GN unveils made-in-Nunavut food guide
Good nutrition, Inuit-style
Elder Inuapik Sagiaktok makes her way around the tables of country food, nibbling on some caribou meat, pieces of arctic char and fresh bannock before digging in to the platter of seaweed.
Around her, there’s a mix of smells, from fish to fermented walrus meat, and an array of country foods on just about every table in the room.
It’s a feast fit for an elder, and a dozen of them who are gathered at the Elders’ Centre in Iqaluit are munching away on the treats.
Having grown up on the land, country foods have always been a staple of the elders’ diet. Now, Nunavut’s health department is promoting traditional Inuit food as an important part of healthy eating.
On March 5, health officials unveiled its new Nunavut food guide to the elders. The guide lists nutritious foods that are essential for strong muscles, bones and teeth, and those that provide energy and help fight infections.
It’s patterned after the Canada food guide, which promotes meat, fish, fruits, vegetables and breads as healthy foods. But Nunavut’s new food guide has an interesting twist: fish-head soup, bannock, muktuk and mountain sorel are added to the list.
Health Minister Ed Picco, who attended the event, said caribou, ptarmigan, char and other food found on the land kept Inuit healthy long before they were introduced to qallunaat, store-bought food.
“Inuit elders never had an opportunity to grow vegetables or have bananas and apples,” Picco said in Inuktitut. “But Inuit are some of the healthiest people.”
His department used elders’ knowledge of traditional foods to help develop the food guide.
A food guide has existed in Canada since the 1940s. The Northwest Territories even designed its own guide, which included aboriginal foods.
But Nunavut health officials wanted an up-to-date guide that’s more relevant to the new territory.
“It takes into consideration the traditional foods of Nunavut, which the other guides don’t,” explained Brenda McIntyre, the territory’s health promotion specialist.
McIntyre said the guide reflects today’s Inuit eating habits by including a combination of traditional and store-bought foods. For instance, it suggests that to get the proper amount of dairy, people can drink a glass of milk or eat some fish-head bones.
The food guide is also an attempt to improve overall Inuit health.
“We are seeing more diet-related health problems, like diabetes and high cholesterol,” McIntyre said. “Any research we’ve had shows that Inuit traditional food is very high in nutrition.”
Inuapik Sagiaktok doesn’t follow the research, but knows from first-hand experience the value of traditional foods.
The 72-year-old was born in a camp near Kimmirut and migrated to Iqaluit when she was a young girl. “My family ate traditional foods, like polar bears, caribou and lots of mammals,” Sagiaktok said through an interpreter. “As long as I’m able to and as long as it’s available, I’ll never stop eating country foods.”
But, because her father was a guide for the RCMP, she also had the luxury of tasting qallunaat food. She jokes that amongst her friends, she was one of the only to have the luxury to eat candies.
“I was accustomed to eating both traditional and non-traditional food. I believe they’re both excellent vitamin enriched foods.”
The new food guide, which took more than two years and $20,000 to complete, will now be used in health centres, McIntyre said. “If nurses need to talk to people about eating healthy, they can use it as a tool.”
It will also be incorporated into the health curriculum in Nunavut’s schools.