By Kiran Herbert | Photograph Dave Cox
“Reservations are food deserts,” says Notah Begay III, the founder of KivaSun bison jerky in New Mexico. Nearly one in two children on Native American reservations are classified as obese. The national average is one in three. “That basically predisposes these kids to chronic illness later in life.”
Begay, 43, is a full-blooded Native American who grew up on and off the Pueblo of Isleta near Albuquerque. When he was nine, Begay traded labor for practice time at Ladera Golf Course. His skills eventually earned him a scholarship to Stanford University. He’s also a four-time PGA Tour winner, making him the most accomplished Native American in the history of the sport. His credentials put him in the position to do something to help those nutrition-starved native kids. That’s where KivaSun comes in.
The healthiest protein per ounce, bison meat contains more iron, as well as less fat, calories, and cholesterol than beef. It’s also culturally relevant to American Plains Indians and, when jerked, will keep fresh for months—crucial for those with inconsistent access to healthy food. Today, KivaSun offers Original and Hatch Chile jerky made with thick cuts of premium bison, yielding a bite that’s softer than your typical dried meat, with a tender, melt in your mouth texture. Begay calls it the Mercedes Benz of jerky.
He sees KivaSun as a template for other Native Americans to bring simple, traditional, and minimally processed products to those food deserts, which are rife with diabetes-inducing snacks. “In a time when American Indian children are facing a health crisis,” says Begay, “why shouldn’t traditional food that has existed in our diet for centuries be part of the solution?” kivasunfoods.com
From our High Summer 2016 issue.