Contributed by Hannah Stoker
When we discuss performance nutrition, in the discipline of nutrition science, we focus on the biochemical components of food. We often talk about food as fuel.
In the field of nutrition, focus sometimes tends to predominantly remain on the metabolism of nutrients, correction of nutritional deficiencies, conduction of empirical research, pathogenesis of disease, or the manipulation of food to optimize performance. Yet, food is so much more than simply the sum of its biochemical components.
The meaning of food expands when you take a step back from the Eurocentric cultural lens which has typically dominated most biomedical research. In the United States, indigenous peoples harnessed inter-generational food knowledge to cure scurvy by treating a vitamin C deficiency long before such a treatment was understood by Europeans.
Traditional Anishanaabe teachings indicate an immense reverence for the surrounding world. Indigenous peoples practiced Anishanaabe values, connecting their surroundings to food and to nourishment. From this we can begin to understand that the meaning of food is a connectedness from one to another - a connectedness from body to the land, a connectedness from land to food, and a connectedness between each other as we eat food produced by the land. This is food as a relationship, as a celebration and as a memory of connection. As an example, to many tribal communities, wild rice was healthful not only for its nutritional components but also for its sacredness.
We can re-examine our presuppositions about food and nutrition by learning from practiced indigenous teachings and perhaps find a more grounded, and holistic understanding of our body’s needs. While Eurocentric scientific inquiry and empirical study remain invaluable, the respect for and inclusion of cultural knowledge from varying heritages enhances the biomedical understandings of nutrition. What does food mean to you beyond its nutrients? What celebratory memories or traditions are associated with particular foods? Do any foods connect you with a place or person?
Our hope is that this reflection will remind you of all of the unique ways that food is more than just fuel.
1. Hassel C. Nutrition Education: Toward a Framework of Cultural Awareness? CFW Plex. 2013;10(1094). doi:10.1094/cplex-2013-1001-27b
2. Hassel C. Reconsidering nutrition science: Critical reflection with a cultural lens. Nutr J. 2014;13(1):1-11. doi:10.1186/1475-2891-13-42