Sitting in groups of three around the Community Tables classroom, the latest group of participants put their heads together to come up with a 3-day menu plan for 20 kids based on a list of food available to them. It takes a lot of creativity to be able to work with what you’ve got available, but for this group, the challenge is nothing new. This session the room is filled with Aboriginal Diabetes Initiative workers from the communities of the Interlake Tribal Council. For many of them, the nearest full service grocery store is a two hour drive away.
Aboriginal Diabetes Initiative workers are focused on prevention, health promotion, and care management within their home communities. This looks differently depending on the community, but for many their programs include cooking classes, fitness programs and community gardens. Serving snacks helps get their participants in the door. As we talked about menu planning, the message we heard from them was “we have to.” Menu planning is a necessity for programs when grocers are limited, expensive or don’t even exist in some of the communities. Sonia, from Kinonjeoshtegon First Nation, explains that when they need to have food for their programs it must be planned a couple of weeks in advance to ensure they have the money in time to make the journey to the grocery store. “Two small bags of groceries from the local store can cost you almost $100” adds Doreen, from Little Saskatchewan First Nation.
This isn’t only a challenge for programming – it is also a big barrier to eating well for all residents of these communities. Carol, from Fisher River Cree Nation, sometimes has dietitians visit and provide one on one counseling for community members.
“I had to ask her to use products from our local store and help us to make it healthier in how we prepare it” says Carol. “A lot of the community members shop locally and don’t have the resources to go to Winnipeg and purchase the products she was using for demos.”
These inspiring community champions had so much to share about the creative ways they promote health in their communities, despite the challenges. Pushing for change can sometimes be a lonely roll. Gathering at Community Tables was both a reminder of why they do what they do and a chance to troubleshoot and get support from others who really understand what they’re going through. Whether they were creating together in the kitchen or commiserating about the shared challenge of diabetes awareness, you could feel the connections in the room strengthening.
And that’s what Community Tables is all about. Because serving up good food for our communities isn’t always easy, but the more we can support each other, the more we can achieve.
Written by: Anna Levin, Program Coordinator