By Anna Smith
Filmed in Alberta and British Columbia, documentary Food is my Teacher seeks to demonstrate how food connects all people to themselves and to each other.
The story starts with a corporate video, shot at Simon Fraser University, where producer Brandy Yanchyk would meet her co-writer, co-director, and main character of her next project, Dr. Tammara Soma.
“I liked her so much that I thought, Wow, your story’s fascinating. I could do a film about you. And then I said, ‘Why don’t we make a film together?” said Yanchyk. “It’s her first film, and she is also the main character in the film. I’ve made a lot of documentaries since 2010. And I basically mentored her to do the documentary.”
The story begins in a deeply personal place for Soma, as she recalls her own experience with an eating disorder and how she sought to repair her relationship with eating and food; it’s her hope that sharing this journey inspires others to start on a similar path.
“The hope is that, you know, when people watch the documentary, some of them that do have the same experience can maybe see a way out, that they can also mend their relationship with food,” said Soma, “Because the thing with this documentary is, we’re also trying to mend our relationship with one another, mending our relationship with the land, and mending our relationship with food for our own body and our spirituality.”
Soma is an educator at SFU, with a passion for teaching others about food systems in our world. When Yanchyk approached her for a film, she saw it as a perfect way to make a message she holds so dear to her heart accessible to everyone.
It’s a message that would take her across the westernmost provinces, beyond her own culture and experience with food to experience different cultures and stories, and how these people are using food to be part of their communities and take care of themselves.
“The main focus of the film really is about how food is connected to our identity, and how it helps us heal and it brings people together,” said Yanchyk. “Dr. Tammara Soma goes on a journey across Alberta and British Columbia, meeting with different religious organizations and organizations who are doing work to help people connect to food through their identity and helping with food waste.”
Yanchyk highlights several of the stops along the way, from the Filipino Organization in the Rocky Mountains who puts together cultural food baskets of things that will taste of home for those receiving them, to a Sikh gurdwara in British Columbia where Soma participates in a Langar community kitchen.
“We learn about this garden that these Indigenous ethnobotanists created to help their community. We met Gillian Der and Christina Lee from the Hua Foundation, and we went to a mom and pop shop where they have dry goods. And we learn about how young Asian people or Chinese people are getting in touch with their identity in these dry goods,” said Yanchyk.
Soma struggled to pick a highlight of the journey as any one specific place, but spoke glowing praise of the experience as a whole.
“I think the biggest thing is just really making so many new friends. I think doing the documentary helps us be more connected and united. And I hope that it will happen also, and realize that when people watch this, they will maybe take an initiative to connect with people that they might not know,” said Soma.
The experience of collaborating remotely was a challenge, said Yanchyk, living in Edmonton while Soma is in Vancouver, but overall, it was a positive and illuminating experience for the both of them.
“What I learned is that although we are all different, from different cultures, different backgrounds, there’s a real similarity with how people connect to food, especially when it comes to celebration or their identity,” said Yanchyk. “And there’s a real thirst for connecting to your past and learning who you are and where you came from.”
“A lot of times you can learn about that through your food that you eat from a recipe, maybe your grandmother gave you or something you want to try from a country that your ancestors came from,” said Yanchyk. “It’s a happy documentary, at a time when the world is kind of all over the place. So I think that would make people very happy to know that.”
Soma and Yanchyk hope that this message and this documentary can also inspire others to do their part to address food waste and food access for those who need it, and creating a better system as Soma has dedicated her heart to for many years now.
“I think that it’s a great opportunity to see the beauty in Canada, to see the beauty of all of the messages and works of healing that different community leaders across Canada are doing,” said Soma. “But most importantly, I hope they spark some action, because I think that so many Canadians are suffering from food inflation, food insecurity, from so many issues. And the idea is that, you know, hopefully this can spark many more solutions for good.”
Food is my Teacher is available to stream on CBC Gem as of Aug. 25, and also premiered on CBC TV on Aug. 25.