Food is Medicine

16 Apr

buffalo2I found the article Food is Medicine extremely interesting because I am very passionate about reclaiming traditional Indigenous food systems that were established pre-colonial contact as a solution to health problems.   In this article LaDuke chronicles the traditional food practices of Indigenous people of North America and how this natural pattern of food acquisition was severely disrupted by colonial legacies leading to many of the diseases and social conditions  we see affecting First Nations communities to this day.   There has been and will continue to be a recovery of these traditional food practices and agricultural food systems by returning to the land and restoring the spiritual traditions and ceremonies in relation to food.  This return to traditional food practices and spirituality in a de-colonization process is one of the main areas that members of First Nations communities believe to be a solution in restoring people back to health and well-being.

wildriceLaDuke points out that there have been many factors that have led to the loss of physical health in particular the diabetes epidemic which is running rampant among the Indigenous population of Canada.  Many leading medical practitioners and health care professionals are quick to blame the “thrifty gene” as the root cause of diabetes and fail to acknowledge or mention the effects of colonial legacies.  The direct cause of diabetes is not a deficiency in the genetic makeup of Indigenous people it is the result of the assimilation and Westernization of traditional ways of life and existing.  Prior to colonization Indigenous people inhabited this continent for thousands of years in harmony with all of creation and did not suffer from diseases such as diabetes and obesity.  People lived off the land and acquired their diet from traditional food sources such as fish, buffalo, berries, medicinal plants/herbs, and squash just to name a few.  These sources of food were rich in essential nutrients and also provided people with the material for clothing, shelter, and crafts.  Traditionally, the life of the animal was honored in a deep way by offering tobacco and giving thanks to the spirit of that animal who had sacrificed its life to feed people in the community.  Since Indigenous people did not suffer from diabetes prior to colonial contact, mainstream Canadian society can safely conclude that the disease epidemic is not a result of the “thrifty gene.”  It must also be brought into our collective thought process that the effects of colonization continue to disrupt Indigenous communities to this day and can be witnessed with the encroachment of agriculture on traditional territories as well as oil/gas companies disposing toxic chemicals into the ground in close proximity to waterways near reserve lands.  These post-colonial entities are further contributing to the loss of culture and land coinciding with the Canadian government’s original intent to assimilate and colonize Indigenous peoples of this continent.  Once Indigenous people have been assimilated into Canadian culture the acquisition of traditional territory/land will be a non-issue thus making it easier for major oil/gas and hydro companies to do as they wish to the land and to the people living on those lands.

As a 3rd year nutritional sciences student I have not once been presented with material or coursework in my faculty that discusses diabetes inflicting Indigenous people from an Indigenous perspective.  I am a proud Indigenous woman and can trace my roots back to Nêhiyawi (Cree nation) and to Trinidad and I am disappointed to report that in my experience with my nutrition degree we have not yet discussed the impacts of colonialism/neo-colonialism and its relationship to the diabetes epidemic.  Future health care professionals need to have a broader awareness of the social determinants affecting the first peoples of this land instead of using the “thrity gene” as a passable excuse.

On my quest for feeding my curiosity about traditional knowledge as it relates to food  I am grateful that University courses such as Food Geography exist because they offer students an alternate landscape for viewing colonization, however, the faculty of nutritional sciences needs to deeply consider developing a curriculum that examines Indigenous health issues surrounding foods and nutrition


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