SFU professor discusses the power of healing food systems

Food is my Teacher was co-directed and written by SFU professor Tammara Soma

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This is a photo from above a dinner table. The table has many large plates, filled with food.
PHOTO: Stefan Vladimirov / Unsplash

By: Eden Chipperfield, News Writer

On August 28, a new documentary, Food is my Teacher, premiered on CBC in Alberta and BC. The documentary explores how food is a significant part of identity, culture, and personal healing. Food is able to uniquely heal one’s body, spirit, and the earth.

The Peak connected with co-writer and co-director of Food is My Teacher, Tammara Soma, to learn more about the documentary’s message. Soma is also a research director and co-founder of SFU’s Food Systems Lab. “My documentary shows that there are amazing community leaders and organizations that are [ . . . ] using food for bringing people together, to heal broken relationships, and to reconnect people to the land,” she said

Soma is proud of her Muslim identity and has expressed that food has helped heal the relationship between her beliefs and identity. She discussed how she learned from the teachings of Islam that food should be guaranteed for all people. According to Soma, “there is an abundance of food, but an unwillingness to share” with the global population. She added the relationship between her and food has recovered through spiritual teaching and learning: “I learned from reconnecting with my spiritual teachings. Now instead of focusing on inches and pounds, or the size of my clothes, I’m focusing on how I can be of service to others.”

The Community Kitchen and Embark Learning Garden at SFU have impacted Soma’s research and exploration. “As one of the few scholars at SFU working on food systems issues, I routinely use the Embark Learning Garden as a site to bring my students to learn more about gardening, urban food production, and just overall to connect to nature.” Soon, Soma is hoping to use the Community Kitchen as a place of training and awareness for students to learn about the power of food and the benefits of healing our food systems. 

The documentary features discussions about how society is facing a crisis of food accessibility and problems with food waste. “Our food system is not based on the principles of justice and balance, and because we have put profit over people, we need a different approach,” explained Soma. The students at SFU are “passionate about making a difference in the world,” regarding equitable and sustainable food systems. They inspire Soma to do this work. She hopes the documentary will embolden the public to do the same. 

The Peak asked Soma how communities and governments can come together to discuss the importance of a sustainable food system and indulge in food healing. “It is clear that the current system and the consolidation of power is not working, so we need to go to the grassroots and hear directly from the people doing the work on the ground,” said Soma. “Diversifying our food system, and making it more resilient can help us heal the food system,” Soma mentioned. This would also restore local biodiversity, as currently, the world we live in is a monoculture society — meaning that single agricultural crops are grown in large fields.  

Soma hopes the takeaway from Food is My Teacher will inspire unity and motivate viewers to understand how to live in peace with one another, care for the planet, and protect our animal and plant relations. “I want us to envision and mobilize a different food system that is both equitable and sustainable. In the documentary, I show amazing people doing that on the ground, and I hope they become a source of inspiration,” said Soma. She believes we need a new food system based on the “principles of justice and balance.

“We have put profit over people, we need a different approach,” said Soma. 

Soma will be teaching REM 357 Planning for Sustainable Food Systems, in Fall 2023, and hopes students will be encouraged to take her course, adding she often brings food to share with the class. 

For more information on REM 357, visit SFU’s website at www.sfu.ca/outlines.html?2023/fall. 

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