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Inuits - an ethnic minority with a growing food issue



Iqaluit, Nunavut Canada


The Inuits are an ethnic minority living in the Arctic Circle. There are roughly 155,000 Inuits today living in four main regions: North Canada, Alaska, Siberia and Greenland. Their diet was known to be one of the only meat and fat based diets within all the human ethnicities, and due to the weather conditions, they rarely had access to fruits and vegetables. So how have they been affected by time and evolution in the food industry?


Tim Lougheed writes in The changing landscape of arctic traditional food:


Today one-third of the world’s Inuit live in Canada, scattered in communities that range in size from a few dozen to several thousand. The Internet and satellite television have given these northern inhabitants an unprecedented awareness of the wider world, while a money-based economy has given them goods manufactured by that world. Snowmobiles and powerboats have largely replaced dogsleds and kayaks, just as high-powered rifles long ago replaced hunting spears. And where people once wrested their own food from the surrounding land or sea, today many buy groceries in a store, including processed and packaged products that would have been unknown a few decades ago.


Drastic and often disastrous shifts in diet can be traced to the Canadian government’s forced settlement of these formerly nomadic peoples in the years following World War II.

“It’s not just the monetary value of the traditional foods, it’s the sociocultural aspects,” says dentist Leonard Tsuji. “In the old days [hunters] would go out with their families for a month for the spring harvest of waterfowl. Many don’t do that anymore.”


According to James Ford, a geographer at McGill University, it all adds to the risk faced by anyone venturing out to look for food—risks that many individuals no longer care to assume. “We’re seeing younger generations not developing the same skills as they once would, skills for safe and successful hunting,” he says. “In many cases we’re seeing young people who aren’t going hunting because it’s too dangerous. They don’t have the knowledge, they don’t have the skills, they don’t have the equipment.”


(Reproduced with permission from Environmental Health Perspectives)


We will explore further into the Inuit food culture as well as food culture in other ethnic minorities in future posts.

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