Healthy Living in the North

Food: Much more than nutrition

Husking corn

Food prep can be a way to bring people together.

I’ve been following this month’s healthy living blog posts with great interest. I enjoy making efforts to live a healthy and active lifestyle and it makes me feel at home to see how other people are taking strides to do the same thing.

However, I’ve read a million times in a million places the message that “food is fuel” – we need healthy food to fuel our bodies with high-quality energy and nutrients. I’ve also heard the message that if the food is sourced close to home, then it’s a better choice for my community. The message that I feel is missing so far is that food is more than fuel.

Food is pleasurable; it’s a reflection of culture and plays a role in traditions and social settings. It can tantalize our senses with different tastes, smells, and textures. The Northern Health guidelines (position paper) on healthy eating also recognize this. Quoting a 2005 study from the Canadian Journal of Public Health on Aboriginal traditions, the paper notes:

…the consumption of traditional foods is more than just about eating; it is the endpoint of a series of culturally meaningful processes involved in the harvesting, processing, distribution, and preparation of these foods.

My family and I harvest and prepare foods together; in the summer we have a garden and, while it may or may not be fruitful, I enjoy the time that we spend together caring for the plants and watching them grow. Even if we are “harvesting” our food from the grocery store, I enjoy that time together, considering the food we’re buying and how we’re going to prepare it. Preparing and serving the food to family and friends serves as a gathering for conversations and sharing that may not happen otherwise.

Thinking about the pleasure that food can give us, I don’t know if there is a silver bullet solution to finding the balance between food as pleasure and food as fuel. However, I have learned a couple ways to help me find balance:

  • Exercise control (when you have it) – Most days (e.g. routine work days) I make every effort to eat the quality fuel we talk about from Canada’s Food Guide.
  • Savour social settings – Other days we have events or opportunities to savour things we may not get to on a regular basis (e.g. birthday parties or when travelling). In these settings, I take the opportunity to enjoy the pleasurable side of food (with moderation in mind).

This balance between exercising control and savouring the opportunities helps me to enjoy the pleasurable side of food and my physical and emotional well-being. What are some ways that you balance eating for health and eating for pleasure?

Chelan Zirul

About Chelan Zirul

Chelan Zirul is the Regional Manager for Health Promotions and Community Engagement for Northern Health. As a graduate from UNBC, she did her Master's of Arts in Natural Resources and Environmental Studies. She explored regional development decision-making and is an advocate for policy that is appropriate for the needs of northerners. This, combined with her personal interest in health and wellness, drew her to work in health communications. Born in northern B.C., she takes advantage of the access to outdoor living. She enjoys hunting and exploring the backcountry with her dog and husband and enjoys finding ways to use local foods.

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Comments

  1. Hi Chelan ,
    Great post. I think you are spot on that food is more than just a fuel and has social and cultural importance as well. Another dimension of food I find is more personal. When I travel back to my home town of Winnipeg, I actively strive to eat foods and visit restaurants and vendors that I had eaten in my past.

    I call this nostalgia eating. Sometimes I am disappointed because places change, close, and occasionally our memories are more glorified than than the reality (those favorite shoestring french fries are.

    However, I also find revisiting what we have eaten before can be a personally rewarding exercise – connecting ourselves with our past has a grounding effect which prepares us better for present and future challenges and experiences.

    Food can also be a learning tool. Author Daniel Pink suggests visiting a McDonalds in places that you travel to explore the cultural differences between places. As someone who experienced “McRice” while traveling as a young adult, I get this seemingly absurd suggestion.

    Thanks for your thoughts, Chelan, happy foraging, hunting , and gathering.