Traditional Food Knowledge: Renewing Culture and Restoring Health
Kwik, Jessica Christine
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Traditional food knowledge (TFK) refers to a cultural tradition of sharing food, recipes and cooking skills and techniques and passing down that collective wisdom through generations. The value of this knowledge is hidden in a global food system offering an abundance of commercial convenience foods. This study defines TFK and explores its value to assert space for its recovery and renewal. Using Trevor Hancock’s research on healthy communities and models, such as the Mandala of Health (1985), traditional food knowledge will be analyzed for its potential to contribute to individual and community ecosystem health. The role of traditional food knowledge is examined with respect to promoting biocultural diversity and improving the capacity for food production among citizens. Food diversity is an important component of human nutrition and can be an indicator for a bioculturally diverse region. Studies on biocultural diversity recognize the close connection between cultural and biological diversity. Only recently have the losses in cultural heritage, such as traditional food knowledge garnered academic and policy attention. Traditional food knowledge can be one means of asserting cultural identity and can be a way to connect people to the natural world. Transmitting this knowledge is one important means of fostering sustainable livelihoods, ecosystem health and enhanced individual and community capacity. Traditional food knowledge can provide an individual with the capacity to prepare meals that are nutritious, safe and culturally relevant. This skill can support adaptation to altered food environments, such as is the case for immigrants and indigenous populations. The food system itself has rapidly changed with global industrialization, urbanization and cultural homogenization; and traditional food knowledge is no exception. The distinct expressions of taste and place are facing a continuity gap when traditional food knowledge is not passed forward, but rather sidelined as an abstract, historical concept. This study takes a qualitative case study approach exploring the concept of traditional food knowledge. The existing literature is compared to the lived experience of immigrants and their families in the Canadian suburban context, specifically in Mississauga, Ontario. This study explores the relevance and value of traditional food knowledge to Indonesian-Chinese New Canadians, their families and the wider community. Despite the colossal challenges posed by a global food industry, there are personal and community benefits to gaining or relearning traditional food knowledge. The community capacity increases with a greater number of skilled practitioners and educated consumers. Informal sharing of the cultural life skills engages people from various walks of life as they learn about, and from, each other. Governance that enables and sustains this type of community exchange will require changes to ensure equitable support for the opportunity for such informal learning and capacity building to occur among all citizens.