John Crouch

John Croutch, a graduate of the University of Toronto, teaches workshops about healthy eating.

By Christine McFarlane

TORONTO – “Diabetes affects Aboriginal peoples at alarming rates, and it is a disease that can be prevented, if we learn to eat healthily, think about food in a better way and bring back tradition,” says John Croutch, a citizen of Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve and a 2011 graduate of the University of Toronto.

After growing concerned about the increasing numbers of Aboriginal people getting diabetes and witnessing friends having difficulty coping with the medicines they needed to take to combat diabetes, Croutch turned to his knowledge about healthy eating and started teaching about it at various workshops across Toronto’s urban Aboriginal community.

Asked to teach a healthy eating workshop by the Transforming Diabetes in Urban Aboriginal Toronto project, Croutch taught a handful of youth at the Native Canadian Centre the benefits of preparing healthy foods.

The Transforming Diabetes Project is funded by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, and led by Heather Howard, a researcher with the Centre for Aboriginal Initiatives at the University of Toronto.

“I tried to show the kids that you can cook and eat healthily when you are on a budget,” says Croutch. “And I tried to instill in them that eating healthily requires a lot more planning than if you were to eat out, and that it is much easier to change eating habits when you are younger than if you are in your 40’s or 50’s.”

Youth who have been involved with the project have participated in focus groups where they discuss the rising rates of diabetes in Aboriginal communities and how changes in diet have affected Aboriginal people and their overall health.

They learn that living in the city provides them cheap and easy access to fast food, not a healthy option. And they learn the importance of understanding what food is made of and to be self-aware about personal food choices.

“Diabetes is a completely preventable disease — not Type 1 but Type 2” says John Croutch. “Unfortunately the food industry has created foods that are hyperglycemic and they taste good which makes it tough for people to get back to traditional foods.”

For many, the issue of food and how it is consumed is personal, but Croutch believes that “it is important to have the conversation about food without bringing our emotions into it, teaching our youth that cooking is fun and if we as First Nations people are going to talk about ourselves as being stewards of the land, we need to take the little steps.”

For him, this involves saying no more to the fast food industry, learning to cook, resisting the temptation to eat processed and fast foods, and getting back to  traditional Aboriginal customs, including eating together as family.

This article originally posted April 15, 2013.