Cultural ‘Big Deal’: Seal Oil Makes Menu at Alaska Care Home

Last month, Alaska’s Department of Environmental Conservation approved “seal oil” use in elder homes, believed to be a first for seal oil in the U.S. Seal oil has been a staple in the diet of Alaska’s Inupiat for generations.

The oil — ever-present in households dotting Alaska coastlines — is used mainly as a dipping sauce for fish, caribou and musk ox. It’s also used to flavor stews and even eaten alone.  But when Inupiat elders entered nursing homes, they were cut off from the comfort food. State regulations didn’t allow seal oil because it’s among traditionally prepared Alaska native foods that have been associated with the state’s high rate of botulism, which can cause illness or death.

That’s changing for 18 residents at Utuqqanaat Inaat — in English, a place for elders — a part of the Maniilaq Health Association in the Chukchi Sea community of Kotzebue, about 550 miles northwest of Anchorage. The association has worked with partners in Alaska and the Lower 48 to develop a process to kill the toxin in seal oil and make it safe for consumption.  Read more of the AP News story here.