Culture meets Wellness: Eating Seasonally & Food SecurityNov 03, 2021
What's your favourite seasonal meal?
As someone who grew up in the islands, I would always know what was in season, based on what was plentiful in the Vendors' stand at the side of the road. Whether it was Mangos, Avocados or Ackee, stopping in traffic meant the opportunity to indulge in the bounty.
Everything in nature has a season. We infuse our lives with the energy of the moment while storing for less abundant times. With privilege comes the loss of this understanding. We gorge ourselves on foods out of season, leading to a bigger carbon footprint and stark inequities in access to healthy foods for marginalized communities.
Social Justice, Food Security & Indigenous Wisdom
The social justice movement was born in the 19th century due to wealth disparities, one of the many side effects of the industrial age. The movement was built on the principles of access, equity, participation, diversity and human rights. Social justice and food justice are interconnected and are deeply tied to socio-economic status, education, health and wellness.
Inflation has been on the rise since November 2020 and with it an increase in the cost of living. In Canada, food prices rose nearly 4% in September 2021, and experts predict this upward trend will continue. How can a return to Indigenous wisdom provide solutions for a burgeoning food crisis and address issues related to accessibility?
In Guyana, Mango Achar is a popular condiment made to preserve the abundance of mangos collected during mango season. This method of food preservation using a combination of spices was passed down from East Indian Ancestors who came to work as indentured labourers in the early 1900s. Pickles, Preserves and the storage of vegetables in root cellars are pretty standard practices in Northern climates—Indigenous people in North America smoke salmon and other game as a means of preservation.
Erasure of Indigenous wisdom has led to food insecurity in some Sub-Saharan African countries and up to 40% of food losses occur post-harvest due to improper storage and food preservation methods.¹ Much of the traditional preservation methods in this area were lost due to Colonization and the perception of Indigenous knowledge as primitive and outdated, but could these practices be the answer to our rising concerns about food security?
I often marvel at the inherent privilege we have here in Canada to eat Avocados in November and Pineapples in the middle of January. We do not produce any of these foods, yet for some, they are easily found in local grocery stores. Not all communities in Canada benefit from this privilege. It is well documented that Indigenous communities pay a premium for grocery items due to transportation costs and the erasure of traditional methods of food gathering, including hunting and fishing. Trees typically do not grow near the arctic circle, so Inuit communities are primarily carnivorous, consuming whales, seals and Caribou. Their ability to adapt to their environment has not necessarily resulted in wide-scale malnutrition. Their diets tend to be higher in Essential Fatty acids, which lowers the risk of sudden cardiac death.² Sadly the rise of industrialization has also meant an increase in heavy metals, like mercury and plastics in the water and of particular detriment to those who still rely heavily on fishing, whaling and seal hunting for their primary food source.
In Canada and the U.S, accessibility relates to the presence of food deserts where there is limited access to fresh, healthy foods, the proliferation of food outlets providing meals with low nutritional value and lack of access to traditional wisdom. Access also extends to the ability to acquire land, which would allow those in marginalized communities to grow their food and learn ways of preserving and storing their harvest.
If we are to zoom out into the broader society, those who have the privilege of accessing nutritious foods found in high-end grocery stores are often still disconnected from the beautiful knowledge that comes from the land. The natural wisdom that comes from accepting and allowing abundance and releasing it while preserving something from the past harvest for the next growing season. All of this has implications for how we nourish ourselves physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally. Without these lessons from nature, we become addicted to seasons of plenty and fuel our obsession with consumerism, which significantly impacts our environment.
Eating seasonal foods restores our connection to the land and the natural rhythms of our environment. We become more adaptable and more resilient, evolving and changing in tandem with the natural cycles. We are all encouraged to seek the ancients' wisdom and consider that there is space for both our traditions and innovations.
¹ Okoye, J., and K. Oni. "Promotion of indigenous food preservation and processing knowledge and the challenge of food security in Africa." Journal of Food Security 5.3 (2017): 75-87.
² O'Keefe Jr, James H., and William S. Harris. "From Inuit to implementation: omega-3 fatty acids come of age." Mayo Clinic Proceedings. Vol. 75. No. 6. Elsevier, 2000.
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