5 Reasons why Indigenous Foods are Important

5 Reasons why Indigenous Foods are Important

March 10, 2021
Shari Steinbach

By Shari Steinbach, MS RDN, RDBA Contributing Editor

As we look at cultural diversity in the U.S., indigenous foods are receiving a lot of attention as a way to promote both personal and environmental health. These foods are culturally acceptable products that are obtained from local, natural environments. Think about dishes made from indigenous ingredients such as corn, beans, potatoes, amaranth, quinoa and natural wild rice used by the native inhabitants of America. Here are five reasons indigenous foods are important:

  • Can help us overcome health disparities. Truly understanding the culture of how and why someone eats is important. Heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes may be attributed in part to poor diet and these health conditions disproportionately affect minority populations. Studies are showing that when people include traditional foods in their eating habits, they tend to consume more nutrients and less calories as well as a strengthened cultural capacity and overall well-being. 
  • Because culture matters in our food communications. The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans urge people to customize and enjoy nutrient-dense food and beverage choices to reflect personal preferences, cultural traditions, and budgetary considerations. These guidelines provide a framework intended to be customized to individual needs and preferences, as well as the foodways of the diverse cultures in the United States. It is of utmost importance that we remember culture and ethnicity is at the heart of how Americans feed themselves. 
  • They provide a link to local food systems. Conscious consumption, (mindful eating and drinking that respects the environment and the body) is becoming a focus for many consumers. Retail dietitians can leverage this trend by considering product seasonality and utilizing local ingredients when possible. Recommendations can help provide consumers with nutritionally dense recommendations that can protect their health and minimize waste. Consider the local foods in your region – fish, beans, apples, corn, etc., and how you could integrate them into educational resources.
  • Offer insights for providing relevant cooking and meal planning advice. Think about the different ethnic groups that are part of the communities your stores serve. If you lack the cultural food knowledge for these groups look for resources to assist you. Oldways, for example, has African American Heritage resources including recipes and healthy eating materials. Think about other ways you could create meaningful resources that may be lacking for your shoppers.  
  • Cultural understanding can build trust. Review your current educational library of resources to determine if are you omitting certain people or groups with your guidelines. Educate yourself on consumer needs and traditional foods of importance. Encourage shoppers to cook within their culture but to make changes to ingredients when needed to improve nutrition. You can also use your cultural knowledge to also offer product guidance to buyers. What specialty foods should be included in the ethnic food sections of your stores? Food is a big part of culture, and it’s important not to dismiss where a customer comes from. Taking the time to learn more about the indigenous foods of importance to your customer base will help build trust and drive customer loyalty.