Several years ago, Donna Koenig, Food Services Manager for South Okanagan General Hospital, attended a national Indigenous nutrition event at Six Nations in northern Ontario. “There were Elders there from all across Canada–including the Yukon and the Northwest Territories–and it was all about the stories and learning why food is considered to be medicine–and the importance of it.” The idea that food is medicine resonated with Donna, who has spent her 40 year career providing nutrition services in health care settings.
Across the province, Chef Ben Genaille was on his own journey with Traditional foods. Chef Ben worked as a cook for over 36 year, in both small kitchens and luxury resorts, from the Great Bear Rainforest to the Nisga’a Nation. While working for Vancouver Community College, he developed an Aboriginal Culinary Program. “I’ve been working to educate whoever will listen on Traditional foods–and the value, the nutritional value, the process.”
Traditional foods to be offered in pilot program for Meals at Home
Chef Ben was part of a cohort of Traditional Chefs working provincially with the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Health, and Feed BC when he first met Donna. As they got to know each other, Donna said, “Do I have plans for you!”
Donna had just received funding through Nourish BC to develop Traditional recipes in cooperation with Aboriginal partners. The pilot program would introduce these new offerings through Meals at Home, a prepackaged meal service available to people recovering from illness at home. She knew Chef Ben would be the perfect person to lead the project.
Over a two week period in March, Chef Ben and the team prepared over 300 meals in accordance with the recipes provided by First Nation and Métis partners. The meals were delivered to eight communities for feedback from Elders and other community members. The Interior Health project team will meet later this month to review the feedback and discuss their next steps. The hope is to expand the pilot project in the future.
Donna, Chef Ben, and the rest of the Food is Medicine team shared details of their work in a recent episode of the Interior Voices podcast. Chef Ben and the Food is Medicine initiative were also recently featured in Why Hospital Food Matters for Reconciliation, a video produced by Nourish Canada. Check out these links to hear the team talk about the initiative in their own words.