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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Food Security and Food Culture

Food Security includes not only ensuring access to food but also achieving good nourishment and nutrition. This is described as 'Utilization of food' as described in a previous article about this topic. Intake of a well balanced diet goes hand in hand with the diversity, customs and cultural traditions that are associated with food preparation and consumption. In order to achieve Food Security therefore, it is necessary to recognize the importance of culture in relation to food habits. This cultural aspect is further explored in this post. It is part of a series of articles about Food Security. 

We are what we eat

The experience of cooking and eating food is determined by lifestyle, resources, community influences, aesthetic preferences and all such factors that prescribe culture and identity. Food is usually a very important part of celebrations, holidays, festivals and events. Food production, preparation and intake are often collective activities among family, friends and community. These collective and cultural influences therefore are integral to continued intake of sufficient and nutritious food. 

For instance, meals are traditionally long, leisurely and eaten with together with family or friends in Latin cultures such as French, Italian or South American. In India and some other Asian cultures, elaborate cooking processes and use of a wide variety of ingredients are a common feature of everyday meals. Traditional Middle Eastern family meals are served in a communal plate in the centre of the table. Food is eaten without cutlery or plates but using hands.

Cultural traditions and customs are not fixed. They are continuously evolving but they remain part and parcel of Food Utilization and therefore Food Security. 

Impact of Culture on Food Security

Due to a modern lifestyle people are switching to a fast food culture and perhaps no longer attach enough importance to cultural traditions in food habits. The increasing trend towards eating out, take away meals moving away from home made food has negative consequences. Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer are attributed among other factors to fast food, industrially or commercially prepared meals all of which often have high levels of sodium and fat and may be lacking in necessary vitamins and diverse nutrients compared to a traditional fresh home cooked meal. Many such articles are available on this subject. The likelihood of diseases like cancer being caused by consumption of processed meat has also recently been in the news

Source: Wikipedia

In a multicultural community, some families switching from their traditional cuisine to a western diet may adopt unhealthy cooking or eating habits. This may be because of losing touch with their own culture over generations as a result of modern developments like migration and globalisation. At the same time they may struggle to adapt to local cuisines due to lack of sufficient knowledge not having grown up with the local foods. Furthermore a move away from cooked meals using fresh ingredients to pre-packaged, processed, fast food can also diminish the importance and richness of our ecosystem which supports and creates our food. 

Suggested Measures

It is suggested that work done towards improving Food Security could include efforts to promote the importance of nutrition as well as a suitable cultural environment. This can be done by officially acknowledging the impact of diverse cultural habits and preferences while developing Food Security programs, training or services such as in food bank distribution programs, food related workshops/conferences or while subsidizing/incentivizing local food markets. Introducing an element of cultural awareness, celebration of traditional customs through food festivals, fusion cooking workshops or promotional food events are also part of the measures that encourage communities to better engage with food and eat well. 

Medical treatments are often prescribed after identifying likely deficiencies in a patient's traditional diet and eating patterns by doctors currently. For instance certain vegetarian diets result in deficiency of vitamin B12 with specific medical consequences and accordingly the treatment addresses the deficiencies. The impact on diet of cultural differences should perhaps be taken into account at a prior stage in the work done to improve Food Security.  

Burnaby Food First has been offering many interesting workshops this month to promote local food preparation techniques and locally produced food such as 'cooking with winter greens', 'cooking with root vegetables', 'drying and storing foods' and more. Please check our website for details or contact us to be included in our mailing list. 

Some links for further reading:

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