the designation of a food desert is different in rural areas, where a grocery store must be more than 10 miles away, instead of 1), and described a Navajo Reservation that imposed a 2% junk food tax in order to curb people’s reliance on the cheap and easy. This did not strike me as very different than what Tallahassee faces, until I read an article from the perspective of a Native American, Alysa Landry. She wrote about the term “food desert,” and how it is derogatory towards Native peoples. This is because the USDA does not take into account farming and hunting practices into food desert designation. Landry also expressed the importance of food sovereignty, the idea that they should no longer rely on grocery stores for their food, and they strive to transition back to traditional way of living, where they rely on farming and hunting. While these are not totally phased out, most farms are commercial and grow only one thing in a large quantity, typically corn. Hunting is limited in many regions due to the endangerment of animals.
This demonstrated a problem that should be dealt with in a much different way than food deserts in the city are. In this case, the problem of obtaining healthy food is also intricately linked to the environment. Not only would it be more sustainable for the community to live off of the land, and resume their practices of minimal waste, but it would also promote the health of the environment by decreasing industrial farming practices and advocating for animal rights as stable populations of bison would be a necessity for survival off of the land. Juxtaposed with Tallahassee, where community gardens increase locally grown food, and farmers markets are helpful for expanding access.
For me, the biggest take away was the approach of how to tackle food deserts. A Native American community in the Pacific Northwest is fundamentally different than Tallahassee, Florida. However, the theme of food scarcity and nutritional deficiency is pervasive throughout our nation. Creating dynamic approaches on a community-oriented basis is necessary in order to create long lasting change.
--Written by Anna Wuest