When getting food is as convenient as grabbing something off a grocery store shelf, it’s easy to forget how food is created and the true value of nutritional food.
The disconnect many people have with their food can be more impactful than you’d think. This disconnection can lead to health issues related to the kinds of foods one eats.
The primary cause of death worldwide is coronary heart disease (CHD), and the risk factors include eating a diet high in saturated fats and lack of exercise.
Connecting with the foods we eat by understanding how it is grown and “processed” makes us informed consumers and may even inspire some to get more involved in creating food by growing a vegetable garden. Gardening is a great way to get exercise and more connected to the foods we eat.
Cecelia Brooks is a member of St. Mary’s First Nation. An inspirational knowledge holder, teacher and creator, she encourages others to foster deeper, meaningful connections with the Earth and themselves.
Eating is the most important thing we do each day, Brooks said. It is primal to our survival, just like drinking water – but in this modern world, many people are losing their connection with food and don’t always realize how what we eat can impact our lives.
Growing some of what you eat is one way to create meaningful connections with our mother the earth and with ourselves. Being outside, touching and nurturing the earth, brings calmness to the spirit that has now been corroborated by scientific studies.
“I think this has something to do with the deeper connection we make with ourselves when we are more involved in our physical and spiritual nourishment,” Brooks said.
I believe regaining our sovereignty over our foods is the first step to regaining our control of our lands and waters we call home. We cannot govern ourselves if we are not able to feed ourselves.
“Food is medicine, and medicine is food,” she said. “But today in this modern world, food isn’t medicine, food is poison because they’ve poisoned it,” meaning some of the foods we find in grocery stores have been processed to the point of having little nutritional value.
This lack of nutrients in foods can lead to over-eating, as people often feel less satisfied from consuming processed foods.
Nutritionally dense foods come from whole foods like fresh vegetables that have not been overly processed and are much more satisfying to the human body.
Many large-scale growing methods include the use of GMOs, chemical sprays, and fertilizers that can strip plants of their nutritious, healing properties.
Food has become a victim of the “convenient” life many people seek as they become increasingly busy with “making a living.” Kraft dinner with hotdogs has become fair game in many households during the busy work week as parents struggle to balance work and home life.
Many adults today come from homes where parents or grandparents kept a vegetable garden so they are not completely disconnected, but they often feel the pressure of not having much time and end up relying on processed foods as a way of relieving some pressures on their life.
Life skills such as learning how to cook meals at home are no longer taught in schools as Home Economics courses are no longer offered. There have been recent murmurings of the return of Home Ec classes in New Brunswick schools after years of debate and discussion among health care professionals and politicians. This time perhaps they will make it mandatory for all students, regardless of gender.
As many people become more disconnected with their food, they don’t always see it as something that can heal you, but rather just something to fill you up.
For example, Brooks talked about beans.
“It’s a bean, [but] it’s a medicine. Why is it a medicine? Because it’s loaded with fiber and nutrients, but people forget about that. Beans are veggies, yeah, but they don’t think about the medicine in the beans,” she said.
“The growing of the food, that’s medicine too. Us being out there, that was medicine,” Brooks explained.
“We hear this all the time ‘why are you growing potatoes? Potatoes are so cheap, why would you grow potatoes?’ … it’s that connection with our food and to the earth as medicine for the whole person.”
Viewing everything for monetary value is wrongheaded thinking. Inherently we all know this because we all value most dearly the things money cannot buy, but monetary value has become the universal gauge for measuring the value of things, and food has not dodged that bullet.
Planting a seed and watching it grow is an incredible experience that can connect people with the earth and the plants they eat.
Indigenous cultures have practiced unique and effective growing methods for thousands of years. Companion planting practices like the three sisters planting – which Brooks taught to students at Hayes Farm – may seem complex, but makes perfect sense when you understand what each “sister” contributes to the group.
The popularity of permaculture is a relatively new trend in agriculture, but Indigenous societies have been practicing permaculture for thousands of years. Relocating and cultivating perennials such as groundnuts, sunchokes, Burr Oak trees or other fruit or nut trees to permanent settlements has been a practice of Indigenous peoples here in Canada and around the world.
“I think people need to understand what happened here. When you look at colonialism, when the Europeans arrived here, we were doing all of it, we were taking care of ourselves,” Brooks said.
“We had a very organized, very structured, very effective society… it was about who is the best at doing whatever they’re doing, and then working together. It made sense.”
Brooks explained a lot of lost knowledge isn’t truly gone, though many people have stopped practicing it.
“Not practicing our traditional foodways was a part of the colonial plan of taking away our ability to feed ourselves was the first step in controlling our lives. I believe regaining our sovereignty over our foods is the first step to regaining our control of our lands and waters we call home. We cannot govern ourselves if we are not able to feed ourselves.”
“Out West the colonizers killed all the bison to make the Indigenous groups dependent on food rations. Out here in the East they didn’t have bison to kill so they restricted our movement to keep us from hunting, trapping or gathering our foods.”
The historical record documents the collection of the corn crops our ancestors grew by the missionaries for distribution to the British military. The Mi’kmaw grew weary of growing corn for the purpose of feeding the British and simply refused to grow corn. The Wolastoqewi grew corn a bit longer after colonization as they tried to use the corn as negotiating power with the colonizers.
“Within my father’s lifetime (born 1927) he remembers his mother figure, Aunt Matilda, making hominy corn using hardwood ashes, and there are still many elders in our communities who remember it being made and eating it as a youngster.”
This knowledge of how to make hominy was not readily passed along to subsequent generations due to residential schools and the advent of canned hominy corn. Again, the seduction by convenience is robbing us of our rightful knowledge of our traditional foodways.
“Our grandparents, our parents even, they went through residential school. They were not treated well, they were beaten, some were killed. So that’s where the knowledge [was lost] when we talk about lost knowledge,” Brooks said.
“But it’s not really lost, it’s in there. I know I feel it when I’m out there… we are just yearning to do it again. And these young people are the ones who are bringing it back.”
“If you listen to the Earth, she tells you things too. But you gotta listen, and that’s the part that, I know it’s sort of like starting from scratch, but you have to listen.”
While agriculture is often considered a feminine skill in indigenous culture, Brooks explained that that’s not always the case. Men would often go hunting, but so would women who were strong hunters. Hunters could scout for and send harvesters to plants that offer nourishment and medicine – everybody worked together.
“Everybody worked together, but the women [are] the seed keepers, it just makes sense. We also keep the seeds of our future people, so it just made sense. We’re nurturers, it’s naturally that way.”
One of the things that connects the feminine spirit to growing food is the corn, Brooks said.
Brooks shared an important lesson that she learned from Ronnie Paul an influential elder she first met in 2007 – Ronnie told her every time you go out on the land, eat something to stay connected with your mother, the earth.
Cecelia Brooks is a member of St. Mary’s First Nation community and comes from a family of mixed Indigenous heritage. She is a practitioner of Etuaptmunk (Two Eyed Seeing) as she is also a Land User/Knowledge Holder and an avid medicinal plant harvester. Cecelia has served as the Water Grandmother with the Canadian Rivers Institute at UNB since 2010 and currently teaches Indigenous Perspectives in the Department of Forestry and Environmental Management.
Hannah Moore is a recent graduate from St. Thomas University, currently working as a Food Security and Regenerative Farming Reporter for the RAVEN project at the University of New Brunswick.