Did you have a good year hunting or fishing? You can share your traditional foods with food programs

This is the time of year when a lot of Sitkans have been out deer hunting, or they have a freezer full of fish caught in the summer.

Did you know recent changes to state and federal laws mean you can share your traditional foods with food service programs, hospitals, schools, senior meal programs, food banks, and more. Getting these traditional foods into food service programs is important, as it helps in the healing of sick or isolated elders and it helps connect young people to their local foods. But not all traditional fish and game can be donated due to health risks, so here are a few guidelines to follow from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Food Safety and Sanitation Program.

First, know what foods you can donate and which you can’t, and in what forms they need to be in for donation. You can donate most wild game meats, finfish, seafood except molluscan shellfish (eg, clams, oysters, cockles, scallops, etc.), marine mammal meat and fat (eg, maktak and seal meat), plants including fiddleheads and sourdock, berries, mushrooms, and eggs (whole, intact and raw).

You are not allowed to donate, due to high health risks, these items — fox, polar bear, bear and walrus meat; seal oil or whale oil, with or without meat; fermented game meat (beaver tail, whale flipper, seal flipper, maktak, and walrus); homemade canned or vacuum-sealed foods; smoked or dried seafood products, unless those products are prepared in a seafood processing facility permitted under 18 AAC 34; fermented seafood products (salmon eggs, fish heads, etc.); and molluscan shellfish.

When donating meats, the meat can be whole, quartered or in roasts. Donated fish should be gutted and gilled, with or without heads. Plants should be whole, fresh or frozen. The food service program accepting the donation needs to make sure the hunter/fisher knows if the animal was diseased, that butchering and other processing was done in a healthy manner, and the food will not cause a health hazard or significant health risk. When donating meat, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game requires a completed transfer of possession form.

There are a variety of additional rules regarding preparation, food storage and processing, and you can read all about them in the links below.

• Donated traditional foods poster

• Donated traditional foods tool kit

• ADF&G Wild Game Transfer Of Possession Form

• Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins of Sitka introduces bill to allow donations of fish and game to nonprofit meal programs

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Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins (D-Sitka) is the prime sponsor of a tripartisan bill that will allow nonprofit meal programs — such as those found at schools, hospitals and senior centers — to serve donated fish and game from sport and subsistence harvesters.

The bill, HB 179, is co-sponsored by seven other legislators — four Republicans (Cathy Muñoz of Juneau, Charisse Millett of Anchorage, Louise Stutes of Kodiak and Tammie Wilson of North Pole), two Democrats (Neal Foster of Nome and Sam Kito III of Juneau), and an Independent (Dan Ortiz of Ketchikan). The was introduced on April 1 and already has hearings set for next week in the resources (Monday, April 6) and fisheries (Tuesday, April 7) committees. If those committees pass the bill, it could go before the House floor for a vote as early as late next week.

“Because of that broad support, this bill is in not just the fast lane, but in the Autobahn-style fast lane,” Kreiss-Tomkins told the Daily Sitka Sentinel. “This bill could go from being introduced to a vote on the floor in eight or nine days.”

Kreiss-Tomkins said the bill was inspired in part by Sitka’s Fish to Schools program, which allows commercial fishermen to donate locally caught seafood to local schools so it can be served in student lunches. However, many parts of the state don’t have commercial fisheries, and Alaska law currently bars food service organizations funded by state or federal meal programs from serving subsistence- and sport-harvested fish and game, even if it is donated.

In the sponsor statement for the bill, Kreiss-Tomkins writes:

Hunting and fishing is at the heart of our shared heritage as Alaskans. Every Alaskan looks forward to the season he or she can again fill the freezer with salmon, moose, caribou, seal, or berries. Alaskans happily share this food with family, children, and elders.

This sharing is not possible in our public institutions, however. Well-meaning state laws intended to prevent the commercialization of wild game have also largely prevented children in schools and elders in hospitals and senior centers from eating the traditional Alaska foods that we treasure. As a result, even though we are surrounded by some of the best food in the world, our children eat corndogs rather than caribou at school lunch; our elders are served spaghetti rather than seal.

This action follows a 2013 amendment U.S. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) included in an agriculture bill that removed barriers that previously prohibited American Indians and Alaska Natives from serving traditional foods in hospitals, elder care facilities and schools. The amendment authorized the U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow for the donation and serving of traditional foods, which meet specific safety standards, in public facilities that primarily serve American Indians and Alaska Natives.

