A new CBC documentary talks about our connections with food
By Liam Newbigging | August 23, 2023
It’s in the diverse cultures and communities of Western Canada where Dr. Tammara Soma goes looking for answers in a new documentary that explores the healing properties of food.
Food Is My Teacher comes from Edmonton filmmaker Brandy Yanchyk (Top 40 alumnus), who took on a mentorship role with Burnaby-based food systems expert Dr. Tammara Soma, who co-wrote and co-directed the entire production.
Yanchyk said that Soma’s thesis on food attracted her to the project on a “spiritual and emotional” level, and Soma was intrigued by some of Yanchyk’s previous work in a film, Ms. Scientist, that featured a colleague from Simon Fraser University.
It’s a duo that combines Yanchyk’s filmmaking expertise which spans over 16 films and 10 series since 2009, with Soma’s extensive education and research into food systems planning.
The main idea of the film is that food is medicine, but not just in the sense that it heals our bodies or that it provides nutrients and calories. For Soma, food is a complex phenomenon that connects people with the land, their cultures, and each other in a cohesion that provides physical, emotional and even spiritual health.
“[Food] becomes this beautiful connector to everything from culture, identity to language preservation. It’s everything. That’s why it’s my teacher,” says Soma.
In order to explore these connections and also the disconnections that food has, the filmmakers travel across Western Canada’s unique food cultures to find different ideas about food and some common denominators. They meet with ethnobotanists from Squamish First Nation, Sikh gurus at a gurdwara in Calgary, young Chinese-Canadian Vancouverites looking to reconnect with their heritage, and Filipino migrant workers from Bow Valley seeking culturally appropriate food.
Soma also recounts her own experiences with food and how reconnecting with her Islamic faith helped her recover from an eating disorder.
“I didn’t always have that positive relationship with food, and I think actually many young people, many girls and increasingly even males, are having this really difficult relationship with food,” says Soma.
According to Second Harvest, and quoted by Soma, Canadians currently waste over $49 billion in food a year — and that one in five Canadians is food insecure. People have had their relationships broken with the food system, and many people don’t know where their food comes from anymore, a phenomenon that Soma calls “food from nowhere.”
But despite some of the stark realities of the food economy, Soma and Yanchyk take a positive approach in this film to guide viewers to different ways of thinking.
“I think more of us need to look at food from the perspective that it is a human right,” says Soma.
Re-connect with food in Food Is My Teacher, available for streaming on CBC Gem on August 25 or CBC TV on August 26 at 7 p.m.