Access to healthy food means a healthy body.
But food can provide more than just nutrition – meals done right can foster connection to community and to culture, resulting in healthy minds and spirits, too.
With funding from United Way Central & Northern Vancouver Island, through the federal government’s Emergency Community Support Fund (ECSF), Nanaimo Community Kitchens Society and the Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre came together to offer truly healthy meals and food literacy to those in need.
“What we really wanted to do was bring traditional foods back into people’s kitchens,” says Joel Harry, director of program development at the Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre.
Working together, the two organizations created the Ulhtun program, which means “to eat” in the Hul’quimi’num language. Sourcing local traditional food including deer, salmon, tuna and elk, they also gathered traditional recipes and created instructional videos.
Those were created with the help of youths from Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre’s Tsawalk Learning Centre, says Joel.
The food items were distributed through the Nanaimo Foodshare’s Good Food Box program, and starting in October of 2020, Ulhtun was able to supply more than 1,500 cooking kits.
“This initiative served the vulnerable community members currently being served by NCK (including people with diverse abilities, seniors, and low-income populations) as well as families, youth, seniors, and Elders who are being served by Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre (NAC),” says the executive director of the Nanaimo Community Kitchens Society, Heidi Sinclair.
“The coupling of the agency’s two expertise created unique programming that addressed food security as well as cultural connection and individual well-being. … We believe that by cooking together we create a healthy community,” Heidi says.
“We often heard, ‘Oh, I’ve never had tuna before,’ or, ‘I’ve never cooked deer before,’” says Joel. “It was really introducing some new foods as well to some of these people.”