Food is about more than a meal for many Native Americans, it’s a connection to culture.
“Wild rice only grows in certain places. To get the good stuff, you have to go to that community to get it," said Janie Pochel of the Chi-Nations Youth Council, which helps those in Chicago connect with their Native American cultural identity. "It’s not something you could buy in the store, and if you could buy in the store,e the price of it would be out of our price range.
Jessica Walks First is the executive chef and owner of Chicago-based Ketapanen Kitchen. The catering business specializes in Native American food.
"I did a dinner last year in November and the cost of that dinner this year has doubled,” she said.
Jessica said it's important that she cook with authentic ingredients, which she tries to source from Native American farmers on reservations.
Prior to the recent rise in food costs, she would have those ingredients, like wild rice and whole corn shipped to her, but now, she says it's cheaper to drive hours away to pick it up.
“I don't know how long I can keep it up, but I will do what I need to do to keep my business going during these rising prices and crazy inflation,” Jessica said.
In 2022, food costs have gone up at the highest level since the 1970s. For those who rely on foods critical to culture, health, and religion, the prices have gone up even more.
“Even though we just started in March, the price increases have escalated significantly,” said Sana Syed.
Syed is with Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN). The group works on Chicago's South Side to fight issues like food inequity.
In March, IMAN, opened the Go Green Community Fresh Market in Chicago's Englewood community. The nonprofit grocery store offers healthier food options in a part of the city where sugary and fried foods are available on many street corners.
“These are not luxuries. They’re not like they’re not trends, they’re not fads,” Syed said in reference to healthier options they offer like vegan and gluten-free foods.
Syed says this market is also one of the few places where people in this part of Chicago can find Halal Foods, which many Muslims rely on.
“Supply chain issues have certainly created inconsistency in our ability to have Hala. foods in stock in the market," Syed said.
Many experts predict high food prices and inflation will stick around through at least 2023. Chef Jessica Walks First said it will force her to fight to keep her business going.
“I get emotional when I talk about this. I come from a small reservation where many people don’t realize their dreams," she said.