Food Policy Summary « Food Is Our Medicine

Food Is Our Medicine | Food Policy Summary

Food For Thought

A Healthy Food Initiative for the Seneca Nation of Indians
Proposed by: Food Is Our Medicine and the Seneca Nation Health System

The Food Is Our Medicine Project, a partner of the Seneca Nation of Indians (SNI) and the Seneca Diabetes Foundation, is an innovative grassroots project that provides Seneca Nation members with the skills, knowledge, and opportunities to take charge of their health and to promote their traditions and culture. By educating and reconnecting Seneca members with growing, preserving and consuming healthy, organic food – thereby helping the Seneca People to return to the traditional foods of their ancestors – Food Is Our Medicine (FIOM) supports, encourages, and provides the tools to achieve a positive change in behavior. FIOM is about engaging the community and promoting healthy eating and physical activity in order to prevent or mitigate the effects that diabetes and other catastrophic illnesses, such as heart disease and obesity, cause.

FIOM as well as the Seneca Nation Health System (SNHS) have already identified specific steps that need to be taken in the effort to combat the health problems faced by all modern individuals, for the Seneca Nation is not alone in the fight to combat the lifestyle diseases of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Now, more than ever, the Seneca Nation has seen a pressing need to address the epidemic rates of lifestyle diseases. One in three Seneca adults has been diagnosed with diabetes, and the rates of childhood diabetes among Seneca youth have also skyrocketed. In 2012, 20.4% of enrolled Senecas had diabetes.

The Seneca Nation Health System (SNHS) has joined forces with Food Is Our Medicine (FIOM) in an ongoing effort to provide healthy food to the Seneca Nation. This Healthy Food Initiative provides an opportunity, therefore, for the vending machines in the Seneca Nation-owned buildings to provide 50% healthy, affordable, and tasty food to their customers within the first two years of its existence. With the understanding that many of the customers who seek out food at the vending machines will prefer snack and instant meal items, FIOM and the SNHS propose this Healthy Food Initiative as a chance to work with the vending machine companies and area food co-operatives in an effort to stock the machines with healthy and affordable snack and instant meal options. FIOM and the SNHS will also work with the vending machine companies to determine the foods best suited for each building on Seneca Nation territories that contains one or more public-access vending machine.

Throughout the first two years the Healthy Food Initiative is in effect, FIOM and the SNHS will work to have 50% of items in vending machines on Seneca Nation territories converted to healthy food items using the criteria detailed in this document. The exceptions to this “50% healthy goal” will be the following buildings:

  1. Cattaraugus Early Childhood Learning Center
  2. Allegany Early Childhood Learning Center
  3. Allegany Community Center
  4. Cattaraugus Community Center
  5. Lionel R. John Health Center
  6. Wellness Center
  7. Cattaraugus Indian Reservation Health Center (Clinic)
  8. Allegany Area Office for the Aging (AOA)
  9. Cattaraugus Area Office for the Aging (AOA)

It is the intent of the Seneca Nation Health System and the Food Is Our Medicine Project to switch the vending machine items in these buildings to 100% healthy items during the time the Healthy Food Initiative is in effect. The children will be especially targeted in this policy to ensure healthy eating habits are established early in their lives.

Centers for Disease Control (CDC) standards do not allow for sugary drinks such as sodas or salty, high-fat foods such as snack chips in the guidelines for federal school lunch programming. By the standards that the SNHS and FIOM are setting, the items in the vending machines shall focus as much as possible on the traditional dietary inclusions of the Iroquoian peoples instead of the standards set by the CDC for federal school lunch programming. The current standards for federal school lunch programming focus primarily on quantitative data such as grams of sugar, calories, fat, and cholesterol, not qualitative data such as ingredients lists that advocate naturally occurring amounts of sugar and fat and limit preservatives and other artificial additives such as food coloring, or fat materials such as margarine or hydrogenated fats. In other words, the current situation relies on perfect nutritional labels and not real food ingredients. The Healthy Food Initiative intends to focus on real food ingredients and not nutritional labelling, with healthy, affordable, and tasty options at the forefront. The items allowed under the Healthy Food Initiative will include:

