You Are What You Eat: Changing Our Daily Interaction With Food

Dr. Detwiler is the Assistant Dean of Graduate Academic & Faculty Affairs, and the Director of the Regulatory Affairs of Food and Food Industries program at Northeastern University

By Prabarna Ganguly

In this three part story, we will explore the world of food safety and politics, all within the context of climate change. Interspersed through our journey will be expert comments made by Dr. Darin Detwiler.  

Our relationship with food

How many times have you been asked to look both ways before you cross the street?

How often have you been told to put your seatbelt on before taking off in your car?

One assumes enough times that you do it.

Now, how many times have you had a conversation at a family dinner about food safety? Probably not all that much. You might ask, who needs to have a conversation about this? I wash my hands before eating, and I wash my fruits and vegetables, (OK maybe once I ate that orange without doing so, but I was STARVING).

But what about the server at Restaurant X whose child was suffering from flu, and forgot to wash his hands because he was on an afternoon shift helping double-digit customers single-handedly? Dr. Detwiler opines as we discuss the matter.

That’s in terms of workers. But you have to get to policies such as, should sick workers be required to work when they are sick and vomiting and they’re serving food, simply because there’s no one to cover their shift, or should workers be allowed or required even to stay home when they're sick, because the impact on public health is too great a risk, and it is too much of a risk to have someone becoming the next Typhoid Mary?”   

typhoid mary.png

Oh Mary!

Devastatingly, Mary Mallon spent nearly 30 years in isolation because she was unwilling to stop being a cook. Born in the 1880’s, she could not fathom that she was a “carrier” of a disease she did not herself suffer from. With emerging diseases and pathogens, this is still a forlorn issue in 2017.

A 2011 study on why workers come in when experiencing illness indicates that the issue is mostly a problem of policy and training. Certain restaurants have minimal requirements to report illness, and many have managers with little experience in running a hectic and demanding workplace. 

But the issue is bigger than getting sick because of bad food safety policies at restaurants. It comes down to how we relate to food. When asked about what actions people can take, especially the youth, Dr. Detwiler has some concerned words to share:

“We have generation after generation that are being raised on never having made food from scratch, or not having had certain food products in their raw form, or never been taught the value of and how easy it is to make certain things from scratch. It’s easier for us to just buy some frozen pre-packaged, ready-to-eat item and throw it in a microwave or an oven, because we don’t want to wash it, cut it, and cook it. When we look at local community gardens and groups that take on our agricultural needs and provide options, we need to look beyond the fact that it costs more. This is because the food is not mass-produced, and these are not local companies that are churning their produce with hundreds of machines. 

I think we could realize that a dollar more for that head of lettuce goes a long way in terms of supporting our local agriculture, our locally-sourced produce. And second of all, you realize, wow! This tastes different than the mass-produced stuff that travels all over the country or even from another country. This is what it’s like to have locally-sourced produce. I think that it’s a big culture change, that we could look at in terms of not only just food safety and security but also food quality."

In 2008, the Region of Waterloo Public Health (Ontario) articulated the need for basic food skills which is defined as follows:

At an individual and household level, food skills are a complex, inter-related, person-centered, set of skills that are necessary to provide and prepare safe, nutritious, and culturally acceptable meals for all members of one’s household.
— Region of Waterloo Public Health (Ontario) ,2008

Therefore, in the first of a three-part blog, WOC urges you to take small steps and revitalize how you think about food.

Food you buy (Knowledge)

Shopping at your local farmers' market is a unique opportunity to engage and become familiar with the food culture in your town. Source:

Go to your local market and talk to the farmers about how they grow their produce. Why is it priced the way it is? Are their vegetables really different from store-bought food? Unlike large corporations such as Whole Foods or Sobeys, you can actually talk to the people who produced the food you buy, and are selling it to you. Most sellers are happy to discuss these questions! This might just change the way you view eggplant the next time you decide to make baba ganoush!    

Food you cook (Planning)

Organize your meals. Look through cookbooks and take an hour to plan a general list of things you would like to make during the week. This makes grocery shopping much easier and effective. Practice preparing food on a budget, ( here is an excellent example on how to go green affordably). Ask your family, roommates or food partners what they like to eat. Also, start teaching your children these food skills at an early age. Plan for leftovers!

Food you share (Techniques, Perception)


While making any dish, remember that recipes work for you, and not the other way around. Be creative, and adjust recipes as you deem fit. You might not find sorrel on that Monday afternoon; buy spinach instead! If your family does not want leftovers, think of how you can put that food to use. Take a walk with your family to a nearby shelter or food bank - they are always looking for food donations. In Canada, approximately $31 billion worth of food is sent to landfills and composters. It is imperative for us to recognize that no food in our house actually needs to go to waste, and realizing that the burden of responsibility is on each of us. These are small steps that could be fundamental in building a sustainable, healthy, respectful, waste-free, and healing connection with food that sustains us all.      


Some additional resources to begin this change:

Windsor- Essex Food Bank Association:

The Downtown Mission of Windsor:

Downtown Windsor Farmers' Market: