Hospitals Serving Alligator? Or Crawfish Pie? Not Yet – But . . .


Here’s a story with disturbing implications. In Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city, there is a 167-bed medical facility call the Alaska Native Medical Center – ANMC, for short. It serves Alaska Native and American Indian people from all walks of life, from all parts of that huge, far-flung state. Many of this hospital’s ‘clients’, it was reported recently in a special feature in the Alaska Dispatch News, “bring appetites for subsistence foods.” Foods such as caribou stew, seal, moose, herring eggs and tundra greens – foods, in other words, far from the routine and highly-regulated diets served to patients in nearly every other American medical facility.

But a few years ago, under pressure from the likes of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, the federal government passed what’s known as the 2013 Traditional Foods Nourishment Act. It paved the way for the regular provision of subsistence foods at public and nonprofit facilities.

For the traditionalist patients at the ANMC, this meant that, as well as being able to get the ‘comfort foods’ they are used to, the comfort such foods provide actually serve to aid in their recoveries, sometimes enabling them to leave hospital earlier than might otherwise – on ordinary hospital diets – be the case.

That’s good news for the patients, for hospitals offering ‘traditional’ as well as ‘traditional hospital’ food, and for insurers of affected patients. And that often includes the federal government, because, it’s fair to assume, a good share of those preferring ‘traditional’ foods are on Medicare or Medicaid.

But what if – if the 2013 Traditional Foods Nourishment Act allows for it – the likes of, say, Cajuns, descendants of early French settlers of Louisiana, started asking for some of their ‘traditional foods’, such as alligator, crawfish pie, jambalaya, fried okra, Andouille and/or Boudin sausages and so forth, in Baton Rouge and New Orleans hospitals? (These people were, to paraphrase Loretta Lynn, Cajun when Cajun wasn’t cool!)

Or descendents of stolen-from-Africa former slaves in the American south, many of who still have a taste for foods once eaten out of desperation and long-since mainstays in their ‘traditional’ diets? (Imagine a hospital’s patients’ menu offering pigs feet, pork belly, pigs ears, catfish fritters, and chicken gizzards, etc.!!)

And if that law does not allow those other ‘native groups’, such as they are, to demand their own ‘traditional’ foods in hospitals and other government-run facilities, are their likely to be legal challenges demanding, in effect, ‘equal rights’?

The simple answer to that is ‘no’, because unlike the Alaska natives and Native Americans in Alaska, the latter ‘groups’ don’t have anything like the lobbying power of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.

But one has to wonder how much clout it would take to successfully push that ‘equal rights’ button!


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