  • Legumes and legume products (such as roasted peanuts or minimally processed food products such as peanut butter products).
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables where applicable/available.
  • Beverages with no added sugar, sugar products, sugar alternatives, or sodium (such as 100% fruit/vegetable juice, milk, milk alternatives such as almond, rice, or soy milk, iced tea, and plain water; no sodas or energy drinks will be allowed).
  • Raw food snack products such as certain brands of sweet/savory snack products (Lara Bars, Caveman Cookies, etc.).
  • Minimally processed food such as dried fruit, trail mixes containing dried fruit and nuts, all natural/organic fruit leather, or cooked fruit/vegetable products.
  • Meat & fish products such as jerky (processed with minimal preservatives and artificial ingredients) and ready-to-eat fish products (such as tuna salad and tuna alternatives).
  • Roasted nuts.
  • Nut, seed, and bean products such as peanut butter alternatives (for example, almond butter or cashew butter) and hummus.
  • Full meals will be allowed in the refrigerated vending machines if they contain a limited amount of preservatives, no artificial coloring, and no artificial amounts of sugar or sodium.
  • An exception to these standards will be items suitable for consumption by diabetics.

To promote healthy eating habits, the Healthy Food Initiative proposes displaying these healthy vending machine items at eye level for all involved.

It is the hope of the Seneca Nation Health System (SNHS) and the Food Is Our Medicine Project (FIOM) that the Healthy Food Initiative described above will help to at least reduce, if not prevent, the rate of lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, heart problems, and obesity that occur in epidemic proportions in western New York State.

To initially address the problem of unhealthy food items in the public access vending machines on Seneca Nation territories, FIOM suggests hosting free taste-testing events to create interest in healthy snack food items. These taste-testing events will be held during major events on Seneca Nation territories, such as the annual Powwow or Fall Festival. They will also be held during smaller events such as Elders’ Sharing Circles, events at western New York State schools that contain high numbers of Native students, and the FIOM film nights. The attending public will be surveyed to better understand what types of healthy food items should be included in the vending machines.

To help the public better understand the categories of foodstuffs available in the vending machines on Seneca Nation territories, FIOM proposes to implement a program started by the City Council in Melbourne, Australia in 2009, called GLER—“Green Light, Eat Right.” This program will provide “traffic light” shaped stickers for each food item in the vending machines. The color (green, yellow, or red) of the sticker will correspond to a poster on or near the vending machine that will provide ingredients listing as well as nutritional labelling information for that food item. The healthiest foods will be labelled with the green stickers while the worst foods will be labelled with the red stickers. To initially implement this sticker policy, it is suggested that the food items be labelled with the stickers without any change toward healthier items. This is so that FIOM and the SNHS will understand better how people will utilize the stickers before FIOM and the SNHS apply the stickers to healthy food items.

To achieve the goal of 50-100% healthy items in all public-access vending machines on Seneca Nation territories, FIOM and the SNHS will work with area vending machine companies, healthy food co-ops such as United Northeast (, and other healthy food suppliers to source acceptable and furthermore affordable vending machine food products.

Healthy food policy guidelines for the Seneca Nation were originally proposed by numerous employees of the Seneca Nation Health System. Initially, the Seneca Nation Health System had proposed the following:


Improving what we eat and being active can lower our risk of diabetes, heart disease, some cancers, and … obesity. The Seneca Nation of Indians believes that nutritious and safe food and beverage choices should be provided at our SNI workplaces, work-related meetings, recreational programs, educational functions, and vending machines serving our facilities.


The fact that Seneca Nation departments and programs other than FIOM have already addressed these issues needs to be acknowledged. Now, more than ever, the Seneca People are ready to take back their health, and it is the hope of the Food Is Our Medicine Project and the Seneca Nation Health System that this Food For Thought: Healthy Food Initiative will be accepted as a step toward a healthier Seneca Nation of Indians, if not to also take notice that the members of the Seneca Nation deserve healthy options in their community and in their work places.