ITTATSOO — Morbid obesity is affecting as many as 50 per cent of Canadians and is a leading cause of death in this country, an expert told a workshop focused on healthy eating and food security this weekend.

By Tom Mureika,, 2009/3/30

Dr. Cobi Slater, of the Essential Health Natural Wellness Clinic, told the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust's Healthy Food, Healthy Communities workshop that many mental disorders – such as anxiety and attention deficit disorders – can be traced to what we eat, too.

“A lot of us use food to fill an emotional void in our lives,” said Slater. “We try filling that void with food and end up eating foods that are unhealthy and potentially even lethal.”

The two-day workshop was co-sponsored by EcoTrust Canada and Clayoquot Forest Communities and was held Saturday at the Tin Wis Best Western Resort and Sunday at the Ittatsoo Community Hall.

A panel of experts spoke and answered questions on healthy nutrition facts and myths, food security and sustainability.

John Rampanen, of the BC Healthy Living Alliance, facilitated the workshop.

Rampanen, who is a member of the Ahousaht and Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations, said the workshop's goal was “to bring people together and open a dialogue on the role of healthy living in today's culture.”

Slater was the first to speak and said eating and nutritional habits are being passed on from generation to generation.

“The foods we have today contain far more pesticides and preservatives than those of even 20 years ago,” said Slater. “And what parents do is emulated by their children. So if we have a culture that's getting more and more obese, they are just passing this message onto their kids. Children will do whatever they see their parents doing.”

Slater stressed the importance of breast-feeding to help build babies' immune systems.

Slater also said processed foods can be especially lethal. Many types of ice cream contain the chemical, diethyl glucol – which can be found in antifreeze and paint removers.

She said one of the most harmful chemical additives is aspartame, commonly found in diet sodas and candy. Aspartame, she added, is a cumulative substance, collecting in the brain over time and frequently leading to eventual brain tumors.

Chantel Gemmel, of the Ucluelet Community Food Initiative, spoke about creating a sustainable eating environment for the peninsula.

“Lots of people think you can't grow food on the West Coast,” said Gemmel. “But I fed myself off of my garden all last summer.”

Gemmel would like to see a situation in which communities are able to grow and produce enough food to sustain that specific community.

“We rely on a lot of methods of transportation to bring us our food,” she said. “Much of our food comes from a long way away and I think we take a lot of that for granted.”

The UCFI recently conducted a survey in the Ucluelet area to gauge the community's wants and needs in terms of sustainable nutritious food.

“What we learned from the survey is that the main barrier to healthy eating is cost,” said Gemmel.

Gemmel said children are losing the knowledge needed to produce food – and that more and more people are reliant on processed substitutes.

“Everyone needs a farmer, just like everyone needs a doctor and a dentist.”

Gemmel would like to broaden the UCFI's reach and move towards a West Coast food initiative.

Jarrod Gunn-McQuillan, of the Vancouver Island Health Authority, defined food security as “in a nutshell, people having access to safe, healthy food.”

He said it was “exciting to see people are talking about this on the West Coast.”

Gunn-McQuillan remarked that community initiatives like the UCFI were the right direction to take in terms of achieving sustainable food resources.

“The time is right to talk about these matters,” said Gunn-McQuillan. “That time is now.”

Dr. Simon Lucas and Rampanen also spoke about the Nuu-chah-nulth's traditional diet and talked about a time when 100 per cent of the community's food came from nature, and no food was processed.

The workshop closed with an open discussion and question and answer period with the experts, moderated by Rampanen.

“Our hopes with these workshops are to get people working together towards healthy eating and healthy living,” said Rampanen.

Rampanen was very pleased with the turnout at the two workshops, especially given the great weather with which they were competing.

“It shows there is real interest in this issue – and that people seriously do care about living healthier.”