Healthy food + healthy mind = healthy community
By Monty Laskin/Caledon Community Services
Was it just my mom that would say this to me while I was growing up or did you also get a dose of this at the dinner table? It was always drummed into me that eating properly was key to how I performed in school. And the constant refrain to eat my fruit and vegetables didn’t stop once I graduated to adulthood. My mom never let up on that advice.
No one in my family was ever hungry. “Well-nourished” meant that we never scrounged for good eats. We opened the fridge and there was always an abundance of fruit and vegetables, poultry, meat, beans, grains. All cooked from scratch. I never knew of McDonalds. Restaurants were a rare indulgence. Actually, “fast food” had an entirely different meaning for me as a child. It usually meant my mom asking for some help in the kitchen so as to create a beautiful home cooked meal that much faster. To tell you that we ate fast food maybe twice annually gives you an idea of how our kitchen was operated. My mom knew her way around. She was an exceptional cook and my home was my friends’ destination of choice at dinner time. If this is the scenario in your home today, possibly with the increased inclusion of dad and the kids in meal preparation, then you are in a privileged group.
I might not have appreciated it way back then but I do now. And I’m glad to say that the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree. I am also attentive to healthy eating with my own children, as they are with their mom and I. I do appreciate that it is an enormous privilege that no one is wanting for breakfast, lunch or dinner in my home. We have often talked about why this isn’t a right in a country that is so wealthy and abundant. A very good thing for everyone to ask, no?
I wish I could say that not wanting for a healthy home cooked meal is the situation for all of Caledon and all across Ontario but it isn’t. However, might there be some light at the end of the tunnel on this? During the recent election, Premier Wynne went out of her way to distinguish herself as a leader who understands the grave consequences for families that cannot eat a nutritious diet. Her social justice musings continued in the recent throne speech. And in the new budget, the manifesto where a governments puts its money where its mouth is, the Liberals were no less committed to poverty reduction.
Premier Wynne has made it clear that she intends to spend money on poverty reduction: “Government should be a force for good in people’s lives and it should be active where it is appropriate”. It is true that we can always debate ways to stimulate our provincial economy. It is also true that we can agree or disagree on whether spending or restraint makes sense in a province whose annual interest on its debt load is more than it spends on schools. And it is also true that on this matter of government intervention in poverty reduction, the electorate has spoken. And doesn’t every political party believe that the people are always right?
So should the newly-minted Liberal government also be active in food insecurity? To add some sobering context to this, let’ remember that 40 per cent of people who suffer food insecurity in Canada live in communities across Ontario. Caledon is not excluded. The new Caledon Exchange (on Healey Road in Bolton) is busy daily with food distribution to families, to children and youth, to seniors.
So should our provincial government step it up on food insecurity? Here’s one argument that links two critically underserved needs in Caledon: Food security and mental health.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, one in five Canadians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. This has huge implications for Caledon families, for our community and for health care.
What’s the connection between food and mental health? There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that a healthy diet plays a critical role in a healthy mind and a healthy soul. My mother had it right back in the sixties! It stands to reason that many mental health conditions such as depression, schizophrenia and dementia can be influenced by dietary factors. For those in our community facing the daily stress of food insecurity, it is apparent how it then becomes an even greater struggle to maintain their mental health.
Part of the vision for the Caledon Exchange is to create a community hub where health, both physical and mental, is supported through nutrition, education and skill building. The ten Caledon organizations that are already using its resources are all contributing to a sense of belonging. Each is encouraging its supporters to come aboard and participate in our efforts to help community members who are food insecure. For some, the key driver is mental health. That sure works for me.
Monty Laskin is the Chief Executive Officer of Caledon Community Services