By R D Wood
We need to be organised in such a way that we create a society where our good health is possible and enabled rather than fraught and fought for. The money we raise from taxing sources of our health problems (sugar, cigarettes, alcohol, gambling) needs to go into regulation and enforcement as well as prevention and education.
Even if we can agree that denatured, processed, sugary food is not good for anyone, we need to realise that every body is different. My traditional food is not the same as your traditional food; what is healthy for me is not necessarily healthy for you. People I know in communities in the Pilbara and Kimberley stay strong because they eat their traditional food. I know cancer survivors who swear that it was kangaroo or bush turkey or emu that kept them alive while they were undergoing chemo. And they are more than likely right. When I have visited my mother’s homeland in southern India, I have felt healthier after eating fish curry than I have on many occasions in many other places.
We need to diversify our idea of healthy food then rather than project a universal notion from a basis of perceived superiority. Spinach is good for some, coconut oil is good for others, goanna for others yet. We need to get away from the fetish for a particular ingredient be that avocado, quinoa or kale, not simply because different rules apply to different people but also because of the complicated flow of resources that happens when one is neither strictly local nor living in one’s ancestral homeland. This focus on food as a source of prevention and primary care could be traced back to Hippocratic principles, but it is there too in Ayurveda and traditional health systems as I have experienced them on Ngarluma and Martu country.
This is where the work performed by local primary providers, from GPs to nurses to food providers and educators, is essential to ensuring we can be as healthy as possible. One particularly heartening example of this is the Eon Foundation, which operates in 16 remote communities across Australia. It performs the work of the local farmers’ market in places where access to fresh produce is difficult. Founded in 2005, Eon builds:
Edible gardens in remote Indigenous schools and communities for a secure supply of fresh food, and partner with them to deliver a hands-on practical gardening, nutrition education, cooking and hygiene program.
It is a practical and holistic early intervention program that allows children the best possible start in life. They invest in a community for a minimum of five years, and contra the intervention, only go to communities where they have been invited. They have partnered with the private and public sector to deliver the best possible outcome for children on the ground. As the 2013 KPMG report on Eon suggested, ‘it is a genuine community development approach that values long term engagement over rapid delivery, local capacity-building over passive hand-outs, and practical cooperation over top-down intervention, in the approach most likely to be effective.’
These kinds of initiatives are vital in places not only because of the healthy eating they promote, but also because they provide meaningful modes of positive engagement for young people. In the Kimberley these forms of positive engagement are vital to providing a supportive community in the face of unfolding trauma, which includes a continuing battle with youth suicide.
This is a mental health issue that needs our attention in the long term rather than simple outrage and media commentary when it is clickbait. Support for mental health services is vital. As with the case of healthy eating, this means sustained investing in the grass roots service providers who are working at the coalface. This early intervention is key and as Amanda Lee and Nicole Turner state in regards to remote Indigenous health:
Effective primary care strategies such as targeted family support, “well person’s health checks”, breastfeeding promotion and infant growth assessment and action programs are ready and waiting for funding to be implemented and expanded.
Preventative care such as good food provision and health checks are even more acute in these remote places because of the absence of tertiary services. We must rail against the expectation that one will have diabetes or become obese or suffer from depression and we must also challenge the idea that the services provided for those most in need cannot be different. In Jigalong for example, a mining corporation established a dialysis centre but only funded it for three years initially. That long-term instability means we cannot plan adequately and our costs skyrocket when we are being simply reactive, which is no way to provide good services for those who are suffering in our very midst. Access to a healthy diet means access to traditional foods, which means encouraging community-led health initiatives that acknowledge the realities of life in remote Australia. This is one way we can all take a step forward together.
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