The Question of Healthy Eating in Canada’s North
Written by: JP McKernan, Program Manager, NBCP
As part of NBCP’s Experiential Learning Program, a group of students spent two-weeks this past summer, immersed in the life and culture of an indigenous community in the northern Saskatchewan reserve of Fond du Lac.
One of the distresses that almost every program participant commented on was very limited access to fresh produce.
Many communities in Canada’s North are accessible only by air for part of, or all of, the year. The cost of living and doing business in these isolated communities is higher than in more southern regions. Necessities such as perishable food must be flown into these communities. Electricity, maintenance, and food storage costs are higher for stores and also has a negative effect on the prices of food on store shelves. The amount spent on food is considerably higher in these communities as a result. These higher prices make it more difficult for Northerners to afford a nutritious diet from store bought foods. Sadly, “junk food” is less expensive than more healthy options, so many people opt for the more budget-friendly options.
To help combat this problem, the local school has implemented a breakfast program. Children are offered toast, cereal and oatmeal to promote healthy eating, and the schools do not allow junk food on the grounds. As part of curriculum, nutrition programs and wellness courses are taught in the school.
A recurring question among the students while there, was about traditional foods. In recent years there has been a renewed focus on traditional teachings, especially around food. While in Fond Du Lac, children expressed that some of their favourite things to do were hunting, fishing and setting nets, whether it was with their parents, uncles, or grandparents.
During the trip, the ELP program participants had the opportunity to go on Lake Athabasca with a skilled, indigenous community member and were able to help pull up some of the fishing nets. In some cases, dozens of fish were pulled from the nets, including varieties such as jack fish, white fish and pike! They watched as the elder flawlessly filleted the fish and returned what was not used to the land and the birds. The well-honed skill, and respect for nature was something that particularly struck the students, and one wrote in his journal that, “it felt like we were invited into a private, spiritual moment.”
Caribou meat is also a favourite among both children and adults in Fond du Lac. The elders not only carry on the tradition of hunting caribou but are also passing on the skills to the next generation. They also take story-telling seriously, like passing on their former tradition of following the caribou for days in order to have enough meat for the winter for the entire community.
There participants learned that are many different ways to enjoy caribou such as drying the meat and frying it. Some of the students had an opportunity to try caribou, and said they enjoyed the flavourful meat.
A traditional food for the people of Fond du Lac is bannock, which is a form of fried bread. The recipe can vary between regions and families but here is a recipe we encourage you to try at home - it’s a favourite! Thank you to Christina Mercredi for sharing her recipe.
· 5 cups flour
· 3 tablespoons baking powder
· ½ cup sugar
· 2 cups of water
· Add all dry ingredients together.
· Add 2 cups of water to the dry ingredients, mixing all together until a sticky dough substance. (They often use their hands.)
· Heat a skillet of oil and when hot, drop in a tablespoon of the mixture at a time and cook until golden brown.
· Flip over and continue frying until both sides are golden brown
· Remove and put on paper towel
· Add your favourite jam or butter and enjoy!