BOW VALLEY – From expensive food bills to seeing how different meals connect identity and community, how Banff eats and is featured in a new documentary film about what we put in our mouths.
Food Is My Teacher follows Vancouver’s Dr. Tammara Soma’s journey to find the healing power of food, giving access to multicultural communities across western Canada and different people’s relationships and personal connections to food.
A screening takes place Monday (Nov. 27) in Banff at 5 p.m. at the Pioneer Room in the Catharine Robb Whyte Building above the library. Those interested in attending can RSVP at banff.ca.
The evening also will have a potluck and panel discussion with the filmmakers.
It’s no surprise to locals in Banff, which is an expensive tourism mountain town, when the documentary points out a tougher-than-normal living standard.
“One of the things that [Soma] experienced in Banff was that there is a food security problem,” said the documentary’s filmmaker Brandy Yanchyk. “It just seems to be getting worse, actually, because the cost of living is getting higher and the cost of food is getting higher, so more and more people need the food bank.”
Though, a key feature of the documentary is that some items at food rescues and food banks aren’t culturally appropriate for all ethnicities.
“In the documentary, the Filipino Organization in the Rocky Mountains talks about this and how they create these care packs and why people didn’t want to go to any of the food banks, why they would rather be helped by this local organization,” said Yanchyk.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Filipino Organization in the Rocky Mountains (FORM) partnered with the Bow Valley Food Alliance to provide culturally-appropriate food packs called ayuda.
Jun Cacayuran, president of FORM, said there was “an alarming increase” of Filipinos across Alberta who needed food security during the pandemic, as many found themselves laid-off in the uncertain time. Because of the panic, Filipino organizations in Alberta partnered and reached out to different donors regarding financial assistance and culturally-accepted foods.
“We came up with giving free food packs,” said Cacayuran. “We did that every day during the pandemic … That was the start of our collaboration with the (local) food bank(s) and food rescue.”
Working at a local hotel, Cacayuran added he sees avoidable food waste with food that is still consumable, and hopes to work with local hotels on a system to reduce this issue, which can then be distributed to the community.
Looking at the current pricing situation at local grocery stores and restaurants, Cacayuran called it a “big problem” for many living in the Bow Valley.
Local deals exist at a few restaurants and grocery stores, such as Save-On Foods and Safeway offering 15 to 20 per cent off on groceries on the first Tuesday of the month. However, most everyday food items, pet food – even gasoline and housing – all have a noticeable Bow Valley markup.
“The prices are so high and it is because it’s a tourist-built area and, seemingly, it is patterned on the pricing of those tourists coming in and less visibility goes to the locals,” said Cacayuran.
“That’s why we are pushing to get in some forums and meetings to discuss the differences between the locals and the tourist pricing on food.”
Filmed in Summer 2022, Yanchyk said Food Is My Teacher gives viewers an opportunity to think about what food means to them.
It also gives the audience a glimpse into different communities, like Banff, they might not have access to.
“I think it addresses some very important questions right now about food security and starts a discussion that’s very important, especially in a mountain town like Banff or Canmore, where the cost of living is expensive,” said Yanchyk. “You also have all these people behind the scenes who are basically making things happen.”
The documentary is currently airing on CBC Gem.