In his sponsor statement, Kreiss-Tomkins writes:

The bill also ensures traditional wild foods donated to and served by food service programs are safe to eat. The Department of Environmental Conservation already has regulations in place providing for the safe handling and processing of many traditional wild foods. HB 179 affirms the Department’s authority to oversee the safety of these foods.

HB 179 will nourish Alaska’s children and elders, both physically and spiritually. It will limit the amount of expensive and unhealthy processed food shipped to communities that have incredible food available just a short boat or snowmachine ride away. Children will develop an appreciation where their food comes from and elders will be able to keep eating the foods they love.

• HB 179 — Traditional Foods Bill

• HB 179 — Traditional Foods Bill Sponsor Statement

• Sitka Conservation Society to host annual wild foods potluck on Nov. 29

The Sitka Conservation Society will host its annual wild foods potluck from 5-7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 29, at Harrigan Centennial Hall. Doors open at 5 p.m. so people can bring in their dishes, and food will be served at 5:30 p.m.

This free, family friendly, alcohol-free event allows Sitka residents to share their favorite locally foraged or harvested dishes with their neighbors. Residents bring in dishes featuring fish, wild game, seaweed, berries and other tasty treats highlighting wild food from around Sitka. Everybody is encouraed to bring in your favorite dishes featuring wild food, and if you can’t bring in a dish with wild food you can use wild plants to garnish dishes made from store-bought food.

The theme of this year’s wild foods potluck is “Restoration in the Sitka Community Use Area.” There will be live music, prizes awarded to the best wild food dishes (with categories such as “most wild”), and all kinds of other fun, stories and community.

For more information, go to http://www.sitkawild.org/events/ for a full schedule and list of contest categories. You also can call Ray Friedlander with the Sitka Conservation Society at 747-7509.

• Sitka Conservation Society hosts wild foods potluck and annual meeting on Saturday, Nov. 13

The Sitka Conservation Society, which helps sponsor the Sitka Local Foods Network, is hosting its community wild foods potluck and annual meeting from 5-8 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 13, at Harrigan Centennial Hall.

This annual event gives Sitka residents a chance to share meals made with locally foraged food, from fish and wild game to seaweed, berries and other traditional subsistence foods. Doors open at 5 p.m., with food service starting at 5:30 p.m. Families are asked to bring in dishes that feature local wild foods, and if you can’t bring in a dish that features wild foods you can use a wild plant to garnish a dish made with store-bought foods. Local cooks can enter their dishes in a wild foods contest, too. The event also features live music from the SitNiks and a short presentation on the Tongass Wilderness. There also will be booths about local programs and projects before food is served.

This event kicks off the Sitka Conservation Society’s “Wild Week,” which features events from Nov. 13-20. Another local foods-oriented event is the “Eat Wild” benefit dinner that takes place on Wednesday, Nov. 17, at the New Bayview Restaurant and Wine Bar. Hors d’oeurves start at 6 p.m., with dinner at 7 p.m. Bayview chef Josh Peavey will prepare the meal, which also includes a sampling of locally produced beer from Baranof Island Brewing Company. Tickets for this special event are $60 each and available from Old Harbor Books and the Sitka Conservation Society.

• Hunters, do you know what’s in your ammo and how it affects your meat?

Sitka black-tailed deer (photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Tongass National Forest)

Sitka black-tailed deer (photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Tongass National Forest)

Hunting for wild fowl and game is a part of normal life in Alaska. It’s the way many of us fill our freezers, and it’s been part of the traditional subsistence lifestyle for centuries. Many of us feel the natural, wild fowl and game we hunt is healthier for our families than store-bought poultry, beef or pork.

In many cases the fowl and game we hunt is healthier, but our choice of ammo can negate that. Using non-toxic shot, in other words using steel shot instead of lead, has been a regulation in waterfowl hunting for many years. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has an informational page about using non-toxic shot. The Institute for Wildlife Studies has informational pages about alternatives to lead and the California non-lead awareness program.

The reason lead shot has been banned from waterfowl hunting is because it gets into the food chain, including humans, and lead can cause major health problems if it gets into our blood streams. In November 2008, a study released by the North Dakota and Minnesota health departments detailed the affects of lead fragments in venison. The study was done after food pantries in North Dakota in March 2008 were told to no longer accept donated ground venison because of lead fragments.

Many older bullets were solid lead, or lead covered by a thin covering of copper. But there are many newer alternative types of ammo that don’t use lead, including bullets that are solid copper, copper with a tungsten alloy core and a polymer tip, and copper alloy with a polycarbonite tip. So if you’re one of those folks who have gone hunting for our local Sitka black-tailed deer in recent weeks, do you know what’s in your ammo?