Changing Planet

$16 Breadsticks: The High Cost of Living in Nome, Alaska

Fasten_Seat_Belt
To Alaska, we fly. Photo by Jenny I. Miller.

National Geographic Young Explorers Jenny Miller, Sarah Robert and Charu Jaiswal are embarking on a one-month expedition to Alaska to document food scarcity and a revival of hunting and gathering among young people. Follow team’s updates from the field on Explorers Journal.

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We landed on the tarmac in Anchorage at 12:30 am (4:30 am Toronto time), and after 18 hours of travelling, just wanted a warm bed. However, Jenny told us that the food prices in Nome, the city we’d fly to at 9 am that day, would be exorbitant, and suggested that we stock up before we flew.  We went on a late night grocery run and noticed that the prices were already steeper than what we were used to; we bought fruit and veggies as Jenny said these would be the most expensive.

The cheapest items on the lunch/dinner menu are $13 hamburgers.  Appetizers like cheesy breadsticks go for $16.  A pizza that feeds three people can cost up to $32.

 When we arrived in Nome, Charu and I wanted to see if it was really as bad as Jenny had alleged. We entered Hanson’s, a local grocery store, and found that, yes, it was. While the processed foods were priced roughly the same as in Anchorage, others were much worse. A single bell pepper cost $2.99, milk was $6 a gallon, and a honeydew melon was $14. We heard tell of $29 watermelon in Kotzebue, a town not far north of Nome.

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Photo by Jenny I. Miller.

We’ve become semi-regulars at  one particular restaurant due to its proximity to our house and free WiFi. While the food is excellent, it is expensive. The cheapest items on the lunch/dinner menu are $13 hamburgers.  Appetizers like cheesy breadsticks go for $16.  A pizza that feeds three people can cost up to $32. Thankfully we budgeted $15 a head per meal.

Back in the grocery store, we struck up a conversation with a local restaurant owner when he overhead our surprised reactions to the prices. He said the costs had been going up, and to make ends meet he had to raise the prices on his menu. When asked what people did if they couldn’t afford food, he just shrugged and said, “We get by.”

-SR

You can follow our journey on Twitter and Instagram.

NEXTOn the Alaskan Tundra: Picking & Preserving Berries for Winter Months

Read the entire blog series

The Young Alaskan Hunters and Gatherers team is made up of three people. Charu, Sarah, and Jenny met through the Fulbright Foundation's Killam Fellowships program. Charu is a Biology student at York University in Toronto, Canada; Sarah is a Film and Media student at Queen's University in Kingston, Canada; and Jenny recently graduated with a BFA in Photomedia and BA in American Indian Studies from the University of Washington in Seattle. Jenny is originally from Nome, Alaska and is a tribal member of the Inupiat community.
  • Chase Stoudt

    I’m going to hazard a guess, but I bet my right foot that was airport pizza in those photos!

  • Madge

    Everything costs more in Alaska ! In particular in the Northern part of the state and West. The further away from more densely populated area you go, the higher the prices. All the cost of travel to get the food to you is built into the prices. The fuel, the driving, the delivery, the set-up, etc. A simple spaghetti and meatballs dinner costs….WHAT ? Wanted to make it and found out how ridiculous the cost was. Was up here from New York City and went to the local grocery store. This was the “BIG” supermarket in the area,” the size of a midsized neighborhood grocery store in the lower “48.” 1 lb. box of cheap PARADE spaghetti $ 4.99, 1 large jar of PREGO spaghetti sauce (24 oz..) $8.99, 1.4 lbs. of ground bison-meat (beef is almost double the price up here) $ 14.99, 1 jar of KRAFT grated parmesan cheese 8.ozs. $7.99. 2 eggs $ 2.00 (that’s right ! $1.00 per egg.)1 bottle of pure olive oil (17 ozs.) $ 19.99. 1 small yellow onion $1.00 .Dried basil, parsley, black ground pepper, etc. Total: $ 15.00 and 1 medium-sized can of seasoned breadcrumbs (15 ozs.) $ 4.99. There’s no such thing as fresh sauce here, particularly in Winter. No or few fresh herbs,Good quality Italian ingredients like fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano grating cheese is unheard of and their canned tomatoes are only strewed tomatoes. All prices are approximate and the total…a whopping $ 70.00 !!!! This for a cheap pasta dinner ! It could feed 3 hungry adults or about 4 kids. It was O’K, but the ingredients were certainly not the best or fresh like we are accustomed to in New York or any city in the continental U.S. So, there you have it. If you are planning on going to Alaska, the costs of basics are far greater than back home. However, in Southern Alaska and near the cost, say in Juneau or Anchorage and closer East near Canada, prices are lower, but still you will be in for a shock as compared to all the lower “48” states. Buon Appetito !

  • Sheri Walker

    Madge, Alaska is in the continental US. It is in the NA continent (so is Hawaii). We are not in the contiguous US. 🙂

  • The Lucky Bun

    People in Alaska don’t starve. They subsistence hunt and fish.

  • Natasha

    Cost of food can be spendy in the first city coming up into Alaska. $13 burger would be a good deal here, local fish cost around $18 to order at a restaurant. I would love to live off of subsistence as all my children love their fish and meat but unfortunately we rarely get any at all

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