In Indian Country, finding a restaurant is easy – if you want to eat at a fast-food chain that serves cheap, fattening meals. Native American cuisine now typically means fry bread, a disk of dough deep-fried in oil or lard. Few stores sell fresh produce on reservations. And, perhaps surprisingly, farmers markets are practically impossible to find.
Learn how AARP Foundation is helping fight senior hunger
The U.S. Department of Agriculture deems most reservations “food deserts” -- low-income areas where many people lack access to nutritional foods. According to the Center for Rural Health, about 6 in 10 Native Americans age 55 and older survive on between $5,000 and $10,000 a year. The brutal one-two punch of rampant poverty and low-quality food hits tribal elders particularly hard. A 2013 study by First Nations Development Institute found that American Indian seniors “now suffer from higher rates of congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke than the general population age 55 and older.”
To help end chronic hunger among older Native Americans, AARP Foundation has awarded $438,000 to First Nations Development Institute since 2012. The nonprofit based in Longmont, Colorado, in turn provided grants, training and technical assistance to several innovative programs that aim to improve nutrition for American Indian seniors while fostering community. “First Nations does a really good job finding tribes that have the capacity and the need, and that’s a fine line,” says Maggie Biscarr, program manager for AARP Foundation’s Hunger Impact area. “You have to work with groups that really need it -- and have some level of capacity to deliver.”
Related: Older Americans face increasing risk of hunger
First Nations recently awarded $25,000 sub-grants to four tribes in Arizona, New Mexico, North Dakota and Wisconsin for anti-hunger initiatives. The second round of funding follows a $100,000 grant distributed in 2012 for four innovative projects, including the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma’s Healthy Pork initiative; the Traditional Food Systems Revitalization Project of the Santo Domingo Pueblo in New Mexico; and the Pueblo of Nambe’s Community Farm, also in New Mexico.