Food is about satiating more than just hunger for SFU Food Labs co-founder and research director Tammara Soma. In Food is My Teacher, a new documentary streaming on CBC Gem as part of its Absolutely Canadian documentary series, Soma, alongside co-director Brandy Yanchyk, explores how communities across Western Canada use food to connect with their culture and themselves.
“I see a lot of beautiful ways that different cultures approach food, different community organizations, different leaders. But I don’t often see their voices represented,” says Soma. “I want to give viewers a bit more of that, a glimpse of what we can offer to Canada.”
Reconnecting with food
For Soma, learning and teaching about food systems has involved a deep process of reconnecting with her culture. Growing up in Indonesia, Soma says her passion for understanding food germinated from an early-life cultural relationship with food that involved a breadth of food-focussed stories, teachings and traditions.
But after coming to North America for high school, she says that her connection to food became much more complicated.
“I grew up where you could pick mangoes from the front yard and [there were] bananas and papayas everywhere,” says Soma. “[But], as I was growing up, I grew increasingly disconnected from food and the food system. It came to the point where I saw food as kind of like my enemy, as a young woman really being influenced and worrying so much about calories.”
But during her time at university in Canada, Soma says that it was her Indigenous friends and Elders whom she met along the way helped her see food in a new yet familiar way and unlearn the notion that food is disposable.
It’s lessons like these that Soma explores in Food is My Teacher, as she highlights leaders and communities – Indigenous, Sikh, Muslim, Chinese-Canadian and more – that are helping improve access to, and understanding of, food.
“They always said food is medicine, food is your relations,” says Soma. “That’s a very different approach to food that is not at all based on the commodity model.”
Speaking to community after community throughout the documentary, one of the most common cross-cultural themes that Soma found is a tradition of food-sharing.
“Just sharing food, making food together, being part of the community. I think that is so beautiful,” says Soma. “In the documentary I went to a gurdwara, and I, as a Muslim woman, sat down and they fed me. It didn’t matter what my religion was, even though I was in a religious temple.”
Soma notes that these pockets of community stand in stark contrast to the more commoditized, unequal food system that exists in North America on the whole. Rather than food sharing, much of North America’s culture of ‘food hoarding’ means many people in the country don’t have enough food, while others have far too much, often leading to a great deal of food waste.
Because of this, Soma looks to showcase the individuals and organizations that are thinking about food differently and encourage audiences to do the same.
“This documentary is like a little love letter to all of the great heroes without a cape that are doing amazing work on food and to celebrate them and to see that these people exist out here and that there is hope,” says Soma. “There are folks that are doing good work, and we need to support one another. I think the more that we grow the network, the stronger we will be.”
For more information about the documentary, visit https://gem.cbc.ca/absolutely-canadian